January 15, 2010, Volume 10 Number 1
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
If one ever has a first thought or impression in this life, it has to be of our mother. Fortunately, for me and my four brothers, our first impressions were magnificent, as our mother was a good mom, who became "mom" to many outside our immediate family as her love-filled heart had plenty of room to spare. When I received the call from my brother Carl that mom had suffered a stroke just before Christmas and that she was in a coma, I knew that her time on this earthly plane was coming to an end. Joining the family in Humble, Texas during her remaining days was a demonstration of "grace under pressure" as we all put on "brave faces" and made the best of what could be considered the saddest and most difficult time of our lives. Our mother, Tommie Lee Stewart, best known as "Toni", took her last breath on December 29 and joined her family and friends waiting for her in Heaven.
Mom was the inspiration for me becoming the "Guam Food Guy" as she was the one who ignited my passion for cooking and eating. During our Texas vigil, I was inspired to prepare Mom's cooking and made some of everyone's favorite mom dishes, including Creamed Hamburger aka S.O.S, Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and Grits, Black-Eyed Peas with Ham Hocks, Collard and Mustard Greens, Southern Fried Chicken, Jambalaya, Country-Style Barbecue Pork Ribs, Macaroni & Cheese, and Spaghetti with Italian Sausage. It was a glorious connection to hear comments from all including our dad, Bill "Doc" Stewart, that this food we were eating was "Toni Stewart" and she was definitely present in me, as she is in all of us who knew and loved her.
One of her remaining wishes was to have her ashes returned to Guam, which she'd adopted as her home, having spent some of the best years of her life here. Memorial services will be held in mid-February, with date and time to be announced. I'd like to share this special video tribute of Mom created by brother Carl and posted on YouTube: Mom's Farewell
Mom was so proud of me being this "Guam Food Guy." My work and life continues in honor of mom!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
GFG Hosts K57 "Tourism & You" Food Guy Show
Saturday January 16, 2010
Listen up this Saturday morning for the Guam Food Guy segment of K57's "Tourism & You" Show, from 10am-Noon. Our first hour will include Annabel Jones, owner of the newly-opened Artista Caffe & Bistro and George Quidachay, Artista's Executive Chef .
Our second hour guests will feature Mike and Kaori Sablan, owners of Chopstix, "a Japanese Restaurant", which recently relocated from Upper Tumon to Hagatna. Also included in this segment will be Restaurant PROA's Executive Chef Geoffrey Perez and Sous Chef Ivan Mendiola.
Feel free to participate by calling *57 on your cell phone or 477-5757. I'm sure we are going to have a lively conversation and restaurants are one thing that everyone has an opinion about!
Artista Caffe and Bistro
Tamuning (adjacent to First Hawaiian Bank)
After what seems to have been a fairly long build-out, the people of Guam should be delighted by the arrival of this new Tamuning eatery, which opened on December 26. Artista Caffe and Bistro is a labor of love, an artistic statement, and work in progress. Created and founded by wife and husband, Annabel and Matt Jones, Artista Caffe & Bistro offer diners a very roomy and relaxing space for morning espresso with waffles, eggs and muffins, as well as a centrally-located place for a business lunch (free wi-fi!) where you can have sandwiches, salads, and soups. And, it's a great place for ending the day with some sophisticated and well-presented appetizers, entrees, and desserts.
Still very new, I was impressed enough by what we ate to give them an "atta boy" for their efforts. It should be noted that Artista's Executive Chef is George Quidachay, who earned his stripes at such places as Old Hagatna Grill and Central Perk Cafe, he is joined in the kitchen by Jerrick Cruz who just returned home to Guam after graduating from the Culinary Academy in California and gaining some restaurant experience,and Ed Cruz, formerly of Restaurant PROA.
Zee and I stopped in for dinner this week and were promptly greeted and seated at a sturdy dark brown wood table along the window. It's a pretty place at night, with hanging lamps and candles on the table. The walls are mocha colored and the interior is warm and welcoming. I actually got the impression that this place has a spiritual aura like a guiding light, which is something I don't usually sense or see, but I did tell Zee. Our servers, Frank and Maria, were attentive to our needs handled us with enthusiasm. All the staff we met were courteous and smiled easily, reflecting the energy of this cafe.
