A Sake Tasting for Insiders…Meet Japan’s Mr. Sho Nagai, President of Mizbasho Sake Brewery

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And you thought you knew sake…

Meet Mr. Sho Nagai, President of Japan’s Mizbasho Sake Brewery, for an Exclusive Tasting Event on Monday, September 10, 2012 at 7 p.m. 

It doesn’t get much cooler than this in sake circles…the “insider” street cred involved with drinking sake with Mr. Nagai is comparable to shooting some hoops with Michael Jordan, or trying on shoes as Mr. Choo himself helps you…

In other words…it’s going to be fun. So don’t miss it!

We’re going to be gathering at UpBar on Monday night at 7 p.m.   Join us as we taste a variety of sakes from the Mizbasho Sake Brewery, including a 3-year aged sake and a series of sparkling sake.  

chaoChef Chao will be passing a variety of hors d’oeuvres, each perfectly paired to compliment the starring sakes. 

This special evening will be $40 per person, (not inclusive of tax and tip,) and your space can be reserved by calling  312-662-4888 or email us  info@eatatunion.com.

We’ll see you on Monday, Sake Cheers! 

 

 

 

Cheeky Enough to Chow? Results Are In!

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.

A Few Days in Bangkok

Dinner-with-Chaos-FamilyBy the time we got to Bangkok, we were mere shadows of the vibrant, energetic travelers we once were. We headed straight for Chao’s house to meet his family, who took us out for a nice dinner at a local restaurant. We ate, talked about our travels, then headed home for one of the most well-received nights of sleep you can imagine.

On our first full day in Bangkok, we headed downtown to meet up with some friends from South Africa, in town for two nights. For our first official activity in Bangkok, we took a boat tour on what just might have been THE most polluted river on the planet. We cruised by the city’s famous houseboats and floating market (below).

Floating-in-Bangkok

We disembarked to tour (or hike, really) some of the local temples (below) and to see the Grand Palace, a complex of regal buildings that have served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand since the eighteenth century.

Temples-and-Palace-in-Bangkok

We walked around for a bit in Siam Square, a popular area thriving with shopping, cinemas, and plenty of food. We tried a little pad thai, made fresh on the street, and some disco shrimp.

Phuket, Days 17-18

Phuket-Beach

After a few days of relaxation, we were ready to kick it in to gear. Things like “chilling” and “lounging” come so easily when you’re spending a few days on a beach in Thailand, but we were ready to see what else the neighborhood had to offer.

Our first stop: Kamala Beach. We spent a little time chilling (you have to ease into actual activities), then decided on a little jet skiing and parasailing. Lunch on the beach, a bit more lounging, and we called it a night. After all, we had even more planned for the next day.
Parasailing-and-Activities-in-Phuket

Our next day was dedicated to some genuine, adventure-filled exploring of Phuket Island. The day began with one of Thailand’s famous past-times, go-karting, followed by a little shooting (clay discs only, thank you). Our final stop: ATVs in the jungle. We ran into some massive elephants, got our jungle on for a bit, then finished up our day of physical challenges for an evening of culinary challenges…

Day-2

What’s a day with Mike and Chao without a little cooking and a lot of eating? That’s why we decided it was time for the Iron Chef Thailand Cook-Off. In one corner, we have Chao, a seasoned chef and one half of the renowned dining/traveling team known as Mike and Chao. In the other corner, Maew, a relative newcomer on our blog who took center stage New Year’s Day with her surprising culinary accumen and detailed presentation. The key ingredients of the day: corn and pork.

MCC-Iron-Chef2

As the race got underway, the name of the game was decisiveness. Maew got off to a hot start, moving with diligence and a clear plan in mind. Chao took a minute to strategize, but responded to the concerned looks of guests with a stern, “I got this.”

Once both chefs were in the kitchen and moving, there was no getting in there. The one thing about sharing a kitchen in a competition like this–no room for surprises. On several occasions they couldn’t resist from sneaking a peek. The only other soul allowed in the kitchen was Peter, mixing up some specialty mixed cocktails and keeping an eye on the ongoing challenge.

