Jiro Dreams of Sushi Review

by Ed Lau on April 17, 2012

Right from the second I saw the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I knew it would be the sort of movie I enjoy. However, I avoided seeing it for a few weeks and not just because the only theater in town screening it had seats that feel like sitting on beanbag filled with pudding. I was scared, really, of how the movie would make me feel or more specifically, how nostalgic it would make me for Tokyo and all that glorious sushi I ate. I just knew that I was going to wake up in the parking lot of a Japanese restaurant face down in a pile of otoro, several hundred dollars lighter in a haze of sake and Asahi. My time living in Tokyo was nothing short of a life changing experience for me and just watching the trailer, I could see parts of the bustling metropolis that I recognized, streets I had walked by and I’m pretty sure that in one of the Tsukiji Market scenes, I could see the velvet rope outside Sushi Dai, where I lined up for hours to have sushi for breakfast…twice!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary on Jiro Ono, the 85-year old master sushi chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro, which I believe is the only restaurant with three Michelin stars located in a subway station. Anthony Bourdain called the place “easily the best sushi experience of my life” when he filmed No Reservations there back in season 3.

There’s one thing on the menu, the omakase meal, which basically means you trust the chef to choose your courses for you according to what’s fresh that day. At about $300, it’s quite an expensive meal and unlike the marathon you’d experience at El Bulli, you’re probably done and expected to leave in under half an hour. That’s the way most in-demand sushi places are…eat quick to be courteous to those behind you in line.

The best sushi I’ve had so far in life were my meals at Sushi Dai and while that was spectacular in every way for me, I seriously doubt those guys are even half as dedicated to sushi as Jiro Ono. The movie goes through the incredibly comprehensive process and hard work that goes into everything served at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Everything from sitting over a flame, roasting seaweed by hand in a very particular way to the absolutely astonishing technique that goes into making the restaurant’s tamago or egg sushi. That’s something I really admire about the Japanese culture…that some people can dedicate themselves to their work in the absolute pursuit of perfection.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat at Jiro’s during my time in Japan. I put it off for awhile and by the time I went by to see if I could get a reservation, it was a busy time and it would’ve been two months before I could get one of the very few seats in the restaurant. I was scheduled to leave Japan before then. Had I known I would end up staying in Japan awhile longer, I would’ve put my name down immediately. Some people that I’ve talked to after seeing this movie think that $300 is simply too much for a sushi dinner. Personally, I agree but I’d still do it. For a once in a lifetime experience like this, $300 isn’t bad.

Just like some won’t understand why anyone would drop three bills on raw fish, Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn’t for everyone. In fact, I overheard a few people in the theater snickering, joking about the ridiculous attention to detail these men put into their craft. I get it…it’s hard for most people to wrap their heads around taking 10 years just to hold a knife properly, cook an eel or even the painstaking process of preparing something as seemingly simple as rice. It’s a radical departure from the restaurant model of many North American chains where every restaurant can cook a very wide variety of foods but nothing particularly well. The opposite is true in Japan. Many places make only one thing, have been making only that one thing for hundreds of years and you can be damn sure there are only a handful if any other places that could make that dish half as good.

Go ahead…ask a group of people in Japan where the best ramen is. It’s like asking which of iPhone or Android is better. You’ll start a holy war.

So while not everyone is going to understand, if you love sushi, Japan or both like I do, you are going to love this movie. It’s shot beautifully not only at the restaurant, capturing the everyday vibe of the world’s best sushi bar but in all the shot around Tokyo. You get the hustle of the fish market, the quiet efficiency of the metro system and the vibrant allure of the neon cityscape. I could feel it tug at my heartstrings every time there’s a shot of Jiro walking through the streets.

The sushi is captured in slow motion. I know that sounds silly but if there actual food pornography, this would be it. When the chef’s place each piece down in front of their customer, it writhes and shimmies on the dish, settling down from the pressure of the chef’s hands. You see the sheen of the tuna with all that delicious marbled fat in the otoro.