The dishes we had were the Soup de jour, a Cajun Cream of Corn with Mussels ($4), Cornmeal Calamari ($8.95), Onaga en Buerre Blanc ($17), Classic Alfredo ($11.50), and Tirimisu ($6.50). We were "comped" the dinner special, Asian Pork Chop with Vegetable Medley.
For some reason, the soup didn't resonate with our palates. We said it was very thick and needed a bit more liquid. It didn't have the Cajun kick I'd expected. The presentation was good.
The Cornmeal Calamari came with a Caper Tartar Sauce and was an immediate hit, Zee giving the first green light since she usually doesn't like calamari. Artista's has smaller pieces that aren't chewy. They are tender and very flavorful, and come as a large serving which was enough for two.
The other big hit for me was the Classic Alfredo, which had grilled chicken breast, shitake mushrooms, bacon bits, yellow bell peppers, green peppers, red onion, chives and fettuccine bathed in a delicious roast garlic cream sauce. The garlic bread was perfect accompaniment for this dish, with criss-crossed grill marks enhancing the visual impact.
The Onaga was a good-sized portion with fresh vegetables, yellow and orange bell pepper, carrot slices, and eggplant on top, making for an appealing presentation. The garlic mashed potatoes seemed to pick up a bit too much salt from the citrus buerre blanc. We may be just a bit sensitive to salt. The evening special, Asian-style pork chops with veggies was quite tasty but the pork would have benefitted from some tenderizing.
During dinner Zee had water and I had their specially brewed tea. The water came often (as did the tea), with glass change outs during dinner - a nice touch. I don't know how or why, but the water tasted good and was replenishing.
The Tirimisu was elegantly served in a martini glass on a plate with drizzled syrup. It was so good you could taste all the layered ingredients - truly a work of art! We did note the absence of any coffee liqueur that is usually part of the dish. The small Cappuccino ($3.50) we got to accompany dessert was prepared well and served at the right temperature.
Artista Caffe & Bistro is open 6 days a week, Mon-Fri 6:30am-9:30pm, and Saturday from 7am-10pm. They are closed on Sunday. For a real eye opener, be sure to go upstairs and see the spectacular Spanish street mural created by artist Felicia Babcock, which decorates the private conference room.
Tumon's Secret Hideway for Exquisite Food, Extraordinary Fun, and Spontaneous Entertainment
It's places like Kai Restaurant that makes me proud and glad to be the Guam Food Guy. Actually a better word would be "ecstatic", since eating the wonderful culinary preparations by this izakaya's Chef/owner, Hideto "Pancho" Yanase, always seems to put me and other customers in a state of ecstasy! Kai Restaurant has been opened for more than two years and is operated by Chef Yanase, his personable wife Sue who manages the front of the house and serves as a goodwill ambassador in charge of customer service, and their son Sean, who does the hot food preparation in the kitchen. It's a family affair that's open 7 nights a week (from 6pm until whenever, with last call for food at 11:30pm), and has developed a very wide following, many of who you'll see if you visit their website which is an ongoing blog of customers having fantastic fun and food at Kai!. Many regulars who go to Kai can sit up at the sushi counter and chat with "Pancho" (a nickname he acquired during the time he worked and lived in Mexico) while sipping on a shochu or beer and munching on some of Kai's daily posted specials. There's a menu board behind the sushi counter and also one in the main dining room. There are also other featured menu items on little hanging shingles behind the counter.
