Nagano, Day 5

Nagano-Postcard-2

Day 5 started early and with a lot of promise: we had a newly recharged Tokyo Fixer in tow, it was Chao’s birthday, and we had big plans for our day in Obusedo, situated in picturesque Obuse, Nagano. A speedy, three-hour train bullet train ride from Tokyo, we decided that a skimpy train snack was out of the question. We arrived at the train station especially early to stock up on bentos, yakitori, beers, sake, and whatever else we could wrap our arms around.

Had the Tokyo Fixer not rejoined the gang, we would never have learned this awesome trick:

A New Friend

You can see where passengers might have been a bit jealous of our spread, but what can we say? This is a journey about food, and we’re going hard. So hard that a well-dressed gentleman seated to our left decided to join in, asking us where were from (spotting the American quite clearly) and letting us know that his daughter happened to be studying in the States, just like her dad. Yep, he’s an alum of Harvard and Georgetown. Long story short, he ends up being one of the top honchos at the Japanese Department of Defense, on his way home from Tokyo for a few days. Continue reading Nagano, Day 5

Tokyo, Day 4

Shibuya-at-Night1

When we woke up on day 4, both of us could feel a change coming… something dark and strange on the horizon. The Tokyo Fixer (gasp) was down for the count. For the first time in our days together, the Tokyo Fixer was too full, too tired, and too hungover to drag us around the city all day. We might have seen it coming when Chao and the Tokyo Fixer played last man standing until 4:00 AM the night before… either way, he took the day to recharge, sending us on our way with some detailed notes on where to go and a final vote of confidence: “You’re definitely going to get lost.”

First Stop – Meguro

 

We got the inside scoop on one of the best ramen and gyoza spots in Tokyo, which brought us to Meguro. Contrary to the Tokyo Fixer’s warnings, we found our way there without any problems. (If you forget about the part where we missed our train stop and had to backtrack; don’t blame us for having engaging conversation.)

So, back to this restaurant: our meal at Kaduya (shown above) was the cheapest of our trip so far, without making any sacrifices on taste. Being the only people in the place who didn’t speak Japanese made for some difficulties in ordering, but being the resourceful diners that we are, we got by pointing at pictures on the menu (thank god for this menu) and other people’s dishes. The place was packed, which made it easy to stand up and spot the dish you’d like a few tables over. Continue reading Tokyo, Day 4

Tokyo, Day 3

Shot-of-Tempura-Chef1

In true MCC fashion, each day just seems to top the last. Day 1 was an awesome intro to Tokyo, Day 2 was a whirlwind, mind-blowing experience (we’re still dreaming about that sushi), and Day 3–well, we’ll let this post speak for itself.

A full day of eating and drinking led to, yes, another hungover morning, which seems to be Theme #1 of our trip. Our choice of hangover remedy is as old as the hangover itself: fried food. The Tokyo Fixer had been telling us about his favorite tempura place since we met him, and it was finally time for us to experience it for ourselves. And here comes Theme #2: the Tokyo Fixer calling ahead to let them know we were coming because, once again, this is the sort of place where you have to know someone.

Tempura Uoshin

As expected, Tempura Uoshin was perfectly concealed, sign-free, and home to the best tempura we’ve ever had. We grabbed seats at the bar where we could watch the chef in action. The whole thing was kind of like omakase at a sushi bar–the chef cooking up a variety of items and serving them up hot and fresh. Check out the video below for a quick look at the chef in action, plus the full lineup of dishes we tried at Tempura Uoshin. Continue reading Tokyo, Day 3

Tokyo, Day 2

Takeshita-Street_The-most-crowded-street-in-Tokyo1

Day Two in Tokyo started with a pretty legitimate hangover, for everyone involved–futsukayoi in Japanese. The Tokyo Fixer may go out for a living, but it seems to be one of Chao’s most well-developed skills, which made for a long night. The Tokyo Fixer called to delay our start a bit (fine with us), getting us all together for a 11:30 AM start.

We started with a walk to the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Mori Tower for short, the fifth-tallest building in Tokyo at 781 feet, it is a 54-story mixed-use skyscraper that was completed in 2003. With panoramic views on the 50th floor and a helipad on the top floor (why should celebs and other a-listers use the door, after all?), a walk and a little elevation were a surprisingly good remedy for our hangovers.