The-Iron-Chef-Challenge-in-the-Kitchen

That’s when thing started to escalate, beginning with Chao’s singular utterance: “Goddamn it…” His butter sauce had separated, a pretty basic mistake for a chef of his caliber. He tried like hell to get it back together, but recovering from a misstep like that is no easy feat. Meanwhile, Ms. Maew was all smiles, chugging away on her dish with speed and precision. Chao watched, shaking his head and declaring that it was all over.

Chaos-Butter-Sauce

Mike and the rest of the crew watched as Chao teetered on throwing in the towel, but pushed him to keep on trucking. Still unhappy with his sauce, he decided to press on–just without the pork part of the challenge. You can blame that on his secret taste of Maew’s pork dish–“It’s just too good.”

The-First-Taste

The-Winner

When it came down to it, Chao’s shrimp with corn and butter sauce couldn’t stand up to Maew’s garlic shrimp with corn. The flavor on Maew’s shrimp was perfectly balanced with the corn, leaving Chao’s dish tasting just a little bit salty (and then there was the butter sauce, which had been sadly irredeemable).

The-Full-Spread

Phuket, Day 16

BeforeandAfterEveryone slept in pretty late New Year’s Day, but we were up in time to get our big plans for the day in motion. It’s probably no surprise that our plans for Jan. 1 revolved around food. Once we were all up and at ’em, Chao made a trip to the local seafood market to get some supplies for:

The First (and Probably Only) Mike and Chao Chow Thailand New Year’s Day Extravaganza-Palooza Dinner and Party

Someone suggested we go with a more concise title, but we wanted the party to have a bit more weight to it. Our last dinner experiment was pretty awesome, so we wanted to see if we could recreate it–in a different country.

We should take a step back: we couldn’t have imagined how incredible it would be to wake up on New Year’s Day to perfect weather and this outside your window.

THE MENU

Fresh lobster with eggs

Pork belly with garlic, black pepper & cilantro

Fried rice

Pad siew stir fry noodles
with chicken & soy

Crab

Papaya salad

Steamed fish in a special, homemade broth

Grilled squid

Dinner

So, back to business. We had several friends coming over, one of which happened to be a self-proclaimed chef and would be helping Chao out with the meal. You know the phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen”? We were about to test that out, literally.

The cooking begins: Chao hit the grill first to get the lobsters/crabs going, but returned to the kitchen to see that our friend the chef (Maew’s her name) had taken charge of the kitchen like nothing we’d ever seen:

Everything was going so smoothly–the aroma from the pork belly wafting as the steamed fish started to cook, while she finished up the papaya salad (which looked and smelled amazing).

Chao’s initial reaction was to start asking questions, but a few moments in this completely under control kitchen, filled with such beautiful, savory and sweet scents and he relaxed. He leaned in to taste one of the dishes, wondering if everything would taste as amazing as it smelled, and was once again rendered speechless.

pork-belly-being-marinated-in-some-special-thai-sauce

Pork Belly in Special Thai Marinade

You can imagine how incredibly entertaining this all was for Mike and the rest of the guests to watch. Every now and then, Chao stepping in to make a suggestion or change something, only to be immediately countered by Maew, firmly establishing herself as the not-to-be-questioned head chef of the evening. And Chao? Well, Chao took a backseat.

Chao-and-Friend

Was that difficult for Chao? Perhaps. It certainly helped that she was more than gifted in the kitchen, and that everything came out looking/smelling/tasting perfect. We all set the table, grabbed some dishes, and sat down for our first major meal of 2011, a year we hope will be filled with many more evenings of delicious food and good company, just like this one.

Dishes-in-Phuket

A few more highlights from our dinner: If this whole blog thing doesn’t work out, we definitely think we have the beginnings of a killer children’s book: “Chao the Chef”? “See Chao Eat”? We did a little storyboarding for you (below). To all you publishers, you can hit us up on Twitter if you’re interested (@mikeandchaochow).