Instead of the bow-chicka-wow-wow, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is mostly scored with classical music which lends to the film’s rhythm. The pacing has it’s ebb and flow, sometimes moving quickly through the chaos and then slowing down during the quiet moments, all of which is beautifully reflected in the music. If Jiro’s food is considered art, the movie makes him out to be a maestro conducting an orchestra, making sure each morsel of food sings to it’s full potential.

I have nothing to be critical of in this movie but I understand that my relationship with Japan and with sushi makes me quite obviously biased. However, that shouldn’t take anything away from what is an astonishingly gorgeous documentary. This movie shows how beautiful food can be and the dedication that’s required to expose all the subtleties and flavors from otherwise simple ingredients of fish and rice. I highly recommend this if you have any interest in food, sushi or Japan.

Now someone hide all my credit cards before I talk to my travel agent…

Verdict: 9.0 out of 10.

{ 10 comments }

in Entertainment,Food and Fine Dining

Richmond’s 365 Days of Dining – Vote Ed!

by Ed Lau on March 21, 2012

There really is no way to say this without sounding like a politician but I would love to represent Richmond as the 365 Days of Dining blogger. While I will not have the power to lower taxes or fight crime, my best efforts each day would be put towards making this blog as informative, engaging and fun as possible. To be frank, I do feel like I’m the best choice for the job.

Why? It could be because I absolutely adore Richmond. I love Richmond like Ray Charles loved Georgia or that kid that 50 Cent says loves cake. Writing songs is probably out of the question since my musical talent is limited* but I could make this into a heck of a fun blog.

I’ve always said that I think Richmond is just about the best place on the planet when it comes to living. Everything is quite convenient. People are friendly. The streets are safe. Richmond is quiet when we need some quiet and fun when we want to cut loose. I know I’ve also professed my love for Japan, Germany and even parts of the United States. I know I’ve mentioned I might want to live downtown or elsewhere for awhile but Tokyo, London, Robson Street…we’re just friends. Richmond, we’re best friends. We’re family.

Whoever is selected for 365 Days of Dining is going to be representing Richmond to the world. I’m sure we’d all like to be introduced by someone that truly knows who we are rather than someone we just met.

I’m relatively well traveled and I enjoy living abroad as well. Nothing broadens your mind like experiencing other cultures and parts of the world you haven’t been. Travel is food for your soul but like revisiting old favorites such as wonton noodles or a nice, rare burger after more adventurous edibles, I always love coming back to Richmond. The mystery and allure of a foreign land may keep me away for a little while but I always know where my heart is. No matter where I happen to be, Richmond will always be my hometown and it will always proudly say so on my Facebook page.

It could be for my love for food. Although my parents tell me I was a fussy eater as a toddler, it didn’t take long for my love affair with food to begin. While other kids were watching Saved by the Bell, I would follow along with Yan Can Cook.

I figured if he could cook, so could I! Don’t get me wrong, I still watched Saved by the Bell but throughout my younger years, I idolized the chefs on Food Network. By the time I got to high school, I followed along with Emeril Lagasse (BAM!), Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. I remember watching the original Japanese Iron Chef for the first time (Battle Asparagus) and being awed by the creativity.

I love to cook. Love getting my hands, as well as several counter-tops, many dishes and much of the floor, dirty. I love knowing what goes into my food and what produces the flavors I enjoy. Food isn’t just something that keeps us alive, it’s just so much more. It can bring back the memories you thought were lost. It’s a great reason to sit down with friends for a few hours. Food can be fun. Food can tell a story. Food can be art. Some of you may be scoffing at me thinking I’m possibly exaggerating but perhaps you’ve never bit into the perfect piece of otoro, Granny Smith green apple sorbet or one of those burnt ends from The Hog Shack.

It could be because I know my way around writing, photo/video-ography and social media. I won’t profess to be the best but I know what I’m capable of and how I can grow in each area. As a combination of talents, I feel like I stack up well against the competition and I can do what it takes to make this a success not only for myself but for Richmond. Blogging isn’t going to be the only responsibility with 365 Days of Dining. This isn’t Field of Dreams where they’ll come because you built something. Traffic doesn’t appear out of thin air, it has to be generated and promoted. I’ve spent the last six years networking and digging into the local social media scene and I’ve already got ideas on audience participation as well as how I can give back to my home community.

