In case you hadn’t heard on Twitter, we threw a killer party last week. Long story short, Chao has been itching to cook and it was Mike’s birthday, so we rounded up some friends, including several we’d never met (thank you, Twitter) and had what we hope to be the first in a series of many similar shindigs. (Photo above: group shot with two of our special guests for the evening. Tim Huizenga of Rock Sake, third from right, and our buddy DC Crenshaw, far left.)
Now, most people would say, “It’s our first one, we should just do a couple of courses, nothing crazy.” Not Chao. Chao said, “Let’s do, say, 17 courses?” Because that seems doable.
The evening began with a selection of sake, beers, and our handcrafted cocktails, including our two specialties for the evening, shown below. Both were hits; props to Peter, our bartender for the evening:
The Kentucky Maple
Inspired by a taste of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, made with Makers Mark, maple syrup, lemon, Rhubarb Bitters, and cayenne pepper. In retrospect, strangely similar to the Master Cleanse… but way more fun. (Not that we know what the Master Cleanse is.)
The Yamato Sling
Our version of the Singapore Sling, made with Plymouth Gin, Rock Sake (one of our favorite companies and a featured sake for the dinner), fresh lemon juice, green tea syrup (made fresh that day), cherry bark vanilla bitters, and seltzer, garnished with a lemon peel. Incidentally, the Yamato Era (around 300 AD) was when the Japanese government first installed the Bureau of Sake!
Dinner is served…
We won’t go through every one of the courses, just some of the need-to-know highlights. Here’s the full lineup for the evening:
We started with edamame, seasoned with a special blend from our friend, chef Joshua Linton (check out his awesome line of spices, Joshua Tree Spice Studio), followed by one of Chao’s crowd-pleasers: grilled skate fin with garlic mayo. It’s like a Japanese-style hybrid of potato chips and bacon, but with more flavor and texture (chewy, not too chewy). In other words, party food.
A few courses later it was the Cold Tofu, served with a sweet garlic soy, fried ginger, and onion. It’s like a really well-executed flan–soft, springy and flavorful, with crunch courtesy of the ginger (which you might notice makes a reappearance a few courses later; we LOVE fried ginger).
We brought back a new version of the Wagyu Beef Slider, originally featured at our tailgating extravaganza a few weeks ago. These were served with grilled pineapple, teriyaki, a quail egg (#ftw), and cilantro, topped with sawagani (crunchily delicious Japanese micro-crab, see below). Chicago loves its beef, but we notice no one has a problem chowing down these crunchy little crabs at Chicago restaurants–or our pop-up dinner–these days.
We’ve probably already given you too much, so we won’t go into detail for all the dishes, but everyone definitely had their dish that they were talking about later on, from the Duck Yakisoba, slurped from its takeout box within thirty seconds or less, to the Truffled Tuna, scooped up with crispy, thin wonton chips (above). Was it too cold to grill outside? Maybe. But we felt that was the only way for D.J. to become accustomed to Chicago weather, being from California and all.
So, between the 17 courses of Asian-influenced, contemporary American cooking from Chao, two cocktails, three sake selections, and a team of people donating their time to make it happen, we came away feeling like we’d just enjoyed a damn good party with about 50 of our best friends, old and new. And in the process, just happened to throw Mike one hell of a birthday party. We haven’t come up with our next excuse to make Chao cook enough food for a small country, but we’ll definitely keep you posted.