The LunchBoxCrew

Why to Follow, Why you're here...

The Places we go

We are always on the move to keep you current, motivated, and entertained

The Places We Eat

Checking out what the chefs are dishing out around the world

Where We Drink

Taking time to stop, talk to the locals, and seeing what they like

Our Snacks

At LBCStudios we are always making snacks and posting em up on twitter

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the 3rd day of Canada...

9:27 a.m. PST. Vancouver, Canada

The "Taste of Canada," food festival has just kicked off and the first day of the Global Chef Challenge started this morning.  Daniel, competing in the Jr Chef, and myself went over to support the American team in this mornings competition (Chef Mike Matarzzo.)  We make our way through the convention, take a seat in the arena, and here is breakfast...

Meet Chef Von Albrecht, and meet his new product XFour Vodka.  He is also the Canadian host for the WACS "America's," Global Comp.  Apparently vodka is breakfast of champions and he pours us off a glass, now that's a good host!

"Daniel, I got to get out of here, Chef just poured me another glass of vodka and I haven't had coffee, water, food... this could end badly."  He gives me a nod of agreement and we polish off our drinks.  A quick look at all the stands in the show and we decide to hit the streets.  With the help of (catch on Orlando) we find a few trucks and stalls parked near the convention center and now lunch is starting to look like Japanese meets...  

Hot dogs! .....yesss 

What to choose, what to choose.  Brats, Kobe, Kurobuta pork that's a hot dog stand. Japadog has its claim to fame trough; Top Chef, No Reservations, the Food Network, and they are worth all the hype. So, what did I get?

Kurobuta pork, cabbage, bonito flakes, and Japanese mayo.  I went with a healthy dose of sriracha to round out my dog.  Ok, so the best dog I have had to date was in Chi Town, but these are competing on a whole other playing field.  Trust me, I would love to give the award of "best hot dog of my life" to these guys, but the other place had duck fat fires.  Sorry Japadog, but your dogs are still bangin'!

Next up, Bun Me, guessed it...a banh mi. 

   BBQ Lemongrass Chicken, extra spicy...thanks!  It's banh mi...on a fresh toasted baguette...on the streets!  What else do you want?!?

Cookies & Cream cupcake anyone?  Good, but don't worry Yum Yum, you still da best.

Back to the convention to watch the Americans take the Silver.  Pressure is on now, Daniel is competing tomorrow and has to put the Canadians in their place.  Good luck bro!  Time to take him out, buy him a few drinks and get him a solid "familiar" meal to calm his nerves so he can do this thing.  Here is what we had at; Cardero's "Chops and Wok."

Fried Oysters:  Tarragon, cocktail sauce.  I am falling in love with the bivalves here, and I think I know why.

 This was the view behind me at the "Marina Pub," we decided to eat at tonight.  It just screams, "Eat the Seafood!!!"  Yes, Vancouver...I get your message loud and clear, consider it done.

Mussels in Curry:  Garlic, ginger, curry, coconut milk, and cilantro.  A bunch of mussels and even more sauce, somebody knows whats up, and what I am about to do.  Remember the steam bun technique from " 2?" Apply here.

Hummus&Pita: Marinated Roma tomatoes and olives

 Woked Squid: Fried then tossed in a wok with garlic, chilies, onions, cilantro.

This was dubbed the "Vancouver Chop:" Fingerlings, beats, tomatoes, cucumbers, egg, edamame, olives, carrots, shallot vinaigrette and greens.  Dying for a salad?  This is the one.   

Fish Tacos:  Battered fish, cabbage, cucumber relish, chipotle sour, cilantro, and fresh white corn tortillas. 

Solid meal but most certainly the least extravagant that I will be consuming this trip.  Still no complaints tonight.  What we did discover here was Russell Brewery, highly enjoyable line of beers.  (You will be seeing more of them later) Tonight I had their creamed ale. 

Calling it an early night tonight.  Tomorrow is the big day!  

Monday, July 18, 2011 2

8:44 a.m. PST. Vancouver, Canada

As I said in a previous post, I came up to Canada to meet with a buddy of mine.  I told him I was going to come up and help him out in anyway I could and at the very least offer some support.  He is competing in the WACS Global Jr. Chef's competition, representing the United States in the "Regional," version of this competition.  It is battle of the "America's."  Today is a prep day, and before I throw on my whites and head into the kitchen, I am going to need breakfast and an IV of coffee.

Luckily, we are told that the best coffee joint is just across the street from the hotel.  Let me introduce you to I have quickly noticed that Vancouver THRIVES on coffee.  No joke, every corner has a coffee shop, and they are all local!  Want Starbucks, and I don't know why, not going to find them here.  Hotel lobbies and posh locations...maybe.  Back to Caffe Artigiano.   A glance over at the "specials," board; smoked salmon bagels...sold, and a quick suggestion from my teenage Asian, sporting two 3/4 sleeves, chucks, and black framed glasses (she knows her coffee!) and a large French Press of Organic Ethiopian Blend coffee it is.

