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January 29, 2010, Volume 10 Number 2

Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,

"Yesterday's News!" Alas, I regret to inform those of you who don't yet know, the Old Hagatna Grill is no more! Like an old, beaten-down prize fighter, the Grill, a.k.a. "the Old Hag" has thrown in the towel and shuttered its doors, no longer able to operate as a business. Probably no restaurant on Guam has ever held the promise and pre-eminence of the Old Hagatna Grill, established in 1999. The dynamic combination of the original team of Executive Chef Dean Louie, Operations Manager, Jeff Felice, and General Manager David Hanley made the Grill a place of legend. I wrote major reviews of OHG three times over the course of 10 years, and featured it in our GuamDiner newsletter scores of times. Mostly everyone I know has some special memory and place in their heart for the Old Hag. This famous landmark eatery will now join the ranks of other well-loved Hagatna establishments that closed down over this past year, namely Le Tasi Bistro and Firefly Bistro. We'll all miss that old gal! I wonder who's going to step up to the plate and renovate that prime location into the next great Hagatna dining destination? We'll just have to wait and see.

Hagatna's got a lot going for it restaurant-wise. The addition of Frankie's Deli, T.G.I. Friday's, Big Dawg's, Chopstix Japanese Restaurant, the Indian Kitchen, Meskla Chamorro Fusion Cuisine and Froots this past year have injected a new vitality to this village's culinary offerings. Just think, how many villages on Guam can offer you this same range of cuisines: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Carribbean, Jamaican, Korean, Greek, Indian, American, Chamorro, Filipino, and Italian. Not even Tamuning matches that range, and they have more restaurants! You can expect to see more growth in Hagatna as its dream of revitalization is realized. The future is indeed very bright!

Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"

Chili's "Spice Up 2010 - 10 Items for $10" Menu
Chili's Grill & Bar
GPO Tamuning

After my return from the States earlier this month I noticed the promotion at Chili's which I thought was a great idea for the budget-minded folks recovering from Christmas and New Year's expenditures. Moreover, the one item that caught my eye was something that Chili's offered in their US locations but not on Guam, and it was their Big Mouth Burger Bites! They give you four mini burgers topped with bacon bits, caramelized onions, American cheese and their own special ranch dressing. These are served with onion rings and home-style fries. It was my first time in Chili's this year and I was having a late lunch at 3pm. To celebrate, I even ordered my all-time favorite Buffalo Wings ($8.99), which I can now proudly say that I can finally get on Guam - this was my first time in 9 years of travel to the Houston area that I didn't stop by a Chili's for my "wing fix"! The Big Mouth Burger has a sesame seed topped egg bun, which really goes well with the burger patty, onions, cheese and bacon. It may be hard to tell from the photo, but these little mini's aren't that little and I could only finish two (of course the five wings I ate displaced part of a possible 3rd burger). And, yes, they are quite tasty!

Other value-priced items on this special lunch promo include Peppercorn Steak Salad, Catch of the Day, Shrimp Basket, Crispy Chicken Tacos, Fish Tacos, Lunch Explosion Salad, Lunch Fajita Quesadillas, and Southwest Cobb Salad. All of these are available at the GPO location with some available at Chili's Mic Mall location, and are served from 11am-4pm which is great for late-lunch diners.

Max Tropical Cafe - Thai Cuisine
Tropical Quest Building (across from Tick Tock)

You'd only realize it was a restaurant if you were driving slowly enough to see the "Lunch Buffet $9.95" sign out in front on a garden with parasols over tables as you zoom by Josie's Tavern going north on Marine Corps Drive. It opened sometime during my trip to the States in late December and had my curiosity piqued by an article about this strangely named eatery in the MBJ, which is when I discovered it was another Thai restaurant.

Max Tropical Cafe is most definitely a Thai restaurant and the food is excellent. Before going further, I suggest you park in the back (turn into the road adjacent to Blockbuster and veer to the left where you'll see a big parking lot). Once you are in this charming place, you'll notice that the owners have put some serious effort and expense into creating a unique and intriguing atmosphere that has an impressive bar and several dining areas, including an outdoor terrace where you can dine and view the Marine Corps Drive raceway.

You'll not find a replica of an antique gas street lamp at any local restaurant but you'll find one here as part of the decor. There are Thai paintings and statues as well as hanging and potted plants, some in bamboo-lined planter boxes. There are even a couple of stray electric guitars (one is a 6-string bass) perched on a wall above the bar. Once food is served, though, with Thai music playing in the background, you will become entranced (as we did) in the awesome marriage of flavors, spices, and fresh ingredients prepared by co-owner and kitchen manager, Laddawan Peter. The other owner and manager of Max Tropical Cafe is Kevin McAloon (previous owner of Bangkok Nights), who is joined by his brother, Paul, who manages operations.

Let's get on to the food. We ordered Som Tom (Papaya Salad $7), Combination Pad Tha ($12), Pad Krapow Mee (Stir-Fried Pork with Basil & Long Beans $9), and Green Curry with Shrimp ($12). We'd asked for a low to medium heat intensity and got a 3, which was enough to give a little kick to the Papaya Salad, a notably scrumptious blending of papaya, long beans, tomato, lettuce, peanuts, dried shrimp, chilis, and lettuce, doused in the classic fish sauce-based dressing.

The Pad Thai was another great dish. The few weeks we spent in the States made us feel deprived of these exotic tastes which we have become so accustomed to enjoying at home. Again, ingredients galore blended in the right proportions with chicken, shrimp, tofu, nuts, bean sprouts, tomato, and noodles, garnished and enhanced by a squeeze of local lemon.

