Food Excursion: Oriental Dragon

This time we visited a restaurant known for their mixture of Japanese and Chinese styled foods.  They have a reasonably priced sushi buffet to go along with that theme.  Neither of us opted for the buffet, but I did get one order of sushi rolls to try them out.

Oriental Dragon Rockford Website

Our order consisted of:
- Chicken with Mushroom
- Crab Rangoon (8 pc.)
- Spring Roll (2 pc.)
- Hot and sour soup
- Beef with Mushroom
- Spicy Salmon Roll

Prices per entree were around $10 and smaller items such as appetizers were close to $5.  With a tip, this place is in line with similar ones.  It can get a little pricy if you order multiple dishes and are big tipper.  The restaurant is a bit small, but with a nice fit and finish.  The tables had a wood grain finish and everything in the restaurant seemed to be in good condition.

Spicy Salmon Roll
The spicy salmon rolls were very good.  The taste was mild yet still flavorful.  I'm not a fan of wasabi and ginger, so I ate the rolls as is without garnish.  I get to experience the true flavors of the sushi this way.

Beef with Mushroom
The main entree I ordered was the beef with mushroom.  Very similar to what I had at a previous restaurant called Imperial Palace.  Overall, I'd say this was slightly more to my liking, but both were very similar in taste and presentation. 

Rice that comes with the meals.
The bowl of rice, while still not like what is served in Japan, was pretty decent and not too dry.  The Crab Rangoon were probably one of the better preparations of that common appetizer I've experienced in a long time.  The Rangoon's wrappers were soft and fresh, making them much easier to enjoy.  At other places, usually the wrappers are tough and hard.  This might be a matter of how long they are cooked. These seemed like they were cooked enough, but not too much.

Hot and Sour Soup

Chicken with Mushroom
The CVFTA member who ordered the Chicken with Mushroom dish said that it wasn't what he expected.  The chicken was fried, which gave it an unusual texture or taste he wasn't too fond of.

Oriental Dragon is yet another American Chinese styled restaurant in the area worth visiting.  The added benefit is that they have additional menu items like sushi that works well for a group of people with different tastes.

Convention Report: Anime Apocalypse 2012

Hey there!  CVFTA just visited another convention.  This time it was a new smaller convention in Rockford, Illinois called "Anime Apocalypse" that happened from the 21st to 23rd of December at a hotel called the Clock Tower Resort.  Maybe you can see the Mayan calendar doomsday reference there?  We are still alive, so that didn't pan out for the doomsday theorists, but we did have a nice convention to attend and my photos taken there will be appreciated instead of burned in an apocalyptic world ending cinder.

Anyways, I enjoyed the convention and will certainly be back next year (maybe under a different convention name this time?) if it turns into a reoccurring thing.  For me, it is close enough that I don't have to fork out the expense of a room, which is great.  Not often does that happen, but it is a welcome occurrence.  I was able to attend at least a few hours of all three days.

My photos from the event:
Friday General
Cosplay Auction
Saturday General
Cosplay Contest
Sunday General

Facebook (you can tag yourself after liking the page):
Friday General
Cosplay Auction
Saturday General
Cosplay Contest
Sunday General

Gallery site:
Friday General
Cosplay Auction
Saturday General
Cosplay Contest
Sunday General

The convention was one of the smaller ones I had been to, but it still had a nice turnout.

I took a considerable number of cosplay photos and I also attended a few panels and events.  The links to all of the photos are above, but here are a few highlights of the convention:

I met a few members of the photography group called The Enthusiasts that had a photo booth setup.  A nice group of people.  Check them out at conventions for photos if you get the chance.

I attended a few panels and events such as the cosplay auction for PAWS benefit, cosplay contest, cosplay photography, Robotech, prop safety and etiquette, foam sword battles, Super Tokusatsu, and intermediate cosplay construction.  All of them were interesting and worth checking out.

Probably the best part of the convention, besides being a short drive for me, was the staff.  They were polite and hassle free.  I never once had any issues and was able to photograph things like the cosplay auction without any restriction.  It was a pleasant change from larger conventions.

Here is my convention photography article on this convention.