Chao-and-The-Lobster-StoryAnother star of the evening: Peter. The sign of a true friend and bartender is always coming prepared (also the sign of a good Boy Scout, right?). Well, Peter always travels with his supplies, so he had a fresh mojito bar set up in the kitchen in no time. The fresh mint and the cool refreshing taste were just what our dinner needed–washing down our tasty meal and relieving any inter-chef tensions. Overall, our first party in Thailand was a success, largely thanks to our up-and-coming local friend who showed us how to do it up right, Phuket-style.

Phuket, Day 15

We took the next morning kind of slow–we’re pros, after all, and it was New Year’s Eve. Chao took it easy, while Mike hit the road for a little exercise and a little “sightseeing.” The neighborhood surrounding our condo was absolutely perfect–quaint, quiet, untouched by chaos.

Once Mike had covered a good deal of ground, he grabbed a seat at a restaurant by the beach for a quick bite to eat, unaware that it was home to the best seafood pineapple fried rice the world has ever seen. Served up in a fresh pineapple, the seafood tasted like it was plucked from the ocean moments before. And the view? Well, the view helped a bit.

Pineapple-Fried-Rice

Monkey-at-the-Beach-in-Phuket

Phuket, Day 14

By the time we got to Phuket, we were exhausted… the weather was a bit overcast… but none of that mattered. We were finally in a place where we’d be able to lie low, in warm weather–no packing for five whole days.

It’s not that we didn’t love all of our tours and pre-planned visits and behind-the-scenes walk-throughs, but when you hit all of those things on a rigorous schedule like ours? We needed a break.

When we arrived we headed straight to our condo on Kamala Beach, located just outside the main area of Patong Beach. Back when we were planning the trip (which seems like it was 10 years ago, by the way), we chose Kamala Beach specifically so we’d be a little removed from the craziness of Patong. Arriving at the condo, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our decision. [Insert giant pat on back here.]

Our condo was absolutely stunning. Three bedrooms (just in case we wanted to switch it up a little?); a big, beautiful kitchen and dining room; and, the best part, a massive patio overlooking the ocean. Under most circumstances, we would have dropped our luggage and hit the town. But you just can’t leave a spot like that immediately. You need to savor it. You need to relish it. No, seriously, you personally:

Condo-View-Phuket
Phuket-View-1 Phuket-View-2 Phuket-View-4 Phuket-View-5

Corona-Ad

After a bit of relaxing, we headed out for the night in Patong, met up with some friends, and celebrated our first evening in Thailand.

Hong Kong, Day 13

Repulse-Bay-Beach

Our evening at the Temple Street Night Market included maybe a few too many beers… so our fourth day in Hong Kong got off to a slow start. Which then ended up being a slow start to a perfectly slow, relaxing day. All of this eating and walking and writing and drinking and eating and eating… it can get exhausting. You all think it’s just fun and games over here. Okay, it kind of is.

It would be a shame to stay in one of the nicest hotels in the world and not take advantage of some of its amenities, and that’s exactly what we did. Chao went for a swim in their beautiful indoor pool while Mike took on a little workout/steam action, before sinking back down on the outdoor terrace to enjoy the weather–by far the best we’ve had on our trip so far. Right around 70 degrees and not a cloud in sight. We weren’t about to waste our newly zen-ified selves (or the glorious weather) on more crowd surfing, so we hopped on a bus for Repulse Bay and Stanley Market.

We stopped at Repulse Bay Beach first and took a few pictures (that, surprisingly, don’t really do it justice):

Repulse-Bay Continue reading Hong Kong, Day 13

Hong Kong, Day 12

Hong-Kong-Island

We mentioned in our introductory post, Our Adventure Begins, that a friend of our had connected us with a tour company for our time in Hong Kong. Our third day in Hong Kong would be dedicated to some good old fashioned tourism, with the help of Eastern Journeys. We met up with our tour guide and started our day off with a ferry to Hong Kong Island; the vantage point and the near-perfect weather made for some more postcard-worthy photos:

Morning-Ferry
Our tour of Hong Kong Island began in Sheung Wan, located in the north-west of the island and home to a thriving market. From there we made our way to Hong Kong’s dried provisions markets. The plethora of weird-yet-wonderful, always-dried products and ingredients there is truly astounding.