That’s why I would absolutely be over the moon if I was chosen for this not only because I think it would be a great time, eating amazing food but because I would get to share Richmond with everyone and tell them exactly how awesome my city is.

* I know all the words to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. All of them.

{ 11 comments }

in Current Events,Food and Fine Dining,Random,Tech and the Net

Mission Workshop Sanction Backpack Review

by Ed Lau on March 15, 2012

Searching for a good looking laptop bag is like searching for good drivers in Richmond…they’re few and far between but they do exist. I’ve often wondered why it seems like all bags for carrying around your various technological devices look like they’re cut from the same roll of black nylon. I get it…it’s to make long-lasting products that will probably be at least somewhat weather resistant but can’t we get something a little different?

Mission Workshop out in San Francisco makes all kinds of durable, weatherproof gear for commuters, travelers and cyclists. Actually, most of their products seem to be geared toward cyclists, including sets of bike shoes but of course, riding a bike isn’t a requirement. They make a number of messenger bags and backpacks (as well as jackets) in several different sizes but since carrying a heavy load off just one shoulder isn’t very good for my back, I thought I’d try out one a Sanction rucksack.

While Mission Workshop’s focus clearly seems to be on making products that will last a long while (all products are guaranteed for a lifetime) as well as protect your stuff against the elements, I happen to really enjoy the classic look of many of their products. They’re cleanly designed with simple lines, understated, monochrome colors…other than the outlandish red/orange available for the messenger bags…and few bells or whistles. There aren’t any silly grommets, holes for headphones or cell phone pockets strewn about. Instead of cluttered, we get sleek and streamlined.

Speaking of well made, I’ve been using this bag for close to 4 months on a regular basis and it looks pretty close to when it was brand new. All Mission Workshop bags come with a lifetime warranty which covers any manufacturer defects but not regular wear and tear. However, the Sanction is very well made and shows little signs of wear. My only complain might be that the nylon material can be a little difficult to clean.

The Sanction is the smallest backpack Mission Workshop makes, measuring 12″ x 18″ x 5″ with 1000 cubic inches of storage space. There is a total of 6 compartments of various sizes. The main storage space runs the entire height of the bag, which makes for about enough space to stuff a folded up hoodie and maybe a couple other smaller objects like a camera, a book or a packed lunch.

While quite long, the bag isn’t very wide or deep. The material doesn’t have much give or stretch, which somewhat restricts what you can put in the bag. I had difficulty fitting a boxed lunch back there but this is a small bag, meant to carry just a few things for your daily commute.

The laptop sleeve opens up with a zipper along the top flap of the Sanction. It’s about the size of my 15″ Apple MacBook Pro but there’s probably enough room for a laptop of slightly larger dimensions. It might even be able to accommodate a 17″ laptop but the thickness of the pocket might not be able to handle some of the heftier ones.

The back of the sleeve (that rests against your back) is well protected. I can feel some semi-rigid plastic sewn in between the pocket and the light but adequate padding for extra shielding but only a thin layer stands between your laptop and whatever you choose to throw into the main compartment. This means if you have anything like keys or other scratchy objects in there, they could rub against your shiny laptop the wrong way. That’s unlikely since the nylon seems quite strong, like that tarp you’ve used for camping for the last 20 years, but still a little more protection for a $2000 gadget would be nice.

The front of the bag has 4 additional pockets, three smaller ones covered by the front flap, secured with weather resistant zippers and a larger one at the bottom with it’s own velcro.

While not very wide, one of the front pockets also runs the entire length of the bag, making it a good slot for your tablet. Unfortunately, there is no padding around this pocket so there isn’t much protection for that gorilla glass in the front and there isn’t much else that can think of that fits in here.

Two other zippered pockets in the front of the Sanction are considerably smaller and is probably good for smaller items like flash drives, USB cables or a small digital camera.