Now this is Breakfast.  A poppy seed bagel, split in half, toasted and topped with; cream cheese, smoked salmon, shaved fennel, shaved red onion, capers, and olive oil.  The lemon rounds everything out and cuts through the richness of the cream cheese, the smoke of the salmon, and heightens the fennel, red onion, and caper.  Perfectly balanced and the best breakfast I have had in a long time. I am telling you, simplicity is where it is at! 

Now that is service!  Your press on a platter with all the accouterments; Sugar; raw, synthetic, and cancerous...all there, cream, and the glass you see is ice water, to cool your coffee down if you find it too hot, but don't you dare.

Need a refill? The "due line," lets you know that you are "due," for another

Food, coffee, awake.  Ok, so I also got a chance to share this trip with a mentor of mine.  A Chef that I admire, an individual I look up culinary father.  He was there as part of the judging committee  for this particular competition, and he popped into the kitchen where we were prepping baring gifts.  "Brian! Daniel! I hold in my hand...THE best cheese...IN THE WORLD!" Chef throws me a bag and says; "Here is your mystery basket, let's eat."  "Yes Chef!"  Here is what I put together.

In the bag I was provided with; The best cheese in the world, Le Cendrillon,  Land Jaeger, Saucisse Amore (a style of summer sausage,) and kornspitz. Just screams sandwiches to me.  Little butter, some fresh cracked black pepper and done.  I get a thumbs up from all the Chefs in the kitchen and continue to help prep.  

The Canucks are ready to play game 5 and they have home team advantage here.  The streets are quiet, dead silent, and all the hot restaurants downtown are empty.  We decide to hit up two Japanese restaurants on our "must eat," list.  First up...GyOZa kINg. 

Ohitashi: Spinach with "special," soy sauce.  Bonito flake on top.   The spinach was blanch and shocked.  It was served cold; crisp, clean, and full on spinach flavor.  The "special" soy, I figured it was a smoked soy.  So perfect! They did not put the bonito on top, but it was in there and gave it this pleasing fish flavor.  What a great starter.

Maguro zanmai: Fresh albacore tuna, 3 ways.  Far left: Seared albacore with nori.  Top: Albacore sashimi.  Bottom: Albacore yukke (chopped.)  So clean.  What was amazing, was it was the same fish with little to no condiments, and three extremely different flavors.  Astounding what just changing the preparation of a dish does to the outcome.  My personal favorite was the yukke; taste was sweet, had the best texture, and left your pallet clean.

Ebimayo: Fresh tiger prawns with "special," mayo.  What can I say?  Perfectly fried shrimp in a tempura batter and "yum yum" sauce.  

Salmon, Avocado yukke: Chopped salmon and avocado with spicy sweet sauce, quail egg.  Yes, please!  Served with sheets of nori to entice  you to create your own hand roll.  Just take a chop stick, stir in the yolk, and fold in the sauce.  "Roll one up homie." At first I thought it would be uber rich and fatty.  Just think...yolk, salmon, and avocado...fat, fat, and fat.  The sauce took care of it all.  The sweet toned down the salmon while upping the avocado flavor.  The spicy covered up the richness of the yolk, and then there was the salty-acidic undertones that rounded it all out.  Completely dish please.

Karubi:  Beef short ribs.  Delicious, but I think the Koreans do it better ;)

Ebinira Gyoza: prawn, pork, chives.  Can't go to a place called "Gyoza King," and not try the Gyoza.  I now know why they are called gyoza KING!  Best dumpling I have EVER had.  Dough was perfect, filling was on point, and sauce...not even needed.  

Takoyaki:  Deep-fried octopus balls.  Topped with a healthy portion of bonito flakes and Japanese mayo.  The "balls," were cakey like hush puppies, octopus was tender, and the flavor was overall sweet.  It was the bonito flakes that made this dish.  It added the much needed salt component.  As for the Japanese mayo...always welcome. 

Nasu den: Deep-fried Japanese eggplant topped with yuzu sauce.  Skewered, fried, brush with yuzu "yakitori" style sauce, then grilled.  Sweet, salt, smoke, mmm.  I loved the texture of this particular preparation of eggplant.  The interior was creamy like a custard  and if you think about it, looks like creme brulee wrapped in purple skin.  

Gyu tan: Beef tongue skewers.! Beef flavor X 10 and, never thought that you could get such a dense muscle so tender.  Who ever was in the back cooking, defiantly knew what they were doing.  Selective cutting, brilliant marinating, and precision cooking.  "Give my complements to the Chef."

Ton toro:  Marinated pork with mustard mayo.  Was a great piece of pork.  We were supposed to get pork cheek, but after all we ate, we will that one slide.  