Dried-Food-Market

Once we’d had our fill of the dried provisions market, we hopped on a double decker bus to cover some more ground and see Hong Kong Island from a bit of an elevated perspective. Also, we’ve only got a few days here, so a little bus action means more sites than our feet would have been able to handle.

Repulse-Bay

The highlight of the bus ride was definitely our view of Repulse Bay (above); if you’re well off and you live in Hong Kong, you might just call Repulse Bay home. Real estate prices here are only matched in one of our next stops: The Peak. So, being the educated shoppers that we are, we decided to hold off on buying a vacation spot in Repulse Bay until we saw The Peak. Just being savvy. Otherwise we’d totally be two specks on that beach.

We arrived in Stanley, which seems to be on an entirely different schedule than the rest of Hong Kong. Everything’s a bit more casual and relaxed, making for a truly pleasant neighborhood to walk around in. The spot was once a fishing port, and is now home to the Stanley Market and a variety of shoreline pubs and cafes. We settled upon one such restaurant for a bit of lunch, digging into curry fish cakes and several different noodle dishes.

Stanley-Market

We have to say, one of the biggest benefits of using a tour company: you never stop. We fit a hell of a lot into one day, covered a lot of territory, and rode more buses than we normally would in a month. Our next bus was headed to Aberdeen, located on the south shore of Hong Kong Island. For a long time it was known as the floating town; today, there’s still the Floating Jumbo Restaurant beckoning to tourists (behind Mike in the photo below), surrounded by a thriving fishing harbor.

The only way to see a harbor, really, is by boat. So we took a little sampan tour: sampans are generally flat-bottomed, smaller wooden boats that have become one of Hong Kong’s signature forms of transportation (well, all over Asia, really). From our sampan we could see into the harbor’s working fishing junks, the real lifeblood of the area and a concept/design with some serious staying power–they originally developed around the Han Dynasty, in 206 B.C.

Aberdeen

After that, we were off to The Peak. At 552 meters, it’s the highest vantage point on Hong Kong Island and an understanably popular tourist spot. Usually we try to avoid the “typical tourist spots,” but we’d have been fools to miss this one. Thankfully, our clear weather continued and were able to take in the area’s reputedly stunning views of Hong Kong. We walked around a bit, hit some of the area’s shops, then got back on our merry way.

The-Peak

Our next stop was Causeway Bay, located on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island. It’s another one of the city’s main shopping/market areas, easily rivaling Mongkok as far as crowding goes. (We hit Mongkok yesterday, and by “hit,” we mean “stumbled through the mosh pit-style streets trying not to get trampled.”) A solid lineup of street food vendors create a refreshing contrast to the variety of department stores and designer boutiques–it’s pretty obvious where our priorities lie…

Causeway-Bay-MarketCauseway Bay Market

At this point, we’ve seen a solid amount of Hong Kong Island, several different markets, taken a ride on a sampan and 432 buses, and enjoyed our fair share of the local cuisine. We were craving just a few minutes in the sweet refuge of the Peninsula, so we headed back to lighten our load and process everything for a minute or two. (This is what it looked like when we arrived back at the hotel the night–beautiful, right?)

Peninsula-Hotel

…but we weren’t about to call it a night. Our final stop of the day: the Temple Street Night Market for a little nighttime shopping, dinner, and drinks. Popular with tourists and locals alike, the market’s open from 4:00 PM until midnight each day and is consistently buzzing with activity.

Night-Market

Hong Kong, Day 11

First-wake-up-in-Hong-Kong

Our First Morning in Hong Kong

We’ve been on the other side of the world for a little while now, and if nothing else, our navigational skills have greatly improved. On the schedule for our first full day in Hong Kong: absolutely nothing. The day was devoted to exploring on our own, for the first time in a while. We studied up, put on our Hong Kong Fixer hats (okay, not really)… then we stopped by the concierge desk for some final reassurance that we wouldn’t be lost forever.