Here is also a video I put together about my photography there:


Vito's Ristorante Excursion

For this excursion we went to a place called Vito's Ristorante.  As you can probably surmise from the name, it is an Italian styled restaurant.  This time our crew was three CVFTA members strong!  After an hour or more of deliberation, we decided on a restaurant near Vito's, but ended up going here instead.  While both, I'm sure, would have been good options and we will probably visit the other one someday, I'm glad we checked out this restaurant first.

Their website:

The restaurant had an intimate and formal atmosphere, but didn't come with the high-end cost you would expect.

We had visited at what appeared to be a low traffic time, which is great for us because we take photos of our food.  I'm glad to say that, so far, not one place has hassled us about that.

Their menu is simple and focused on a few Italian staples like pastas and sandwiches that used Italian breads.

I had the Portabella Sandwich with fries and berry flavored iced tea.

Marinated portabella mushroom, served on ciabatta bread
It looks refreshing, doesn't it?

You might expect the bread that looks like that to be a bit dry, but it wasn't.  It had just the right level of bite and flavor to it to not be a detriment to the sandwich.  The mushrooms were plentiful and flavorful enough to be enjoyed.  The berry flavored tea was simple and unsweetened.  It had a subtle  mild flavor, but was very refreshing. Scott S. aka. Sai had Chicken Bruschetta Sandwich with fries and Linguine Alfredo with salad.

Grilled chicken breast topped with homemade bruschetta, and provolone cheese
Linguine pasta with a homemade garlic cream sauce
Sai's salad that came with the pasta.

Erik had the Bruschetta appetizer , and linguine alfredo with shrimp.  We joked about the massive portion of pasta and how there might be a black hole warp inside that keeps refilling the bowl. 

Linguine pasta with a homemade garlic cream sauce


Erik shared his Bruschetta, so I had a chance to see what it was like.  It is something simple yet really great once you start eating it.  The bread pieces are hard, but only on the first few crunches.  Along with the salsa, it make a great tasty combination that is surprisingly good from something so simple.

The waitress was extremely helpful and quick to give us refills or see how we were doing.  A nice place for lunch or dinner depending on what style of dining you prefer.


Imperial Palace Food Excursion

I'm a bit slow with articles lately, but now is a good a time as any to get caught up!  Around two weeks ago, a fellow member of CVFTA and I went to a local restaurant called Imperial Palace.  While researching restaurants, I accidentally named this restaurant as one that had a certain buffet we had heard about.  I was wrong, but it seemed like a good a place as any to check out, so we did.

 Here is their website:

Their menu is what you would expect from what I like to call "American Chinese" restaurants.  They have all of the expected dishes and are generally around the same price and usually pretty similar in taste.

I had ordered the Imperial Beef.  It came with the classic supplement of beef, which is mushrooms.

Sai had ordered what I think it might have been Hunan Beef. He also ordered an appetizer of Crab Rangoon.

Each lunch came with fried or white rice, soup, and a single Crab Rangoon.

Some extras with the meal like these fried chips that go well with the soup.

The one benefit of this place is that you have a more traditional restaurant atmosphere compared to most others that are more styled toward the fast food motif.  On the reverse side, that means you will be tipping a waitress.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  It's a nice place to visit for a relaxing lunch. 

Kollision Con 2012 Photos and Report

I attended Kollision Con 2012 on Saturday and Sunday (24th and 25th of November 2012).  It is a convention in my general area, more specifically it is located in St. Charles Illinois at the Pheasant Run Resort.

Edit, here is a video I put together to go along with the articles:

Please view this article on for technical talk.

As you would probably expect, I spent most of my time doing cosplay photography, but I did attend a few panels, most of the Masquerade, walked in on a concert or two for a few songs, and played a some video games.

Props go out to Charles, Kersten, and their crew for hosting the "Posing tips for the Cosplayer" and "Photography advice for the cosplay photographer" panels.  They did a good job touching on specific details and not just a slideshow of their past work like other panels I've seen over the years.  I found both of them informative.

Knowing is half the battle.  Attend panels.

I stopped by both The Pillowcases and V is for Villains concerts for a song or two, though my ability and desire to handle loud music has gone down a bit over the last number of conventions.  Probably from the times I've been up close to powerful stage speakers as I'm taking photos.  Maybe the next time I'm asked to do that, I'll bring a set of earplugs.  I didn't even bother taking photos, because of the potential hassles that come with photographing concerts with no press/media badge.  I don't think I know anyone running this convention, so it wasn't worth the trouble.