We finish our beers, "Arigatou," to all the staff, and we head up the street.  We take a quick peek in a market to check on the game...Canucks are up.  Sweet, now that we have appetizers out of the way, lets eat!  Dinner tonight provided by our new friends over at GUU.

The restaurant offers up a static menu, but what I loved about this place was the piece of notebook paper tapped to the door outside with the daily specials.  

Kakuni:  Stewed pork belly, daikon, and poached egg.  Served with steam bun.  Two words; PORK BELLY.  You ever eat a dish where as soon as you take your first bite, your eyes roll back into your head?  This was one of those dishes.  

There was a technique to eating this bowl of love.  First you find the poached egg in the bottom of the bowl and pop the yolk.  Give that time to spread around in the broth.  Next, you cut off a piece of belly with your chop sticks (yes! cut with your chop sticks...that tender.)  Then you take a pinch of radish, combine it with your belly, dip it in your broth, swipe it across that smear of mustard on the side of the bowl, and enjoy.  ::this is where your eyes roll::  As for the steamed bun; after you complete all your belly, throw the whole thing in the broth push the bowl to the side and come back to it me.

Tako:  Fresh, grilled, octopus:  Probably the best octopus dish I have had in my life.  I have been cooking professionally for years and have yet to get octopus as tender as this one.  The taste was so clean, perfectly marinated, and charred to perfection.  The sauce, the most garlicy aioli that you have ever had, but it the best way you could imagine.

Roasted Duck Ramen:  Perfectly cooked roasted duck, radish, charred spring onions, nori, and ramen. 

I am so used to "non functional" garnishes when eating out, that when I saw the nori I did not really give it a second thought.  You know what?  It really added an element to the broth that was something special.  Bowls of noodles like this, is what I dream of at night.

Ochazuke: Rice with dashi broth, with "todays," topping.  And today would be Wagyu so pleasantly nice.  Presented table side with scallions, seaweed, and egg.  Could eat this all day long.

Kakimayo:  Baked oyster with spicy cod roe, mayo creamy sauce, cheese baked on top.  My new favorite "cooked," oyster preparation.  The description they gave does not do it any justice.  They cut the humongous oysters in three pieces, folded it into some Japanese mayo with small diced potatoes, then roe, and I would imagine a little egg.  Topped with cheese and baked until bubbly and delicious, perfectly cooking the oysters in the process. 

Tofu & Kimchi Oden: Japanese Hot Pot; the video explains it all.

Oh it is, and before you that steamed bun you have soaking in the pork belly broth.  You're welcome.

So just in case you do not follow hockey and you were wondering how the Canucks did...

Friday, July 15, 2011 1

3:34 p.m. PST. Vancouver, Canada

Just rolled out of YVR, jumped in the Jeep and headed into town.  I am booked in a hotel just off the main drag and a block up from the port.

Headed into town I have noticed two things.  Vancouver is an exceptionally clean city, an example being that all the taxi's are Toyota Prius's, and heading into downtown is like Colonial between I4 and Bumby.  The Asian community is HUGE here, I am ready to eat.  Get to the hotel, throw the bags in the room and I hit the streets.  The weather is too nice and the city is too beautiful not to hoof it.  With all this culture on the mind, it is a must that we hit up some local influenced food. Korean it is!

So, I met up with a buddy of mine for this trip and he got in a day before me.  Word on the streets (he had been hitting up all the food stalls near the hotel) is for Korean food, "Sura Korean Cuisine," is the place to be.  Word! Here is why...

Bibimbap, Banchan (side dishes... complementary) 

Garlic Stems, tossed in Korean pepper paste, some soy and rice wine vinegar.  I have to tell you, this is my new favorite condiment.  Chimichuri, you have just been replaced!  This accompaniment is my new breakfast cereal topper.  To elaborate on the garlic "stems." They actually sold these in the markets, downtown Vancouver. (our equivalent to Whole Foods  So if you are growing garlic, you will see the growth of a stalk or "Scapes" and these my friends are where it's at! 

mmm...Kimchi.  What I loved about this particular kimchi, is that where ever they procured it, or if they have some grandmother fermenting it in her backyard, the spice/heat and taste of fermentation was spot on.  It is all about timing and balance and they nailed it.  Perfect to go with the tins of rice that dotted the table.

Gal-Bi: Korean BBQ style, short ribs.  This came to the table on a smokin' hot, cast iron sizzle platter.  I do not care how much you love Chili's, if this came to your table, you would throw away chain restaurants; forever! (more on chain restaurants in a later post.)  Sweet, smokey, fatty, and rich!  Need I say more?!? The only thing that this dish was missing was more chili garlic stems.  Now, usually you see hacked up scallions as garnishes on plates, but these painfully thin scallions actually offered up a subtle onion flavor that was perfect with the charred ribs.  Functional garnishes....imagine that.   

