August 31, 2007, Volume 7 Number 35
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
When was the last time you walked out of a restaurant so completely satisfied that all you could say was "Wow!" OK, I understand, it sure does sound a little like "fantasy island" or something more improbable than ever likely, but if you've travelled to exotic destinations or even to major cosmopolitan cities on the West or East Coasts of the United States, it is possible you've had a "wow" experience at a restaurant, or made a comparison to dining at some of Guam's restaurants.
I came across this "wow" phenomenon in an article titled "Service: What's it all about?" written by Laurine Jacobs in New Zealand's Cuisine Magazine. In the article, she quotes Don Fletcher, a former President of the New Zealand Restaurant Association and a former restaurant owner. She writes, '" For me, as a consumer, restaurants should be about providing more than just food, wine and furniture. As Don Fletcher says, "It can be an emotional experience and exceed all expectations. I want customers to go away saying, "Wow!""
The "wow" factor is when it all comes together. I want to be greeted at the door by neat, tidy professional staff and, if I have made a booking, taken directly to my table. Before the greeter leaves I should be settled, have a menu and be asked if I have any initial requests. Water should appear immediately and after no more than three or four minutes, the waitstaff should reappear to assist me.
Anyone who is charged with taking my orders for food and drink should be thoroughly familiar with the menu and knowledgeable about its contents. The restaurant must offer its staff regular training sessions to taste the food and to become familiar with wine styles."
Now, we don't have to go to New Zealand to see the sense of this, but I bring this point up because service issues and training are universal, so when there is an opportunity for staff training or improvement, I really can't over-emphasize it's value. Where "staff turnover" is a constant concern, there are some things you can't help. As an owner and stake-holder of Guam's hospitality industry, you should consider any investment you make in personnel training as an improvement in the island's "gross service product"!
The ultimate bottom line to all of this and what I want to see, folks, is visitors leaving Guam after having experienced their own "wow" factor! Now isn't that something we should all put our energies toward achieving?
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
Arnold's Grill & Cafe
Arnold's Grill & Cafe is, as they say in their own words, "A Great Place For Great Food". I happened by there with some work colleagues the other day during our lunch break from a Japanese Customer Service Training Seminar being held at the GCC Campus nearby. I think it opened some time earlier this year and based on my experience, I consider Arnold's a work in progress. This place has potential and I can see the owners working on improving the quality of the experience. Located in the F&J Building., it shares the ground floor with the New Campus Store. For this off-campus location, the menu is quite ambitious, offering such diverse items as Grilled Lamb Chops, Grilled Salmon with Teriyaki Glaze, and Shrimp Fettuccine. The lunch menu also has burgers (including a Veggie Burger), sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and entrees made from beef, pork, chicken, and seafood.
A table of our fellow classmates offered to share an appetizer called Spinach Rollers ($4). As a first impression, these were a fairly confident intro, and tasted good enough for the other table to place a second order. It was simply a cream cheese & spinach in a flour tortilla shell, cut like a sushi roll. Not bad at all!
My colleague Mark had Grilled Mahi with Pineapple Salsa ($9.75). I didn't taste it, but it looked like it had touched the hotter part of the grill and should have been titled "blackened mahi"! He didn't complain so I guess it was ok. The only problem I have with seasonal fish like mahi on a menu is that you don't always have a fresh supply available, and it's a fish that doesn't always transition well when cooking from frozen.
My dish was the Grilled Chops with Mushroom Sauce ($7.75), which had been recommended by Arnold himself. These were good, not great, but good enough to finish. I think the mushroom sauce was a nice touch and attempt at upgrading the lowly pork chop.
I applaud the enthusiasm and boldness of these people...they are working beyond the mundane...they are aspiring. To me, that's a good thing, and I will go back to try more things at Arnold's. I give them an "attaboy" thumbs up...they are making the effort! Arnold's hours are Mon-Fri 7am-4pm and Saturday from 7am-2pm. So maybe their breakfast menu is where they shine. Let's see! (P.S. Bring your lap-top...there's free wi-fi, and for those without a computer, there's a computer station set up for use of customers).
Magellan's Italian Lunch Buffet
Hotel Nikko Guam
If you see this today, the Italian Lunch Buffet ran from August 16 -31, so unless you get there before they close at 2pm, you won't get to try it. However, the purpose of this write up is not to extol their Italian cuisine, rather, it's to tell you that the Nikko's culinary team is very serious about putting out quality food at an amazingly low price ($12 for local I.D. holders and $16 for non-resident visitors). The buffet is elaborate, by item count probably the island's largest.
The buffet seems to be more of a "smorgasbord" in its entirety, the term "buffet" does not begin to describe this spread! The hot line runs the window side of the buffet island and included such items as Grilled Beef with Red Wine Butter Sauce, Chicken Piccata, Roast Pork with Italian Sauce (very good), Basa Filet in Spinach with Hollandaise Sauce, Lasagna, Scampi in Couscous, and Pizza (probably the only thing I didn't like).
The salad bars were well stocked with pastas, smoked salmon, grilled beef, cold cuts, cheeses, vegetable ingredients including big green olives you don't often see.
