Last month, Naoto and I joined a Halloween origami class at Konbini & Kampai, a Japanese liquor/convenience store in Chicago. It was hosted by Ty Yamamoto and the Japanese Cultural Center. We have been wanting to visit Konbini and Kampai for so long, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
We learned how to fold a ghost and a bat, and thanks to this super-strong (but delicious!) bottled Manhattan, I was terrible at both! Thankfully we had someone at our table who was an expert and could walk us through a couple of the harder steps.
Konbini & Kanpai has so many unique beer offerings, and they have an amazing wine selection, interesting canned cocktails, and offer sips of bottled spirits from Japan and other places. Naoto had so much fun shopping and making himself a little 6-pack of weird beers to take home.
They also have a nice selection of Japanese snacks, and I would highly recommend the corn soup crunchy triangles to go with your bottled Manhattan.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering why Ty has a purple nose and a panda was helping Naoto at the coolers, costumes were highly encouraged! So, we dressed up as Ina Garden and Jeffrey! (The whisk really sold it!)
The origami workshops are a monthly thing, so we’re hoping to attend another one in the future. If you’re in the area, maybe we’ll see you there!
We’ve been laying low this month since Covid numbers are up and several close calls have been had. To entertain ourselves last weekend, we had a little tiki night for two. You may remember our Fondue Fun Fest and our Hasegawa Supper Club from 2020–this was like that but so much easier since we took some help from take-out this time!
We re-used decorations and our playlist from a past tiki party. It was pretty low-effort, I admit, but it really did give us something to look forward to. I love party planning and trying new cocktails, which is something I’ve really missed during the whole pandemic.
I got some craft orgeat for Christmas so I’ve been trying to use it up in cocktails I don’t get to make often. (I have made my own orgeat before, but I always end up with lots of leftover ingredients that go to waste.) So, we started out with Mai Tais before we realized that we didn’t have enough rum to make a second round of rum cocktails. (We hardly ever drink rum…we’ve had the same bottles for almost 10 years! Very excited to try something new soon!) I turned to the internet for some other ideas and found this recipe for Inside the Suns. It was as if the internet took a look at the back of my liquor cabinet and threw together some neglected bottles into a very tasty drink.
For our dinner, we made Pioneer Woman’s cashew chicken and we got fried rice and crab rangoon from a local Chinese restaurant. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”Isn’t this just Chinese food with tiki drinks?” I’ll leave you with this fascinating story that explains the connection.
For my birthday this year, I really wanted to drive up to Wisconsin to eat at a real supper club. I’ve eaten at a true Wisconsin supper club exactly once, but it is what my dining dreams are made of–many courses of delicious home-cooking without any pretension.
We were just starting to research the best options when the pandemic hit and everything shut down. It was really depressing. I didn’t give up on my supper club dinner–but there was no way I was going to Wisconsin in the middle of a pandemic. Soooo…once the library started opening back up again, I got this book and started planning a menu from home.
I should preface this with a disclaimer: supper club food is not for the weak of heart…there is a lot of cream and fat in many of the dishes. (Though there are a few tasty looking, lighter fish dishes in the book, in case that’s your thing!) So for us, this definitely isn’t a weekly thing, but it was really fun to make everything from scratch and to indulge a little bit–orrrr a lot!
I’m going to share two recipes from our feast in case you want to create a little Wisconsin supper club happy hour at home.
We started out with the Wisconsin classic, brandy old fashioneds. Did you know that 1/3 of Korbel’s brandy is sold in Wisconsin? (I didn’t know until I read the book.) If you like a sweeter cocktail, this might be for you. It was fun to try, but I’ll stick with a regular Old Fashioned. (Or I’ll at least skip the 7-Up and make it with club soda!)
Brandy Old Fashioned (from the Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook)
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of bitters
2 orange slices
1.5oz brandy (Apparently Korbel is the official brandy of Wisconsin, but we used something from Trader Joe’s!)
lemon lime soda (We used 7-Up.)
Muddle the sugar, bitters, and orange slices in the bottom of a glass until the sugar has dissolved. Add the brandy, soda, and ice. Stir to mix and garnish with an orange wedge and a maraschino cherry.
I’m glad we tried it for the full experience and when we can finally (safely) dine out again, I’m totally going to order one at a real supper club in Wisconsin.