The front compartment lacks zippers and only has a Velcro flap keeping the elements at bay but it does the job well, keeping your laptop charger or other things you want to have handy dry. Holding things you want to have handy is probably exactly what the front compartment is for since the main pockets are protected by both their zippers and buckled straps. While this keeps your equipment secure, it can be a pain to open on the go. I also wish they didn’t go with Velcro. While convenient, opening a Velcro-ed flap in a quiet room feels like you’re disturbing everyone in the room.

At only 2.6 pounds, the Sanction is quite light, has a relatively narrow profile and sits flat on your back so moving around with it on feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. If you’re rather clumsy like I am, you don’t have to worry about knocking things over or smacking people in the face when it swings around.

The shoulder straps are wide but lightly padded. As I mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot of padding in the back either but fortunately, the Sanction is small enough that it still comfortable even when full. The buckle that attaches the two shoulder straps together is enough to carry the load easily but you can also get a waist strap from Mission Workshop for $30.

Since the Sanction is touted as an all-weather bag, I thought I’d test whether that means waterproof or water resistant.

In my not-very-scientific test, I stuffed a microfiber cloth into one of the smaller pockets, zipped it up and ran it under the sink for 5 minutes, making sure to run the tap over the seams and the zipper. The cloth should show any wet spots if any water got through.

That looks pretty waterproof to me. Notice the water beading and running off without soaking into the material.

No visible wet spots and the cloth is still dry to the touch. If it can handle being in my sink, it should be able to take a little rain easily.

The Mission Workshop Sanction has a few minor flaws but all around, it’s good looking, well made and built to handle the elements. It can be a little too small but if you find that to be the case, Mission Workshop makes two larger backpacks made to the same specs. Quality, of course, comes at a price and at $179, the Sanction isn’t cheap but well within the range of better quality laptop bags. The Booq bag I was using previously to haul my 15″ MacBook Pro was around the same price.

So if you’re looking for a new backpack that doesn’t look like a laptop bag, will last you a long time and protect your gear against Mother Nature, then you might be looking for a bag from Mission Workshop.

{ 14 comments }

in Fashion,Tech and the Net

Slash Plays Jessica on Top Gear

by Ed Lau on March 12, 2012

Top Gear is already pretty awesome. In this episode alone, James May drove a Ferrari 250 California (absolutely gorgeous), Richard Hammond drove the new BMW M5 and with Jeremy Clarkson, they got into rallycross for less than the cost of golf.

Therefore, I don’t know how they got the time to fit in legendary Guns ‘n Roses guitar god Slash into the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. He isn’t very quick around the track, as demonstrated by a very slow 1:49 but damn, can that guy rock…

{ 11 comments }

in Cars,Entertainment

Well That Seems Like Long Enough Of A Break

by Ed Lau on February 6, 2012

I often wonder where all the people that blogged around the same time I started have disappeared to. If you look through the early days of this blog, you’ll notice quite a few links to sites that no longer exist or occupied only by tumbleweeds. Many dropped off after a life changing event such as Stephen Fung, who hasn’t written a post in almost a year after his daughter was born. Others moved on to different blogs. Still others simply felt burned out and left their sites to rust. In fact, the only person from my early days of blogging almost six years ago that still does so with clockwork regularity is Michael Kwan, but that’s just Kwan being Kwan.

I used to think that the burn out was silly, especially when some were quitting around year three when I was just hitting my stride but it happens to everyone. I took a few breaks and stopped blogging daily after ’08 and then moved to a weekly/monthly schedule. While daily is probably too much, I couldn’t stick to a monthly since it was just too easy to forget about it altogether.

But it seems that this break has been long enough. I haven’t posted much since early November, which is probably a result of having to focus some of my energy elsewhere lately but still, I’ve been gone long enough. I’ll be blogging regularly again at all my various blogs, probably keeping a flexible schedule of a few times a week. I’m hoping to write about 5 posts total for my personal blog, my food blog and Canucks Hockey Blog per week, which seems like a reasonable pace.

But more importantly, I want to get back to when blogging was just a lot of fun and doing it with a lot of great people back in the day made it even better. We’ve all moved on. I mean, I was 23 when I started this and now I’m approaching 30 so we’re all different as people but I wouldn’t mind catching up with old friends, maybe getting a few back into this wacky thing we do.

{ 8 comments }

in Random