Next was one of my favorite Thai dishes, Pad Krapow, that I had made "Thai style" with a fried egg on top. They hit a home-run with this one. The chopped pork sauted with green bell pepper, onions, chilis, long beans, garlic,and straw mushrooms, infused with lots of basil made this a dish I couldn't stop eating. Okay, I was impressed.

When they brought out the Green Curry, we were delighted by the simple elegance of the presentation, with key spice ingredients adorning the top - green basil leaves and red chili peppers - it looked like Christmas in a bowl! Yes, this was another very flavorful and satisfying dish, filled with eggplant, green beans, shrimp, and bamboo shoots. The curry broth was edifying.

At the end of the dinner, Zee was telling Paul and Kevin that she was so impressed she was going to come the next day to try the lunch buffet. As things turned out, I was able to join her and was also impressed by the 8 choices of hot items they had, including Tom Yam Kou (spicy chicken soup), spicy bean thread noodles salad, and fried chicken wings with a curried taste. Again, impressive.

Max Tropical Cafe is open for dinner from 5-10pm, and offers take-out from 11am-2am, seven days a week. The Lunch buffet is weekdays from 11am-2pm. All things considered, this place is certainly worth several return visits, at least until you finish exploring their 65-item menu!

Island Napu Restaurant
Upper Tumon (across from St. John's Student parking lot)
969-KISS (5477)
Hours of Operation: Lunch 11am-2pm, Dinner 5:30-9pm Daily

Island Napu has the personality, look, and feel of a restaurant you'd find in any tropical destination - it really sets a tone with brightly colored ocean imagery (Napu means "wave" in Chamoru, as in surf), replete with surf boards, coconut and bamboo trees. At the time of this review, they didn't yet have their liquor license, with no beer, wine, or cocktails available, Calamansi juice, water, and green tea (with a nice tea service) was the order of the day for our back-to-back dinner visits.

Island Napu has just opened and is owned by long-time Chef Larry Domondon, who is affectionately called "Uncle Larry" by restaurant impresario Ruben Mortera, who is managing this oversized eatery with its menu comprised mostly of Japanese 'Don' (rice bowl) creations. Chef Larry has an extensive culinary background, having worked at restaurants in Napa Valley, Chile, Hawaii, and Guam when he was part of the opening team of the SandCastle and has worked at PIC as well. The recipes for these popular local dishes come from Ruben's years of experience in owning and operating restaurants. These guys have dining running in their blood, and their restaurant reflects their own sense of style.

Although I haven't yet tried Island Napu's Lunch Special ($11.95, which includes a trip to the salad bar along with your choice of rice bowls), I was greatly influenced to dine here when I saw Uncle Larry chomping on some Huli Huli Chicken when I stopped by after lunch service the other day. He was into that chicken the same way I'd eat it, so I had to come back that night and try it!

On my first visit, I was alone so ordered the Hafa Adai Sushi Roll ($7), which had Crab meat, Cucumber, and a Creamy Denanche sauce. I also ordered the Huli Huli Chicken Plate ( $12.95).

The Hafa Adai Sushi Roll was quite filling and tasted good. It's is certainly enough to share. The presentation was magnificent, with cucumber and carrots garnishing the plate, along with local lemon. That creamy denanche sauce should please more than a few people.

The Huli Huli Chicken plated has sauted seasonal vegetables including bean sprouts, carrots, onions, cabbage, and green bell peppers. One of the options is to have brown rice instead of white rice. The brown rice is delicious here, and can be ordered with any dish (even the rice bowls). The Huli Huli chicken is barbecued with a piquant and sweet glaze. It was garnished with chopped chives and fried garlic chips. I really enjoyed it. My server, Gary, was attentive and made sure I had everything I needed.

I returned with Zee the next night for dinner and we went for the dons. I had the Sukiyaki Don ($7.95) and Zee had the Kitsune Don (Tempura Tofu & Vegetables $6.95). Our server Dee, a personable young lady from Palau, helped us with our order. I added on the Garlicky Chicken Wings (6 pcs/$6.95). I wanted the Chicken Yakitori (3pc/$4.95), but they were out for the second day in a row! I also wanted to try their Ahi Poke ($6.95), but they were out.

The wings were crisp and exciting. I munched on the fried garlic chips. I probably could have eaten a dozen of these!

The Sukiyaki Bowl had a semi-raw egg, tofu, beef and rice noodles on rice with green onion. The broth was one of Ruben's recipes, with sake and other elements sweetening and flavoring the sliced beef. It was a wonderful dish, so good that Zee ordered a small bowl of Sukiyaki sauce to pour over her relatively bland vegetarian dish. This dish could have been ordered with brown rice, though on some of these, I've been conditioned to prefer white rice.

Other don rice bowl dishes at Island Napu include Kalbi-don, Garlicky Gyudon, Yaki Ebi, Yaki Mahi, Ebi Katsu-don, Bulgogi-don, Tonkatsu-don, Pork Ginger, Chicken Katsu-don, Chicken Teppanyaki, and Adobo-don. There are beef and seafood teppanyaki offerings, too.

Island Napu is a fun, visually stimulating destination that has great rock music playing in the background. Really a great place to unwind, eat good food without breaking your wallet, and spend time with family and friends. It's large enough to handle parties so see Ruben about booking events here. Island Napu Restaurant is worth recommending, despite being out of a few menu items. Be sure to check out Uncle Larry's "garage". It's a wall-sized mural featuring a line-up of real model cars he's collected. Like I said, this place has it's own sense of style with food tastes to match!

Bon Appetit!

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