Along with the old fashioneds, we had two appetizers. The first, pictured at the top, was beer cheese from Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club in Madison, Wisconsin. This place has been around since 1947 and it’s a top 5 contender for our supper club road trip.
The beer cheese is so easy to make and I found it perfect on Club crackers (because they’re a classic!)
Beer & Cheese Spread
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
2 cups shredded swiss cheese (Sargento makes this, but you can also shred your own for better texture.)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
0.5 tsp dry mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
0.5-0.66 cups beer (We used Heineken.)
Add everything but the beer in a large mixing bowl. Beat in enough beer to make a spreadable cheese…add it slowly because you can always add more but it’s hard to take it away…(says the person who had to add more cheese to soak up the extra beer!) I used my stand mixer and beat everything on high to get it to combine. I don’t think my execution was perfect but man, was it tasty! And easy!
Naoto was in charge of the second appetizer–bacon wrapped water chestnuts. This recipe is from The Packing House in Milwaukee. The Packing House is at the top of my must-see list. They have a famous fish fry that is so popular, they built a drive-thru for it. And they have a piano player who has been performing there for forty years. And apparently their banana cream pie is not to be missed…
The bacon-wrapped water chestnuts were soooo good–I love water chestnuts and they were the perfect vehicle for the crisp bacon and the sweet and salty sauce.
For our salad, I made homemade blue cheese dressing from The House of Embers at the Wisconsin Dells. Named because they smoke ribs over embers of charcoal, The House of Embers has been around since 1959. I love the dark and moody feel of the place! The blue cheese dressing was excellent, but we did skip the recommended bacon on our salads. (Sad!) I chilled our plates in the freezer before adding the lettuce (iceberg!) and tomatoes and we served the dressing at the table. I highly recommend chilling your salad plates! It made everything feel so fresh!
For our entree, we went with the classic, Steak Diane. The recipe is from Joey Gerard’s: A Bartolotta Supper Club. Joey Gerard’s is a newcomer–they’ve only been around since 2012 though they are part of a restaurant group that’s been active since 1993. Friends, this Steak Diane recipe was incredible. I don’t want to oversell it here, but…I finished the whole steak. (That never happens…I usually take the sides much too seriously to bother with the steak!) Honestly, I kind of want Naoto to make it again this weekend. If you don’t know Steak Diane, it’s a classic dish, popular in the 40s and 50s, made with mushrooms and cream and so much more. Back in the day, it was often flambéed tableside. This recipe used a magical mix of butter, shallot, garlic, brandy, white wine, beef stock, dijon, cream, soy sauce, and worcestershire sauce. It was an orchestra of flavor!
For dessert, we did stray from the cookbook. We planned to make the Buck-a-Neer Supper Club‘s peanut butter pie, but we couldn’t justify an entire pie for the two of us! It is a recipe we want to try…maybe someday when we can have people over again!
Instead, we made Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Budino. (No regrets!) They’re kind of like really rich chocolate puddings and I’ve been wanting to make them for awhile. A tiny portion is just the right amount to end the meal.
If I had been eating at a restaurant, I may have indulged in a grasshopper.
I can’t wait to share a real supper club dining experience here someday…but in the meantime, I give the Hasegawa Supper Club five stars!
We found a great izakaya near our hotel in Naha while we visited Okinawa. Watanji was a great local spot that had different spins on Okianawan favorites. Above is Naoto pointing out his name on the chalkboard. Apparently one of the servers shared his name. In true izakaya style, we got a bunch of small plates to sample. One of my favorite dishes was this smoky potato salad. We also had Okinawan yam tempura (dipped in honey!)This was Okinawan pork in soy broth. It was soooo delicious, once I pulled off the layer of fat. Japanese eat a lot of fatty meats, something I never can do. I know there’s a lot of flavor there, but man…texture issues! We lightened things up next with some fresh tuna. And then hopped back into the heavier foods with these Okinawan pork sausages!Then we had gyoza with lots of extra crispy bits. And finally…deep fried taco rice with the most amazing taco sauce on top. It was all of the ingredients of taco rice, packed into a little ball and fried! I want to recreate this so badly. The izakaya was very local but the staff was very welcoming, as with most places in Japan. Naoto stuck with Orion beer and I did a shikuwasa and soda…so refreshing!