The dining room is small, intimate, and has an overhead TV on that's tuned to popular Japanese television shows and news so you always get the sense you are in Japan. Kai is atmospheric, adorned with calendar art, playing cards, miscellaneous pictures, mementos, assorted denominations of currency posted on the back wall, left by satisfied customers, and wall areas adorned by Pancho's considerable ukulele collection - you'll be delighted if it's your birthday or special occasion as he'll play for you! Small tables and chairs with cushions make the seating cozier. The closeness here gives you an opportunity to make new friends with those sitting in adjoining tables, which really adds to the charm of this place. There are racks containing tagged bottles of shochu and sake belonging to regulars who come to Kai to pay homage to their favorite beverage. Kai also has a modest selection of good wines that can be enhanced by using their Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator, which is something Sue really enjoys demonstrating for customers.
In addition to the wonderful ambiance, conversation, and entertainment available at Kai, the food here is phenomenal, as you will see as I take you on a culinary tour of some of my favorite Kai dishes. Start out with Kai's Sashimi Plate ($25), which has yellow tail, maguro, salmon, octopus, squid, mackerel, and uni (sea urchin roe, subject to availability).
If you are in the mood for eggs, the Nira Tama Chinese Chive Omelet ($6) is a winner.
As with all Japanese izakaya (small inn) dining, diners order a series of small dishes to go along with their drinking. It's remarkable how well an ice cold Carlsberg goes with Yanase's dishes! Be sure to try the Teriyaki Beef Ribs ($8), which are melt-in-your-mouth tender and exploding with a rich teriyaki glaze with sesame seeds and hot mustard! Awesome!
Pancho makes a signature Kai Roll ($8) every night, with ingredients that sometimes vary. It's usually made with tuna, shrimp, unagi, tobiko, avocado, cucumber, carrot, and has a sweet sauce and spicy mayonnaise to perk things up. Other sushi treats include the Pink Dragon with shrimp, salmon, and tempura shrimp with spicy mayo ($7) and Spider Roll, deep-fried soft shell crab, fish egg, and spicy mayo ($7) .
There are a number of specialty dishes that are sauted, including the Pan-fried Asparagus with Bacon ($7), which has crisp asparagus spears blended with smoky, meaty bacon pieces - an excellent pairing. Another "porky" treat is the Eringi Mushroom-Bacon ($7). You will fall in love with this superb mushroom sauted with Kai's special bacon….it's really something you don't want to miss!
Kai's Koebi Salad (Shrimp Salad- $8) is another sharing dish that's on my "A-list" as it offers a refreshing and replenishing break for your palate. It's one of those "wow" dishes that impresses the moment it's put down on the table - veritable mound of baby shrimp piled on top of cut lettuce garnished by criss-crossed ribbons of Kai's special salad dressing.
Usually available on the Specials Board is Tuna Salt & Pepper, which I recommend since it has plenty of cubed tuna chunks sauted with the sweetest white onions and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.
Grilled Fish (Salmon $9 or Hamachi $11) are also on my list…there is something transformationl about eating either of these, or the even stronger Saba (Mackerel $9) or Black Codfish ($10). This is really the essence of Japan - simply grilled fish with lemon and a little shoyu. Heaven.
On our last visit to Kai before the holidays we were joined by one of our good friends, Toshie Ito, and had for the first time a dish that completely captivated us! It was Kai's Curry Udon Noodles Spicy ($13). These came in a large stone bowl beautifully and colorfully garnished with finely-sliced green onion and a few red shreds of pickled ginger. The noodles were thick, sturdy, and coated with a savory sauce spiced with a hot curry. Eating this surpassed ritual - we ate til finished and though we craved more, we were satisfied by our resonating palates that seemed to be abuzz with the delightful tingling sensation of the afterglow!
Kai Restaurant is truly one of the places you must visit when you are in Tumon and are looking for food that's beyond ordinary. The fact that there's so much more fun to be had at Kai makes an even more compelling case! With Pancho playing his ukulele and even acoustic and electric guitars, it's even possible for folks like you and me to pick up an instrument and jam with the man! It's something we've done at late hours (past 11pm and into the wee hours of the morning paying tribute to Lennon, McCartney and Elvis! How much fun is that? Spontaneous excitement happens at Kai Restaurant! Domo arigato gozaimasu, Pancho, Sue & Sean!
Ita dake masu!
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