January 30, 2009, Volume 9 Number 3
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
Life is a continuing adventure, and once again I am "on the road" this time on the Mainland where I'm visiting family and friends from Guam. I am so delighted to be with my mom, Toni, again, as she clings to her hopes to be out of her health predicament that has kept her bed-ridden and in and out of the ICU for nearly a year. It is a testament to her determination to stay alive and get better. We pray for her daily as we all cope with the inevitability of her life transition in these waning years of her existence. She has lived a rich, full, and prolific life.
My journeys have also taken me to the San Francisco Bay Area where I spent time with my brother Lee who chauffeured me up and down both sides of the Bay, during which time we were able to tour the wine regions of Sonoma and Napa, something I relished with passion. Today's Diner Bytes includes a brief synopsis of some of my dining experiences in different parts of Texas and California, with some meals shared with former Guam residents who were "thrilled" to dine with the Guam Food Guy! I will soon be on a plane from Houston to Portland, Oregon, where I will drive to Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho to be with my daughter, son, and grandson, in what has been an annual odyssey of driving alone through challenging winter weather to be with family. It is all so worth it!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
Los Cucos Mexican Cafe
4775 W. Panther Creek
The Woodlands, TX 77380
If you are in Texas, there are two must-do things - you have to eat Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex cuisine! Los Cucos is one of the places where you can definitely get your fill from an amazing selection of south-of the-border favorites. My brother Carl & I joined former Guam residents, Craig & Ellen Squires, who had suggested this hot spot (one of their favorites) for our dinner this first night of my arrival in Houston.
One of the Grill Specials we ordered was the Parrilla San Luis ($28.99 for Two), which comes as a huge sizzling platter filled with marinated Beef Short Ribs, Jalapeno Sausage, Chicken Fajitas, Grilled Shrimp, Chicken Quesadillas and Molcajete Sauce, and is served with rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese and flour tortillas. Talk about "Muy Bueno"!! The combination of salsas, grilled meats, guacamole, and caramelized onions that were still sizzling on the grill was an edifying dream come true to my long-starved palette. We just don't have this kind of eating on Guam and it is so delicious!
One of the appetizers I ordered was the Tortilla Soup ($6.99), which completely surprised me when it was delivered since it was a meal in itself. It was a savory vegetable soup with tortilla chips and melted cheese, and served with rice, pico de gallo and flour tortillas.
Other items we sampled were Cheese Enchiladas ($7.99), Grilled Jumbo Shrimp ($13.99), and Fish Cancun ($13.99), a 10 oz. fresh snapper, sauteed in butter sauce, garlic and cilantro topped with crab meat, shrimp, scallops and sliced bell peppers. This was one of Ellen's favorite dishes and after tasting it, I could certainly see why. This is a terrific little eatery that even has Dos Equis on tap and available by the pitcher. If you are in the Houston area, be sure to keep an eye out for Los Cucos. You'll be glad you did!
Hooters of Spring
120 FM 1960 West
This was my first time ever to experience what Hooters is all about! My main motivation in going was to try their famous chicken wings as I'd heard conflicting stories about the food (and their wings in particular) from many people. Since they will be opening a Hooters on Guam in the Acanta Mall, I needed to find out for myself. I was also a victim of my own prejudices, considering the Hooters concept to be demeaning to women. I guess my experience proves that you are never too old to change your mind and that it's always best to find out some things for yourself and not to rely on hearsay or misconceived perceptions!
The Texas Hooters happened to be celebrating 20 years of operation, and each month they are celebrating by having the servers (all comely ladies with cheerful personalities) dress up in the featured theme, which for January happened to be "Buccaneer Babes". Yes, it's certainly an attraction (and distraction) having these young beauties walk around with trays serving food and drinks, but I didn't see anything I considered offensive and realized that they were just doing their jobs and probably making good tips!
We ordered the 20 pc Wings ($15.49) and ordered them "naked" as opposed to "breaded", and "hot" (vs mild, medium, 3 Mile Island nuclear, Bentley, or Daytona, the most extreme!. I don't like breaded wings as I feel it detracts from the wings overall and my taste test of these regular wings determined that they were very good. Not as hot as Chili's, current holder of my all time best Buffalo wings title, yet still very tasty. The blue cheese and celery cost an additional $.99.
I also ordered the Pound "More than a Mouthful" Burger for $6.99, and added Provolone Cheese ($.59) and Bacon ($.79). This comes with baked beans and a dill pickle wedge. The burger tasted great, with the sesame bun slightly toasted and dressed with fresh tomato, onion, and mayo to which I added mustard. I liked the meat which was likely pre-seasoned but bursting with great beef flavor.
My only criticism of the experience was that our server forgot to bring the side salad I'd ordered. I didn't remember it until after we left and it wasn't charged, so I guess I didn't need it. Still, it was something that should have been served.
So, now that I have tried Hooters (even had a photo taken with some of the servers at my brother's behest ), I can honestly say that I would not hesitate to visit Hooters again, especially to try out their wings again and maybe something like a steak or ribs, or even a salad. I am certainly curious about how Hooters on Guam will fare. We shall see!