It had been a long while since I utilized the game room at a convention.  In the case of Kollision Con, It wasn't too busy, so at one point, Erik of CVFTA and I spent some quality time dispatching zombies on the PS3.  I also tried out the Wii U on Sunday for a few moments.  The controller is novel and has functional benefits, but it won't shake my old school love for the NES and SNES controllers.

The convention, in general, seemed extremely laid back.  Besides having badges checked at a few of the main events and to borrow a game controller, there wasn't much else people attending had to deal with in the form of security.  I much prefer it this way.  Of the few things I did attend, they were on time and well executed.

Samurai Dan doing what he does best.
There were quite a few cosplayers around, especially considering the general size of the convention.  While many of the cosplayers were focused on the given trending costumes of the day like "Homestuck," there were quite a few more elaborate, impressive, and unique cosplays around.

A friend from my hometown with his elaborate costume.
I did some hallway photography, but as you can tell from my photo sets, a lot of the time was spent with people I already know or my photographer and cosplayer friends know.  I'm not sure what to say about that except it is easier to take photos with someone you know because there isn't as much initial effort involved in getting things setup.  It's actually pretty fun to get more into the details of extended photo sessions, because there is room to expand on lighting and framing technique with more time.

A photo taken between taking photos.

I was even able to get a few choice photographing moments outside with one cosplayer on Sunday.  The weather was quite warm for this time of the year, and I'm glad it worked out.  Using completely manual settings on the camera with a manual flash presents special challenges outside.  I won't go into details here (check my related article on for details once that is available), but I'll say it worked out well without too much hassle.

I'm glad the weather allow for some shooting outside!

One thing I noticed was that most of the photographers had a lot of camaraderie and teamwork at Kollision.  Some of us helped each other with aspects like holding lights or if we needed something in general.  We also took turns with cosplayers at times when it was more difficult to find someone to work with.  Overall, it was a great demonstration of how Midwest cosplay photographers can work.  I don't really know what other areas of the country are like, but I'll try to find out in the future.

Three photographers, one lighting assistant, and one cosplayer working together.

All things were not perfect.  There was one unusual fellow bothering women by getting a bit too friendly and giving them autographed self-portraits of himself in drag. Also, a new friend of mine had an incoherent drunk quiz her about the convention scene among other things.  I seem to remember hearing his statement about having a beer bottle collection at one point, which seems fitting.  The person wasn't part of the convention, but a guest of the resort for holiday most likely.  I guess bothering young women was on his drunken vacation to-do list.  So that's about it for my report of Kollsion Con 2012.  I'll leave you with the photo below for my rating of the convention. 

Maybe I'll see you next year.  My regards to Erik of CVFTA for the epic bi-level room at Pheasant Run Resort.

Spider Sushi Bar Excursion

CVFTA decided to visit another local restaurant.  This time we decided on Japanese cuisine in the form of a sushi bar that has pretty much everything from yakisoba and udon to nigiri sushi and bento boxes.

The restaurant itself is easy to access off two well known streets and has a nice atmosphere inside.  They have the bar where the chef does work as well as normal 4-person tables with chairs and 2-person tables with comfy padded seats.  They also have the space for larger numbers of guests.

Their website is located here:

Our mutual order consisted of:
Calamari Appetizer
Sauteed squid seasoned with our house ginger sauce.

Rock'n Roll Sushi Roll
 Eel, yellowtail, and cucumber

Chicken Yakisoba
Pan fried noodles with bell peppers and asparagus.

Sushi Dinner
8 pieces of sushi, 4 piece california roll, soup & salad.

Gindara Bento
Black cod marinated in miso, served with soup, salad, 4 piece California roll, orange, white fish, shumai, and steamed rice.

Prices are pretty reasonable, though portions are average in size.  This is mostly a sit-down restaurant, so expect to tip a waitress.  Overall, I liked the flavor of what I had ordered, which was the black cod bento.  The miso soup was tasty and a bit unique compared to ones I've had in the past. It had a slightly sweet flavor to it, which could have been from the large portion of what I assumed to be seaweed and pieces of sweet onion or chives.  The salad had a mild and slightly sweet dressing to it, which was nice and refreshing.  