I think I have one final Japan post…though I probably have plenty of other stationery things to share. Stay tuned! And happy weekend!
Naoto and I have been working on our menu for our 4th annual Hasegawa Tanabata. We are going all out this year again with a sushi tray and lots of homemade recipes we’ve been perfecting all year. It really is my favorite night of the summer…well, next to fireworks…but the food is better. (Sorry, grilled American food.) Last year I made a batch of spumonis and we’ve also had yuzu liqueur and sake, but this year, I wanted a fancy cocktail and I found this one on Reddit. It tastes like something you’d drink at a suburban sushi restaurant, though it’s not Japanese. Still, I think the purple is fitting with the spirit of Tanabata and it’s very delicious.
0.75oz fresh lemon juice
0.75oz lychee liqueur
0.5oz creme de violette
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until very chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve on the lanai with some sushi and gyoza on a hot summer night.
On our first night back in Tokyo, we stopped in to see the new Wrapple store (more on that later) and Naoto surprised me with the best dinner of our trip. He found an izakaya right in Shibuya that specializes in yuzu dishes. It’s called Yuzu no Komachi, which means “beautiful girl with yuzu.” Since yuzu is my absolute favorite thing, I was over the moon excited for dinner. And, they had private dining rooms (koshitsu) which are so cozy. I love being able to eat alone with Naoto and avoid the smokiness of most izakaya in Japan. When you walk in the door, you take off your shoes and walk along tatami mats to your “room” where you dine in peace with the door closed. You push a button as you are ready to order each course. It’s so perfect for an intimate dinner for two, or even a big party of people because you set your own pace and can enjoy the conversation with out constant interruptions. They had tons of yuzu liqueurs from all over Japan. So each time we got a round of drinks, we tried a new liqueur with soda. Everything was perfectly tart and refreshing. Some of the liqueurs were more cloudy than others, as you can see from above, and some were sweeter than others. They were all from different regions in Japan and it was such a great way to taste a variety of them. We’ve brought several yuzu liqueurs home over the years and none are ever as good as ones we’ve tried in restaurants.
We ordered a ton of small plates, each dish just as tasty as the next, starting with fresh cucumber with yuzu pepper……and tuna tartare with ponzu and yuzu pepper…and yuzu fried rice…and yuzu marinated steak…and prosciutto, tomato, and arugula salad with yuzu jam…and yuzu miso with cabbage leaves…and french fries with yuzu mayonnaise……and we ended with yuzu sorbet. This was one of my favorite meals of all time in Japan. I’m always up for a good theme, especially when my favorite citrus is the star.
For our last meal in Osaka, we ate at an Okinawan-style izakaya near our apartment. It was so warm in Japan that we were able to eat pretty much outside during a late October night. The restaurant was so tiny and our table was right inside that wooden door on the right. There were a few seats at the bar and two other tiny tables which were full all night. People seemed to be regulars, chatting with the woman working alone behind the bar. Every space of the restaurant was used, including the ceiling where a huge bottle of whiskey lived for easy dispensing. Our table was about one and a half by one and a half feet square and we sat on tiny, low stools. It was very cozy. I had a shiikwaasa (an Okinawan citrus) sour and Naoto had beer. We ate at a late lunch, so I was dining more for the snacks and moral support. We ordered a bunch of little plates, starting with edamame, and moving on to potato salad and buttered corn. The buttered corn was sooo delicious I got a second bowl for myself. I also forced myself to eat it with chopsticks, which was tedious but good practice. Okinawa cooking has been influenced by American soldiers stationed there in World War II. American GIs shared their Spam with Okinawan residents after the war when meat was scarce. The offerings are right up Naoto’s alley, and he ordered Spam while I munched on french fries. And he ate locomoco, a Hawaiian-style hamburger with egg and ketchup on top. In spite of all that, on the way home, Naoto stopped and got some takoyaki (an Osaka specialty) to snack on. It was a delightful way to end our stay in Osaka.
Hasegawa Happy Hour got an upgrade this Christmas! My incredibly talented coworker, Alicia, designed these mid-century style cocktail napkins for us. Aren’t they fantastic? We kind of fell off the Hasegawa Happy Hour wagon last year and didn’t invite as many people over to drink with us, but we’d like to start things up again this year. I think we need to menu plan and jump right in for January. (Because I love a good theme party!) Who’s in?