Having completed a fairly mainstream tourist activity, our next journey was the complete opposite. The Tokyo Fixer had planned for us a series of hidden gems, only accessible to a select, connected few. (You can imagine our excitement.) Continue reading Tokyo, Day 2

Tokyo, Day 1

Fish-Composite1

Tsukiji Market. We woke up bright and early and got ourselves over to the Tsukiji Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world (and one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind). Hectic. Mayhem. Chaos. All of those words pretty much define the market, especially in the deer-in-the-headlights eyes of newcomers like ourselves.

We saw just about every type of underwater ingredient imaginable, plus monster-sized tunas and an array of other awe-inducing seafood. Not content with your average tour, we were lucky enough to be able to go into the back room where the 5:30 AM tuna live auction goes down (see photo above, right). And now, a montage from around the market:

 

 

Our Lesson of the Day

Besides the fact that this is a must-see, our number one tip would be that this is an Oprah-style no phone zone (for serious). Etsuko warned us, in no uncertain terms, about the perils of fish-bearing fork lifts, scooters and other vehicles, the fact that they will truly run you over if you’re distractedly composing that really important tweet. She warned us, and yet, more than once we felt the wind of a passing fork lift that just missed one of us.

 

Sushi for breakfast?

Yes, please. If you’re going to eat sushi, eating it in and around Tsukiji is about as fresh as you can get, short of sushi rolled on a boat. Etsuko led us to the outer market area, where there are lines of small shops and restaurants specializing in sushi, udon, ramen, etc. We ended up at a hole-in-the-wall around the corner called Sakae Sushi (left), tucked behind a screen that slid open for new guests (translation: we would have never found this place without Etsuko). We noticed a chef eating at the sushi bar (good sign), then camped out until he finished and claimed the three seats at the bar. Continue reading Tokyo, Day 1

Arriving in Tokyo

Mike-and-Chao-1st-Night-in-Tokyo

Our First Night in Tokyo

Our story begins in Tokyo. We flew direct from O’Hare  and landed around 4:30 PM (Tokyo time). Needless to say, this was a long-ish flight, so Chao’s feet were all locked up in his super-cool sneakers. Mike dragged him off the plane, then we jumped in a car and we were off!

We checked in at our hotel, the ANA InterContinental Tokyo, where we were met with a pleasant surprise: The Tokyo Fixer, who we weren’t expecting to see for at least a few days. (Remember him from our last post? Tour guide extraordinaire, Tokyo nightlife guru, and so on?)

He took us out to his favorite yakitori-and-beer joint, where we proceeded to spend the rest of our waking hours at the yakitori bar, eating every conceivable part of the freshest, most tastiest chicken we’ve ever had. So we’re eating plate after plate of chicken meatballs, gizzard, liver, crispy skin, things we don’t know the name of, etc., then some fried-then-grilled tofu, plus a steady stream of Yebisu (our favorite Japanese beer )… and then the jet lag starts to hit…

After three beers and a chicken each (just about), we shuffled back to our hotel to rest up for our first full day (and were met with–hallelujah–really good internet). Okay, here are two other very quick photos/observations from our first few hours in Tokyo. (This should serve as a warning, there will be plenty of possibly unrelated photos during this trip).

Superior Tokyo Cousin of 7-Eleven

So, how awesome is this: instead of rolling hot dogs and day-old pastries, the 7-Elevens in Tokyo have the assortment you see below. Um, what?

6AM Sake Craving, Anyone?

Even better: we walked by this fully stocked liquor stand, that just happens to be open–wait for it–24 hours. Need a little 4:00 AM Veuve, some 6:00 AM sake? Done.

Our Adventure Begins

Well, friends, this is it. Mike and Chao are off on our biggest adventure yet: we’re going to Asia. For the next month or so, we’ll be traveling around Japan, over to Hong Kong, down to Thailand, and seeing/eating/drinking as much as we can possibly fit in. It won’t be quite as easy to blog about our trip, but we’ll be doing our best (and bombarding you with more as soon as we get back). Continue reading Our Adventure Begins

Mike and Chao Throw a Party

Group-Photo-MCC1In 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. Continue reading Mike and Chao Throw a Party

Bears vs. Eagles Ultimate Tailgate Chaodown

About a month ago, we decided it was time for some IRL Twitter socializing (see our post Heed the Call: Dining Duos Unite!). It turns out it’s way easier to convince people to socialize with you if you’re offering them front row, 50-yard-line Bears tickets, right behind the Bears’ bench. Weird, right? So, we had a little contest, asking our Twitter followers to enter themselves and their favorite eating partner by submitting a photo.