The man leading Magellan's team is Sous Chef Bal Perez, formerly of the Guam Reef. With the Nikko's prowess, he has been able to flourish. The bread section was outstanding - the hard crust rolls were perfect, as was the raisin bread having more raisins per bite than any others I've had, bread sticks were above average, cheese bread was decent, and dinner rolls were good. The breads and really extensive dessert spread, very appealingly presented by the way, were created by Lito of the pastry team.
One of the highlights for me was the house-made pasta station, where pasta strips were rolled and cut, then cooked. The two types were Regular and Herb, with three sauces: Cream Mushroom, Carbonara, and Mixed Seafood Marinara & Anchovies. I had the Cream Mushroom, featuring shiitake mushrooms in a thick sauce. The pasta was fresh with a texture that only comes from the genuine product made from scratch. When they do this Italian Buffet again, I really suggest you try the pasta. It doesn't matter that the people preparing the pasta are not Italian as they are well-trained in the proper preparation.
Overall, the buffet was a certified belly-buster, with a volume of food you can't get anywhere else for the money. For buffet or rather "smorgasbord" food, the quality was good. By improving the few food items I didn't like (there weren't many), they would really have something to brag about to their Southern Tumon neighbors! Now I'm going to have to make it a point to return to do some of their other theme buffets.
If you want to have a genuine outdoor American-type beach bar experience without having to drive halfway around the island (this will depend on where you live, of course, but for Central Island residents you know what I mean), then Sharkies is a place that's worth the stop. It also has a few specialties such as hot dogs and burgers that have received good reviews from customers.
What I tried on the night of the Lunar Eclipse was the Philly Style Beef & Cheese Sandwich, served on a savory bun as opposed to the 6" Italian style bread it is usually served on. It was filled with grilled steak blended with melted cheese and grilled onions - a sandwich I had a hard time putting down. It's served with home fries and when you add a couple of beers, well it's hard to complain.
We also had some sweet corn to satisfy Zee's vegetarian preferences and Chef Bob Branconnier (Sharkies owner, whom I affectionately call, "Chef Bobby Baby"), waxed creative and made her cheeseless quesadillas with beans and a dipping salsa. Sharkies is located in the former War in the Pacific Park Museum Bldg. It has an entrancing view of the ocean from the deck overlooking the Philippine Sea.
Nana's Cafe is a place I always look forward to visiting since it has an island-decor ambiance that allows me to relax and reflect on my day while dining without interruptions or intrusions. I get to gaze out at the waters of Tumon while I eat. On this visit, though, I found myself eating more than gazing!
They raised the price of their weekly lunch special, however, they made a conciliatory gesture by adding more food. Thanks, Nana's - it was enough before, and now it's even more! I automatically ordered the Meat Lovers ($11.95), which has added Beef Short Ribs to the existing BBQ Pork Ribs and boneless BBQ Chicken Thighs. They also added two small fried lumpia. I already had plenty of salad and soup, so the lumpia was an extra touch that I wouldn't miss. I say this since I was looking for a smaller meal than the large buffet I'd had the day before.
For island newcomers, one thing you'll find out about on Guam is that people here love their rice, so don't be surprised when you see a dish like BBQ Meats served with home fries, also served with rice. The BBQ sauce is the smoky, tomato based Western-style sauce, so I really enjoyed this. The pork was very tender and flavorful.The beef took a bit more work to get off the bone but I enjoyed its flavor and taste as well. The chicken was naturally tender and as tasty as it gets. When eating these sauce combinations, I have to give props to Executive Chef Kishimoto...he does an amazing job of imparting flavor to his foods.
East West Center
Truong's menu says this is the place where you can get the "real taste of Asia", and you know what, they're right! For Vietnamese cuisine, they do an impressive job and have recently launched some new Vietnamese favorites that are not even on the menu.
We stopped by and tried the Tofu Curry ($7.95) and the Vietnamese Beef Stew ($10.95). Both dishes were excellent preparations! The Tofu Curry's flavor is compelling, with strong accents of lemon-grass infused with garlic and a rich chili curry sauce that shrouds the vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, carrots, green bell pepper, green onion, white onion, mushrooms) and tofu strips. The portion is huge, literally overflowing the plate!
The Beef Stew (Bo Kho) is a treasure to be savored - literally! The aromatic stew takes all day to make and is served in a bowl along with a large loaf of warm French bread so that you can dip pieces of bread in the rich stew broth. Visible to the eye in the stew were big chunks of lean beef, carrots, green and white onions. The stew is topped with dried garlic chips sprinkled with black pepper. The savory broth is complex, almost potent, because it is made with lemon grass, five spice powder, star anise, dark soy sauce, shallots, tomato, cilantro, sugar and basil. It's an entire meal so be prepared for the portion...it's a stew to be appreciated.
Other specialty items that featured at Truong's are the Vietnamese Rice Rolls, Vietnamese Pancake, and Vietnamese Sandwiches. These are items that are rarely served at other restaurants. Truong's is a beautiful place to dine in and the service is usually very good...it's such a lovely family and they really take pride in preparing and serving their food.
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