Lin Heung Lau

Our first goal: get some dim sum. We had two options, both top notch, both known for their dim sum. One was frequented by the locals, one a favorite haunt of locals. You can guess which one we chose (locals, please): Lin Heung Lau. We found the place and went straight upstairs to the insanity that was the dining room. First-come, first-served communal tables from wall to wall mean it’s every man for himself–and this was just the beginning.

We spotted two open seats in the distance, bounded over a few people to grab them, and sat down, quite satisfied with ourselves. We sat there for a little while, contemplating the dirty dishes of the patrons who’d just gotten up, when someone brought over a cup of water. Something refreshing to drink, perhaps? Maybe wash our hands? Nope. The water was to wash the dishes.

Lin-Heung-Lau

We hid our initial reactions of disgust and confusion and cleaned the dishes off… no big deal. So, now we’ve got clean dishes, a place to sit, how about some food? We quickly realized that the every-man-for-himself model was applicable to food as well. We watched as a few dim sum carts were pushed out of the kitchen, only to be mobbed and cleared within a few moments.

At one point, we even managed to grab a dumpling, but were pushed, spilled on, and shoved back into submission pretty quickly. Now, so far, we’d like to think we’ve been pretty good sports. But we lose our patience when it comes to food. Frustrated and still a little disgusted, we paid up and shipped out, excited to go to a restaurant that actually wanted us to eat.

Luk Yu Tea House

Knowing that the second spot, Luk Yu Tea House, was only a few blocks away, we decided to put aside our locals-only notions and give it a shot. This one was definitely a bit more upscale, but they were more than willing to bring us plates of dumplings, BBQ spare ribs, and so on–and when you’re hungry, that’s really all that matters.

Shark-Fin-Soup-at-Luk-Yu-Tea-House

That being said, it was all pretty good, but didn’t by any means knock our socks off. We did decide to splurge on their shark fin soup, one of the most talked about dishes in Hong Kong and–let’s face it–it just sounds cool.

Mike and Chao Tour Hong Kong

Hong-Kong-Map

Having finally gotten through lunch, we made our way outside into the significantly nicer weather (in comparison to Japan) to explore some neighborhoods:

A. SOHO
B. CENTRAL MARKET
C. KOWLOON PARK*
D. MONGKOK

*Kowloon Park is a large public park we walked through this remarkably large park on our way back to the Peninsula.

Soho

By far, Soho was Mike’s favorite neighborhood of Hong Kong. We didn’t really realize it until we’d seen more of the city, but this neighborhood was by far cleanest and was probably one of the most international areas that we’d seen. It was truly an amalgam of all walks of life, all cultures and cuisines and people.

photo-of-SOHO-area

Central Market

Widely considered to be the first market in Hong Kong, Central Market is a multilevel paradise filled with a multitude of products. For us, it was a dry food heaven, like the infantry of shark fins seen below on the right.

Central-Market

Mongkok

Mongkok was, without a doubt, the most crowded area of Hong Kong… maybe the world even. “Chaos” doesn’t even begin to touch upon it. The area is famous for its street food and thriving outdoor marketplace. The street food was incredible, which we think more than translates in the photos below:

Mongkok-Street-Food

No matter how delicious the chive cakes were, however, the truly remarkable talent lies in the salespeople. There’s nothing quite like a street-side salesman pushing knockoff belts and other imitation items. They really just do not take ‘No’ for an answer. That being said, we did get some pretty good deals, so…

Mongkok-Market

Post-shoe shopping, we were off to the local fish market. We’re all for fresh fish, but standing in the middle of the pulsating fish market, you start to question just how fresh the fish needs to be. It was like an edible aquarium. And then there is the unavoidable smell.

Walking through the aisles takes some caution: one false move and you might have a squid attached to your arm, or some other unnamed creature sliding down your leg. After our octopus experience, however, it takes a lot to put us off fish.

the-fish-market-where-everything-was-moving

After a day of dodging people, fighting for food, and covering a lot of ground in Hong Kong, we were happy to make it back to the hotel in one piece, narrowly avoided crashing in the lobby, and hit the hay up in our luxurious room.