Le Cheval Restaurant
1007 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94607
I didn't think I'd be eating Vietnamese while on my California trip, however, this is one of those places with a compelling history, reputation, and menu that one could never pass up visiting. Le Cheval has been an institution in Oakland since opening some twenty-five years ago, and is considered to be the best Vietnamese restaurant in California. Founded by owner, Tuyet Bui, who had come to California from Vietnam with her family in 1975, Le Cheval (which means "the horse" in French) has an astonishing menu of Vietnamese cuisine, which they explain has some French influence.
Tragedy befell Tuyet when her husband died of a heart attack in the 8th month of their arrival to America. She couldn't speak English and had to support seven children, so it was through hard work and perseverance that she built this successful restaurant in which all of her children play a role.
It was my oldest brother Bruce's son, Kyle, who recommended we try Le Cheval and since he lived around the block, it was within convenient walking distance. The restaurant is huge, seating over 280, dwarfing almost any restaurant on Guam. It was packed with customers at dinner when we arrived. The servers were buzzing around with food and people were enjoying the good life as they dined on Vietnamese classics. [Photo: L-R Bruce Stewart, Kyle Stewart, Lee Stewart and Ken "GFG" Stewart]
We started out with two appetizers, the Goi Cuon (Shrimp Rolls, $6.75/3 pcs) which are the equivalent of what we call Fresh Lumpia on Guam. The rolls have steamed prawns, rice vermicelli, mint leaves, and lettuce wrapped in rice paper and served with peanut sauce. These were quite good and reminded me of Guam's own immediately on the first refreshing bite. (Mary's has chicken breast in hers as an extra bonus).
The other appetizer was Canh Ga Chien (Fried Chicken Wings and Drumettes, $7), which came with a garlic pepper lemon dipping sauce that got a two thumbs up from each of our entourage.
I ordered the Goi Sua Sen (Prawn Salad, $9.50), that had shredded cabbage, steamed shrimp, jellyfish, lotus roots, mint leaves, and cilantro topped with fried onions, peanuts in a light vinegar and fish sauce dressing. This was crowned by fried parmesan with black sesame seeds, which was a crunchy, flavorful enhancement. The salad was delicious with fresh ingredients. I personally could have used a bit more fish sauce for a richer flavor.
Other items we ordered included Lemon Grass Chicken ($11) which was saucier (thanks to the French influence, no doubt) than I prefer , Pork Kebab ($10.25) which had four meaty skewers of marinated pork, along with the Beef Kebab ($10.75), which had three skewers.
The Combination Fried Rice ($11.75) was memorable and quite tasty. One of the specialties we ordered was the Claypot Rice ($11), an appealing combination of prawns, beef, chicken, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, and rice. All of these ingredients are pan-fried then baked in a claypot. This really looked to be a meal on its own, and since it came last in our food fest, I could only manage a few bites. It was worthy dish and I regretted that it didn't arrive earlier in the meal.
To say that I was impressed with Le Cheval is an understatement. The food was fresh and excellent, the service astonishingly fast, with orders literally flying out of the kitchen (something you just don't see on Guam), and a high energy ambiance built on an immigrant family's work ethic. It's an American success story, and a great place to eat!
355 Santana Row Suite 1010
San Jose Ca 95128
This chain sushi eatery is located in a prominent and upscale shopping and dining area of San Jose called Santana Row. It was my first time visiting San Jose to eat and I was thrilled to be able to dine with some former Guam residents who are near and dear to me. It had been years since I'd seen former K57 talk show host Myk Powell and his lovely wife, Roberta, with whom I'd shared many fun and memorable experiences, with our joint New Caledonia holiday being the best. My brother Lee had driven me down the coast from his home in Larkspur to join the Powells and two other former island residents, Dr. Jeff Shafer and his bride, Carol (Chau) Shafer, who also live in San Jose.
Myk wanted our reunion to be one where we could share some sushi and we met up at Blowfish Sushi, which has an extensive line-up of sushi creations as well as Nigiri and Maki choices along with "enlightened Sashimi" and $9.95 Bento Boxes served during lunch. While four of our group ordered Bento Boxes with varying choices (two are included in each bento), Carol ordered a Chira Combination , ($13.50) which had maguro, hamachi, bincyo (albacore), sake, ika, amaebi, unagi, and tamago with ikura over sushi rice.
I decided to try several maki creations, ordering the Rainbow ($12.95) that had yellowtail, avocado, green onion topped with six slices of fish; the Polynesian ($8.95) which had flash fried salmon, barbeque eel, mango, papaya, and avocado, and finally, the King Raffie ($10.95). The King Raffie is not on the menu but a special creation made in honor of a local radio personality. It has spicy tuna, avocado and cream cheese with seared salmon, coconut, crunchy tempura bits and sweet & spicy sauce. It was excellent and more than a mouthful! The Rainbow was alright, and to be fair, I am spoiled by Sushi Ebisu's.
Blowfish is a much more ambitious restaurant and has a treasure of sushi creations that I'd love to try some other time. For me, the great event was being with my life friends from Guam, as shown in this happy group photo. [Photo: L-R Myk Powell, Carol Shafer, Jeff Shafer, Lee Stewart, Roberta Powell, and Ken "GFG" Stewart]
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