Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar will be opening its doors for business this Tuesday, May 10, 2011, at 4:00 PM. After many months filled with eating, blogging, drinking, rolling, traveling, cooking, and a bit more eating—we’re ready to go. We hope you are, too.
DON’T FORGET! TUESDAY, MAY 10 at 4PM
We’ll see you all at the restaurant. We’ll have a chilled glass of sake and a fresh-from-the-Robata skewer waiting for you.
Now that we’re in full-steam-ahead restaurant mode, our vacation days have taken a serious (but very welcome) hit. So, what are two gluttonous globetrotters to do? Live vicariously through our friends on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond, with the help of Cheeky Chicago.
You might have heard about our Are You Cheeky Enough To Chow? contest, the chance for one lucky winner to win a slew of prizes in exchange for their craziest eating adventure. The top 10 finalists joined us last night at Cheeky Chicago’s First Look at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, one of our first official nights in the restaurant (complete with plenty of bites, cocktails, sake, and so on), where the grand prize winner was announced. Just to fill you in, the grand prize winner will not only be receive a 2 night/3 day vacation to San Francisco for two (including a Southwest flight and accommodations at The InterContinental San Francisco), they’ll also be Cheeky’s first San Francisco correspondent.
To all of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the opening of Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar—get ready. The robata is fired up, the kitchen’s been stocked, and we’ll be opening up for business THIS WEEK! Until then, feast your eyes on Eater’s first look:
“First Look: Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar Interior & Menu; Scheduled to Open Next Week”
Wednesday, May 4, 2011, by Ari Bendersky
River North is about to get an infusion of some street smarts. Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar is scheduled to open sometime next week, but Eater got a sneak peek and the space has a lot of wow factor. When you first enter, you experience a bit of sensory overload and aren’t quite sure where to look. But then your eyes are drawn to the vibrant graffiti art created by artist Solo. The colors (orange, yellow, red, blue, browns) and images exploding from the back wall draw you in as you look beyond the chain-mail sculpture growing out of a console in the center of the room…
Over here at Union/MCC headquarters, the month of February was unofficially sushi month. We had our How We Roll contest, put together a few videos showing you how Chao rolls, and even had a little mayoral sushi.
And then we got down to the real work: choosing our final three contestants. Now that–that was a challenge. After reading through pages and pages of some of the most bizarre, hilarious, and delicious-sounding rolls we’ve encountered, we’ve narrowed it down to a final three. These three rolls were chosen based on their creativity and, well, how good we think they’ll taste.
The three contestants below will be joining us for an exclusive, sneak peek dinner at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar (before it’s open to the public) for the final judge’s table, and the winner will win a $500 Southwest gift card and a spot on our opening menu (which is coming together quite nicely, thank you for asking).
Without further ado, we give you the finalists…
Tammy Brody’s BELLY ROLL
Fried pork belly strips, hamachi, cucumber, orange tobiko, scallions, chili paste, crispy tempura crumbs and a zig-zag of eel sauce over the top. Served with pickled radish on the side.
Libby Christopoulos’ DEVIL EGG ROLL
Hard boiled egg chopped in long strips, cucumber, mash cooked yolk, mayo, chipotle, diced sweet pickle and juice, salt, pepper and bacon.
Jason Gasbarra’s BARELY LEGAL
Seared fois gras, tempura style lobster, grilled pear, micro greens. Garnish with masago and serrano aoli.
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. Continue reading Mike and Chao Throw a Party
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.
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:
After a few days at Fleury, soaking up (literally) Napa life, we decided that we should check out the nearby Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America. We wouldn’t call it crashing, but we definitely weren’t your typical conference-goers (picture a starstruck, slightly drunk Mike and Chao wandering around like kids in a candy store). Was it necessary that we include both of the photos below? Yes. Completely.
The 13th Annual Worlds of Flavor Conference turned its focus this year to Japan; both huge fans of Japanese cuisine, we were elated. We got the chance to meet, talk to, learn from, and eat with 60 of the finest Japanese chefs and other experts on the food and culinary traditions of Japan (win). Here are our highlights, in no particular order:
1. Ivan Ramen
Pardon the momentary sentimentality, but this guy’s story is definitely the foodie’s version of ‘heartwarming.’ In a sea of Japan’s finest chefs, Ivan Orkin kind of sticks out. Not too often does a Brooklyn-born Jewish guy move to Japan to master the art of ramen–and succeed with flying colors.
The self-professed ramenjunkie is living proof that anything is possible–he now owns two restaurants in Japan and is considered one of the foremost ramen experts. Known to many as Ivan Ramen (the name of his restaurant), Ivan came to the conference with Team Japan and created what was arguably one of the top three dishes of the event.
Now this was something that we really hadn’t seen in Chicago… or anywhere else for that matter. Think pancakes, but stuffed with savory/salty ingredients. In other words, the perfect breakfast.
okonomiyakin. Typically made using pancake batter and a variety of ingredients including vegetables, fish, meat, etc. Often referred to as “Japanese pancakes,” or even “Osaka soul food.”
The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want,” and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked.” Anything we want in a pancake on the grill? Yes, please.