The bento itself had a small piece of cod along with some vegetables and a few fried items.  The cod reminded me of my time in Nagasaki when my host family dinners usually had a piece of fish marinated like that as the main course.  Probably my favorite part of the bento was the simple yet flavorful California rolls, along with the cod of course.  

My one issue was the state of the bowl of rice that came with the bento, which I've been all too familiar with in my home city.  To put it simply, it was dry.  I've noticed the same thing from similar places like Marc's Fusion restaurant and other rice serving shops like Happy Wok.  If you want a good side-dish of plain rice, try somewhere like Mitsuwa's (Japanese supermarket toward Chicago) food court offerings that serve traditional Japanese style set meals.

Overall, I liked the place and wouldn't mind visiting there again in the future.

Chicago Chinatown and Dim Sum

I went on an excursion to Chicago with two friends from my area where we met up with another group for a few hours in Chinatown.  We walked around the area for a little while and also had lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant.

This Wikipedia page is helpful in understanding more about Chinatown, feel free to check it out.

It was my first time visiting here, so I was going in with no knowledge of the place or any real expectations as to what I would see.  Overall, it is an interesting place that is what you might expect; many aspects of Chinese culture condensed into a small area of an American metropolis.

Most of our time was spent at the restaurant.  The person most familiar with Chinatown suggested a  Dim Sum restaurant called Triple Crown.  I'm glad that we went there for various reasons.  While it ended up being a bit expensive, we were able to sample a large variety of Chinese or Chinese-styled dishes.  I've seen these restaurants on the travel channel many times and was curious see what they are really like.  Now that I have, I can say that I like Dim Sum a lot. :)

There were a few quirks along the way because we didn't know how things were done, but everyone was generally in the spirit of sharing and sampling of different foods.  This reminds me of a social social faux pas I made many years ago when I lived in Japan with a similar communal-style restaurant, but that's a story for another time.

Dim Sum is somewhat similar to the concept of buffets in the United States.  The main difference is that you don't go to the buffet lines, but rather order items from a list or select items that are brought around on carts.  Each item is comprised of 2 to 4 individual pieces, which is especially designed to be for sharing.  They have a large Lazy Susan (rotating tray) in the center of  the table so that everyone can easily access everything that is ordered.

Besides the restaurant, we went to a few gift shops near the restaurant and also visited Chinatown Square.

Chinatown Square was laid out with a main square that had multiple paths lined with bi-level shops.  The variety of shops was large with everything from generic gift shops to more specialized ones focusing on specific types of foods, candy, videos, books, and even services like a doctor's office.

Most shops had a no photography policy, so I didn't bother taking too many images of the area.  The gift shops had what you would expect in the form of trinkets, but with ethnically themed items like the classic Chinese styled dresses for woman and a surprising number of things from Japan like anime plushies and wall scrolls.  We just barely scratched the surface due to time constraints, so it would be nice to return sometime to see the place in more detail.  Overall, I'd suggest visiting this place if you have never been there.

Youmacon 2012

It's been quite a few days since I got back from Youmacon 2012 and boy was it insane! I originally scrapped Youmacon from my convention list this year but added it back when a friend asked me to join staff. Although a lot of my time was spent on standby for staffing I did manage to get quite a few awesome photoshoots in this weekend.

Here are just a few photos from Youmacon this year:

There was a slight inconvenience for some people at this con. The main hotel required people to wear a strange paper wristband to prevent the room from having more than four people. Of course, many con-goers have more than this number to make their costs cheaper. It made the convention a little rocky at the beginning but in the end it worked out alright. Just a note, the wristbands were NOT Youmacon's fault. The hotel sprung that on them with little or no prior notice. Even us staffers were surprised!

Another issue I've heard came from a few artists. This year, Youmacon moved the dealers hall and artist alley to another building down the street called the COBO. It did seem like a good idea to help spread the traffic and that second building did have a LOT of room for the events that were moved over there. The problem for artists was that the artist alley was kind of hidden in the back which didn't allow as much through-traffic for people to impulse buy the products that artists were putting out.

Youmacon was still a great con and I will most likely return next year if I can! I missed many of the events but they're doing a great job expanding their events like the Battle Opera (fighting games) tournament they started this year. If you would like to see more photos from the con feel free to stop by my main website at

Until next time!
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