Kimchi Pancake:  Normally I would have ordered a seafood pancake at a Korean restaurant, but this was the first time that I have seen a variety of pancakes offered on a menu.  We were in luck, they ended up putting seafood in the pancake along with our kimchi...score!  You found the usual suspects in the pancake; octopus and shrimp.  Again, they are really winning me over with the accouterments.  The sauce they served with the cake was; scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and rice wine...done. 

Hit up a few more Asahi and then it was time to get lost in the city to see what I am getting myself into for the rest of the week.  

This picture was taken @ a quarter to!  It is going to be a long week. lol Time for bed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

7 days of Canada

I just recently got back from Vancouver.  The city was calling my name; "bmoll please come enjoy 68 degree weather, zero humidity, the largest Asian community in North America, Canadian food festivals, and a Global Culinary Competition." I was soo there!  Know what else is blowin' up in Vancouver?

  • Food Trucks
  • Hipsters
  • Indie Restaurants, Gastropubs, and Bars
  • Cop Cars...when the Canucks lose...more on that later
So I am going to put together 7 posts just highlighting the food, their descriptions, and any info related to those places.  Hope you enjoy! You will be seeing how this trip influenced us over at the Studios.

Damn you Mezcal...diaries of Cancun pt1

When I used to reflect and think about Mexico, all that would immediately come to mind was the high traffic tourist meccas (i.e. Acapulco,Tijuana,Cabo, etc.) where miles and miles of precious beaches are invaded and packed by the typical obnoxious, drunk, tourist. So I can honestly say that the 'agoraphobe' in me wasn't too thrilled, specially being the official start of summer, June. Upon arrival to the hotel in Cancun, I must admit I was still nervous and pretentious about what to expect. One thing was for sure, I go where my stomach wants and this specific resort had plenty to offer: a late night tapas bar, late bar/lounge, churrasqueria, cevicheria, traditional Mexican, and fine dining Italian. Let the games begin!

(To avoid explanations on every single thing I did and saw while my stay, I will be mainly focusing on the food followed by a mini slideshow of some great pictures. Enjoy)

After picking up my restaurant itinerary and hours of operation and dropping off my bags at the suite, I made a b-line for the cevicheria. Seemed perfect for the ubber hot weather we were having and I was craving an ice cold one sooo bad. I know there is an unwritten law of "pace yourself, its an all inclusive/all-you-can-eat hotel", but screw it, I'm here to do some damage. "I'd like a margarita, a Modelo, an octopus ceviche, a bay scallop ceviche, baja California fish tacos, and a tostada mixta". First off, don't judge me,and secondly, I can't even begin to describe the freshness and boldness of the seafood. The sweetness of the scallops, against the acidity of the lime, savory notes of onion and pepper, and the refreshing taste of cilantro. The octopus was some of the most tender I have ever had, and I usually don't even eat octopus because of the chewy texture that has ruined it for me forever. The chunks of avocado added the right amount of fat and creaminess needed to cut through all the acid and brine.

Second round of margaritas for me and the lady, and the fish tacos arrive. Battered and fried morsels of fresh grouper. Can't go wrong with that at all. The only downfall was the rather bland cabbage slaw. I think LBC studios has one up on our Mexican brothers with some fish tacos we did back in May. Just saying' Lol. The tostada was the real shocker though. Fried tortilla, topped with a sprinkle of Oaxaca cheese, shredded lettuce, mix of octopus, grouper, shrimp, scallop ceviches, and avocado. I mean, come on, you can't deny this isn't already making your mouth water. Needless to say this app became my go-to for the rest of my trip. Did I mention that they even serve you while you're laying out in the sand steps away from the beach? Yes my friends, this is what I am talking about.

Hmmm, seeing though we were still a little hungry, we decided to order just a few more items to "seal the deal". Calamari, fried swordfish, and 'coctel' mixto. The calamari was decent, if anything I would've liked a little bit more. The fried fish was realy moist and tender, and I have a hunch that it was friend in lard (I say this because I had red snapper fried in lard since I was practically in diapers). The dish would've been perfect for me if it was served with a side of fried plantains 'tostones' and some picked red onions. Killer! The 'coctel' mixto was a perfect ending to the cornucopia of appetizers we had in a matter of an hour. Sweet yellow onions, mixed ceviche, tomato chunks, avocado pieces, and that savory tomato sauce that I simply cannot tell you how good it is. My guess on ingredients is Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, tobasco, and a hint of horseradish.

Ok kids, it is at this point that I am slowly slipping into a food coma and my heart couldn't be any happier. Two beers and two margaritas a piece later, and I'm throwing the towel in. Time to waddle back to the room, switch to a bathing suit, sit by the pool and pace myself a little. Or not, whatever.