3. Meeting Hiroyuki Sakai
We were both pretty awe-struck when we got to meet Chef Hiroyuki Sakai, one of the original Iron Chefs. There are no words to explain how cool this was. Chef Sakai wasn’t presenting or cooking or anything, just hanging out and trying things, you know, no big deal. Keeping it casual. (Also, did you all know he has a MySpace page?)
The fact that we were able to be in the presence of both of these chefs was enough for us–but to see them battling? Incredible. Morimoto recreated one of our favorite Iron Chef moments*, part of the Holiday Ice Battle in which Morimoto defeats Bobby Flay… using an ice smoker.
Morimoto preparing dinner for Mike & Chao (…and some other people, too).
We think it was snapper, but we were in a fame/food/sake-induced blackout.
5. How to Make Soba Noodles
Celebrities and knife skills and ingredients aside, this was a testament to ultimate requirement for doing something well: painstaking patience. During this thirty-minute demonstration, one chef highlighted the ins and outs of soba, how its made, the ingredients, and so on, while the second chef stepped patiently on the sheet of uncut noodles… for the entire time…
It’s a practice that ensures the proper distribution of pressure and the right consistency for the noodles. When the demo ended, the soft-stepping chef received a standing ovation and the undying respect of everyone watching.
Okay, so here’s the main thing that we walked away (well, flew away) thinking about: In restaurants here, we tend to cook everything (or most things) in-house, and that’s a valued trait–knowing that what you’re eating was made (and sometimes even grown) on the premises. There’s something to be said, however, for the specialized focus of most restaurants in Japan; instead of having the same kitchen staff master ramen, sashimi, sushi, udon, and so on, each restaurant has their focus, their specialty, and as such, they really do master the art of whatever they’re serving/stepping on.
Practices aside, we were blown away by the quality of ingredients, the precision and consistency of the work, and the knife skills–down to the way they cut fish in order to extract different flavors. The attention to detail wasn’t a special quality of certain chefs, it was a standard across the board.
*Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a video of the Iron Chef episode online–mostly just forums/blog posts where people say things like: “Freaking BRILLIANT” and “ONE OF MORIMOTO’S ICE CARVERS JUST MADE A MEAT SMOKER OUT OF ICE THIS IS INCREDIBLE.” >> If anyone does have a link to a video for this ep, post it as a comment and we’ll give you tons of credit.
As the title of our blog implies, we’re kind of a duo (no funny business). So when we came across four tickets to the Nov. 28 Bears vs. Eagles game, we decided we should open it up to all of you–anyone reading our blog, tweeting with @mikeandchaochow, etc.
Here’s the idea. It’s a contest. Let’s get all the very best of the best dining duos, across Chicagoland, together for a little Thanksgiving weekend tailgate action at Soldier Field. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. Chao will cook. (see previous post if you’re concerned about Chao’s abilities). Sounds fun. You want to join, huh? Well, we’re going to make you work for it.
Calling All Dining Duos
Tweet us a picture of you and your favorite dining partner, the Mike to your Chao (or the Chao to your Mike), the Bill to your Ted, the Hall to your Oates, the Cheech to your Chong…we could keep going all day with this…give us 140 characters on why your dining duo rocks. Make us laugh. Make us cry. You get the point.
The best tweets will be welcome to join our tailgate on November 28 for food, drink and fun. We’ll tweet at you and let you know if you made the grade by November 24.
It gets better though… The VERY BEST duo will join us inside the stadium come game time. We should probably mention that these aren’t just any tickets. These are behind the bench, 50-yard line: Section 138, row 1, seats 5-8 (check out the view). Chao and I do things right.
So, tweet us a picture, or tell us why you like eating with that person (they always know the best new places/they always pick up the bill?), tell us what you like to eat together, whatever. Just let us know and we’re going to sort through all of them, very scientifically, and pick the pair with the best answers (i.e., the ones we’d like to go to a Bears game with the most).
We couch our blog as conquering the world one bite at a time, so you can imagine our excitement when we arrived at an event with eighty chefs preparing bites: the annual Meals On Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball. The event happened this past Friday night, and our work was cut out for us.
Chicago’s best chefs, a floor that takes up an entire city block, and me and Chao–we got down to business. It was crowded, it was hot, but we were on a mission (and luckily Chao has very sharp elbows). Here are a few of our faves, in no particular order:
The burger has recently evolved to become this perfect meal in a little package… and this was truly the perfect composition: the Hay Shortay, a mini Tallgrass burger with port-braised short ribs and warm onion/fennel slaw, no ketchup required.
Soup is usually a hard sell at an event, but Takashi’s take was special. It was the perfect balance–sweet, spicy–it was umami. Curried lentil soup with a chicken-prosciutto croquette, a little different from what we’ve come to expect from Takashi, but spectacular nonetheless.
Cary’s a Georgia boy, and everything he does has a Southern twang. Take his interpretation of a classic, 1940s dish: East Coast oysters Rockefeller… with collards and bacon.
Now, we’re back to our normal activity–eating. And, these days, blogging. Chao is off riding cyclocross this morning, but that’s a blog post for a different time. Thanks for reading this post, checking out our blog, and to all Chicago chefs and restaurateurs for supporting a truly awesome cause on Friday night. Cheers!