But, then we were faced with the problem: What’s a Bears game without some tailgating? And we certainly couldn’t go with your average tailgating–these were prime seats, all we do is talk about food, and one of us is a chef. In short, we were looking into some prime tailgating.

The Winners

So, fast forward a few weeks of tweeting, looking at photos of other dining duos like ourselves, and, finally, a trip to the random number generator… [drumroll] And the winners were: Sarah Spain & Brad Zibung (pictured on the left with Chao). See @SarahSpain and @The_Heckler‘s winning tweet/photo on the right.

Sarah Spain is a reporter for ESPNChicago.com, a Sportscenter Anchor at ESPN1000, and is holding a 40 in the photo above. Anyone who’s met her loves her AND knows she kicks ass. The day of the big game/tailgating, she was bouncing around the South Lot crowd interviewing, talking, drinking some brews, along with her partner in crime.

The Mike and Chao Guide
to Pro Tailgating

As we said earlier, the next task at hand was the matter of our tailgating. This couldn’t be your run-of-the-mill hot dogs and a van setup… Based on our experience, we’ve put together a few pointers, steps if you will, toward recreating an epic tailgate like this one.

Step 1: The Bus

Yes, it’s important that you buy a fully-loaded, wrapped party bus for your tailgating experience. Or, do what we did and find friends that already have one.

Thanks to our friend Chris and the rest of his crew, we were able tailgate alongside the ultimate, fully tricked-out bus, complete with enough Bears branding to ensure no onesees them driving and wonders, “I wonder who they’re rooting for…” The stereo comes out, the flatscreen TV goes up, and the flags are hoisted. Hats off to you, bus owners.

Step 2: The Flag

Could we have survived under the existing flags–U.S., Chicago, COLD BEER, Bears, etc.? Yes. Did we make our own flag anyway? Yep. Because having your own flag means you’re important and worth talking to (sort of). And from now on, wherever the MCC flag is flown, there will be food. And it will be good. (One of the symptoms of having your own flag is making a lot of proclamations.)

 

Step 3: The Outdoor Kitchen

Take a couple of folding tables, brimming coolers, and a trusty Coleman grill, and you’ve got an outdoor kitchen. Add in Chao and you’ve got the tailgating spread of your dreams. Chao was manning the grill all afternoon, not even taking a break to rock out a little, as seen in this video. In a couple hours time he handed out a small feast to our considerable group of friends, family, relative strangers, Twitter friends, and strangers returning for second helpings.


For the day’s menu, Chao did Wagyu beef slider with grilled pineapple, quail egg, cilantro, red onion and sesame soy sauce, and “The Chao Dog,” Chao’s special hot link with cream cheese, cucumber, tomato, caramelized onions, and sweet chile sauce. Take a look at these shots from the day–food, people eating food, Chao cooking food, etc.

Step 4: Location, Location, Location

It’s all about the South Lot: this is where the TRUE Bears fans hang. Drive up and you start to see the flags–no, we weren’t the only ones. (But we might have been the only ones with a flag for a food blog!) The lot itself is a buzzing camp of Bears infantry heading off to war: think organized chest-beating meets semi-intoxicated wing-eating.

Step 5: Cake?

If Chao’s cooking didn’t set us apart, our f*%!ing awesome cake did. The crew at Bleeding Heart Bakery made us a giant cake in the shape of a Bears helmet. Michelle and Vinny truly outdid themselves–the only thing better than looking at the cake was eating it. If only we were better at cutting it: check out the slideshow below to see our struggle…

 

And those are our five steps to a killer tailgate. Well, we could probably add a 6th for “good company” or something, but you can see in the photos above that we definitely had that, in abundance. You’d think that, given the length of this post, the day was over at that point, but we still had a few hours to put in watching the Bears take down the Eagles. And here’s what that looked like: