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November 6, 2009, Volume 9 Number 23

Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,

November's arrived and it's already holiday shopping time! It's been a very busy few weeks of dining for me as I've visited a number of places that I'll have to write about in my next newsletter. Among these places are Big Dawg's, Ebisu, Sugar & Spice, Gu's Shanghai Bistro, Chili's Too, Islander Terrace, and Hard Rock Cafe, where I enjoyed an amazing burger odyssey with other new menu introductions.

The brevity of this newsletter is due in no small part to a hardware challenge. It seems I "blue screened" my computer to the max and it just stopped working a few days back after a long period of attempts to band-aid it to a suitable level of functionality. I had to let it go for a complete clean out and re-installation. Thankfully, my laptop's health has been restored thanks to the efforts of my high-tech guru pare, Joe B!

I made a truly wonderful discovery on Thursday with Vivian's Coffee Shop on Rt. 16 Harmon, where I'd seen one of their adverts promoting "Hot Pot" and "Shabu Shabu". This quaint little eatery offers the real deal (similar to what we'd experienced at now-gone Sichuan Kitchen), and I am honored to share my dining experience there with you as this week's feature review.

Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"

T.G.I. Friday's Hagatna
Skinner Plaza

The island welcomed its second T.G.I Friday's this week. It's a beautiful restaurant and has an awesome view of Skinner Plaza which should look like a winter wonderland this holiday season. I had a chance to do a mock service tasting last week and wanted to mention a little about some new menu items I'd tried.

The Crispy Green Bean Fries ($6.50) is a new appetizer that surprised me with its tastiness. A well-conceived flavor combination, these snappy green beans are breaded and fried, then served with a cucumber-wasabi dip. Cucumber is known for its cooling effects and wasabi - well, you know what kind of kick you can expect! This combination gives you cool, rich and creamy with just enough spice to tantalize your taste buds.

I also sampled the Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Pasta ($18.50), which is featured on the Best of Friday's menu, wherein the price includes a Carlsberg beer, a glass of Robert Mondavi Wine, or a bottle of Acqua Panna mineral water. The fettuccine was cooked al dente and smothered in a rich Alfredo sauce. The chicken breast chunks were moist and tender, and were joined by shrimp that had been sauted with red bell peppers in a savory Cajun-spiced butter. All of this was topped by parmesan flakes. This was pretty good.

I also sampled the Butterfly Shrimp & Fries (I didn't catch the price, but will add later). This came with a feisty cocktail sauce and was delicious.

The service at Friday's was outstanding and it is clear they place a premium on a great personality in their hiring practices. Friday's offers lunch specials starting at $8.99, which includes soup and your refillable choice of Pepsi, tea or coffee. I can see myself returning here to sample more of their new menu items and receive more of their great hospitality.

Vivian's Coffee Shop - New Home of Sichuan Hot Pot and a Whole Lot More!

I'd been planning to stop by Vivian's Coffee Shop, located on Rt. 16 in the Manhattan Building. between Video America and Harmon Shiatsu Center, ever since my friend Hank Rice told me about this place. When I saw the advert promoting their Hot Pot this past week, my urge to visit was raised significantly. I did stop by before noon to verify that they had the same hot pot that had spoiled us before at Sichuan Kitchen, with that famous "ma la" tongue-numbing spicy heat dipping broth. I met the owner, Vivian Xia, who had been a professional nurse in her native Beijing, and was amazed to find out that she made this career change with no previous restaurant experience. No worries, her chef James does the cooking and she handles the front of the house in this quaint little eatery that seats 44. Her husband is also a chef employed at another restaurant on island.

For this review I was joined by Zee, who is as much a lover of Hot Pot as I am, although she does mainly veggies and vermicelli noodles. She was impressed with how clean and charming the restaurant's dining room is.

The Chinese Hot Pot menu is based on 2, 3, 4 and 5-person meals. The basic 2-person meal is $25, and includes Shanghai Baby Bok Choy, Tofu, Vermicelli Crab Meat, Lettuce, and one choice of Chicken, Beef or Shrimp. The 3-person meal is $35 and adds Mushrooms and two choices of Chicken, Beef or Shrimp. Side orders such as Spinach, Potato, SPAM, Winter Melon and Black Fungus are $3 each, whereas side orders of Salmon, Squid, Mahi, Lamb, Shrimp or Fish Balls, Mussels, and Beef Tripe are $5each. There's a lot of variety here so you can pick and choose all your ingredients to customize your dining experience.

The Hot Pot kettle is split into two sections, one for the spicy red broth and the other for the mild broth. A single butane burner stove is put in front of you along with the kettles of the two broths (you can get two mild or two hot if you like). All of your dishes are laid out on display and once you get the kettles boiling, you can dip your different ingredients in which ever broth you prefer. With the thin-sliced beef, you want to put it in for a very short time as it cooks quickly. The cooking aspect is just like Shabu Shabu, the Japanese version of hot pot, although the Japanese version is much more subtly flavored and you dip your cooked items into an egg yolk bath rather than a sesame sauce blend.

The shrimp and fish balls are frozen and need to thaw a bit but you can toss them in pre-thawing and they will float to the surface when they are done. The shrimp and mussels work well with hot pot, as do the vegetables and mushrooms. Zee noted that the tofu was fresh, unlike others she's had where the tofu was a trifle old and souring. Vivian also pointed out that no MSG is used in her dishes.

One of the other dishes Vivian wanted us to try was her Honey Walnut Shrimp ($10) served with rice, cole slaw, and peanut brittle (there must be a shortage of walnuts). The thick honey glaze sauce is not too sweet and actually works well with the breaded shrimp. Another of Vivian's must-try items was her highly-touted Sesame Ball (3 pcs/$3.95). These were awesome, and probably among the best we've had on island.

A friendly couple who regularly dine at Vivian's let me take a photo of their dessert(Crepes Kings - $6.50) - a beautiful crepe with ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup! They even had me try a portion - it was fabulous!

Vivian's Coffee Shop is one of those rare places that you can quickly get attached to for a number of reasons. One, the food is good and reasonably priced with specials for breakfast, lunch and dinner; two, the relaxing air-conditioned atmosphere and comfortable seating is welcoming; and last, but not least, is Vivian's ever-smiling face and enchanting personality. All in all, a winning combination for a place that's only been opened for about four months.

Vivian's opens for breakfast at 6:30am daily, and she closes at 10:30pm Monday-Thursday and on Sunday. On Friday and Saturday nights she stays open until 3am - I can see where a nice big bowl of Hot Pot would be a welcome dish after late night revelry. Her breakfast menu is huge, with egg entrees featuring Chamoru sausage, SPAM, Portuguese sausage, Longaniza, corned beef, along with omelets, pancakes, and fried rice dishes. She has more than 60 lunch and dinner entrees and 16 different ramen, yakisoba and soup items. It's a lot more food than anyone would think possible for a place this size, but they do it! The phone number is 647-5158.

I recommend Vivian's Coffee Shop, Guam's new home for Sichuan Hot Pot and a whole lot more!

Bon Appetit!

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