December 10, 2010, Volume 10 Number 22
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
Season's Greetings! It's that time of year again when everything goes into the Xmas mind-set mode - shopping, partying, dining, and more shopping! Speaking of dining, have you noticed the changes on our restaurant landscape? Over the years I've observed the openings and closings of restaurants and have often remarked how precarious restaurant investments are, especially considering the current economic challenges confronting our island. Having said that, people still forge ahead undaunted with plans to open and operate a restaurant. Fortunately, we are seeing some pretty savvy folks jumping into the fray in hopes of carving out a niche in the local culinary landscape with their own foods service concepts and visions. These new operators are parlaying previous business, management, and food service experience into their new operations with the expectations of making something that will last. They are coming prepared with business plans and bank financing. They have even hired some talented staff. Sounds promising, right? Among these new establishments are the Shoreline Bar + Kitchen, Pika's Cafe, Kento's Guam, Ninja Japanese Buffet, and most recently, tu'Re Cafe in Hagatna, at the former location of Barista Blends. (photo of tu' Re)
Some of these will be covered in today's newsletter. Actually, I am quite encouraged by this new wave of entrepreneurial energy that's creating these newer and improved versions of dining experiences. You can expect to see a few more entries in the new year, including Singapura at the Royal Orchid and Table 35 in the spot that was formerly Artista in Tamuning.
Yes, there's always something new cooking in our island wok!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
Fortune Cookie Cafe
Thai Lunch Buffet
Harmon Loop Road
Dededo (near the flea market)
Dinner 5: 30-10pm
Ever since my February 2010 review of Fortune Cookie Cafe, I've been meaning to return to try out their Thai Lunch Buffet since I've heard so many positive comments from people who really like the freshness and authentic flavors of the food served in the buffet line. Owners Peter and Grace San Nicolas are doing everything right in their business model by offering great food for a reasonable price ( lunch buffet $9.95 including iced tea, $5 for kids aged 3-7) and being open Monday-Saturday, and on Sunday ($11 for adults/$6 for kids). To my knowledge, they are the only Thai restaurant open on Sundays. Of course, the culinary skills of Mamma Pod is what makes it all work; her food will have you licking your chopsticks!
Although some of the entrees may change daily, you can expect to get a soup, two salads, two types of rice, and six hot items. The day I dined there was Tom Yam Soup with Chicken, Green Papaya Salad (Som Tom), Beef Salad (Yam Neur), Panang Curry with Chicken, Pad Thai, Stir Fried Vegetables with Beef, Stir Fried Kang Kong, Fried Chicken (I have to confess that one of my weaknesses is fried chicken and I helped myself to a few extra servings of this as theirs is that good!), and Fried Spring Rolls. For dessert, you can eat all the Fried Local Bananas you can handle!
I like the Thai Fried Rice better than the steamed white rice when eaten with penang as I believe the more flavors the better. The vegetables are always fresh due in no small part to the restaurant being next to a vegetable stand, a fish market, and very near the flea market. The variety of vegetables in their stir fried selections is particularly notable.
Don't worry about their location. Though the parking lot is unpaved, the dining room is clean, air-conditioned, and the service is good. Just ask all the happy customers who regularly return for more!
Submarina California Subs
Submarina opened sometime in July while I was on vacation. It was only recently that I finally ventured into Submarina in the middle of the afternoon while they were not very busy. The place is bright, clean, and is far more spacious than a restaurant should be with extremely high ceilings leaving vast amounts of air space. The volume of space should have been a warning, but nothing prepared me for the sheer size of the sandwich that was made for me! In their advertisements they claim to build a better sub. " A better built sub that's worth it", they say. They even have a photo of a grinning (and obviously pleased) business tycoon Al Ysrael holding a sandwich along with two other satisfied customers with bold lettering exclaiming "We Love Love It!".
I ordered one of their specialty subs, the Cali, (6" on a wheat bun, $6.99) which has turkey breast, bacon, sliced avocado, and provolone cheese plus whatever "salad" toppings you select. For $2 more, you can upgrade to a combo and get chips and a soda. They have an impressive line-up of chips, including Lay's Kettle Cooked Chips, Baked, BBQ, Sour Cream, Classic, and Cheetos, something I'd not seen since in a while. Something seemed wrong with their chips, too. They were in bigger bags - easily two-serving size bags! That was another signal about bigger being better!
For my sandwich, I had them add all the "salad" ingredients along with a chipolte sauce. The end result was a 6" sub/salad that seemed to be 6 ft. tall! Of course I couldn't eat it all, and truthfully, should have ordered the wrap because it was far too much bread. I had to tear my wheat buns in half and discard chunks so I could finish eating the vital parts of my sandwich. I really like the turkey breast which they really pile on. The sandwich was good and the ingredients were very fresh with a hearty (and not cheap) amount of bacon on it.
Bottom line they are truthful about their subs being bigger. I'll have to come back and try the wraps, salads, and other subs. But, first I'll have to find an appetite to match!
Ninja Japanese Buffet
Upper Tumon (former Chuck's Steak House)
More is better! That should be the mantra of these all-you-can-eat establishments that are cropping up everywhere to meet the cravings of an increasingly hungry public. However, the mantra should be modified to state "More is better when affordable, especially if you have young mouths to feed."
Ninja Japanese Buffet is the latest version of a concept started with Heiden Chicken when that establishment added Japanese sushi and other popular items like tempura and yakisoba in an all-you-can-eat buffet format. Ninja Japanese Buffet is open for lunch ($11.95) and dinner ($14.95). Beverages are not included and you can order beer and wine in addition to tea and soft drinks. One of the saving graces of Ninja Japanese Buffet is their salad bar, which directly competes with the one across the street at Corridos.
Ninja's owners have made a significant investment into this restaurant, completely transforming what used to be a dim, somewhat dilapidated dining room into a vibrant, bright, and festive place with Japanese warrior themed decor. It is family friendly and kids like the interactive dining concept, where you roam around picking and choosing your favorite foods.
The mass-produced sushi selection features a variety of sushi types, including traditional nigiri, along with American-style rolls with tempura shrimp inside with sauces and more tobiko (flying fish roe) than you can count studded all around the outside.
The price is right when you add fried chicken, tempura, fried basa filet, and pork cutlet plus udon noodles and miso soup. Ninja Japanese Buffet is the equalizer by putting previously costly Japanese food favorites in a mass volume setting for a low-set price. They should have a byline that reads "sushi for the common man"! Frankly, you can eat an entire meal here for the price you'd pay for Sushi Ebisu's Alaska Roll! Then again, there are those discriminating people who will pay the price for the absolutely fresh and top quality food item. In this current economic climate, it's the quantity that draws the crowds and masses. Ninja Japanese Buffet should do well.
Star Bldg. (former Sugar & Spice location)
When I earlier said I was encouraged about a growing trend of aggressive, savvy foodie types wanting to make their niche on Guam's culinary landscape, I was including Pika's Cafe and its owners, Lenny & Pika Fejeran, as examples of entrepreneurs offering something well worth your while. Too bad they're not yet open for dinners or Sunday breakfast - but I must be patient! I was aware of their burgeoning lunch crowd from simple word of mouth.
Zee and I dropped in this past Wednesday for breakfast and found Pika's breakfast menu refreshing, enticing, and engaging, just like our servers - Alexis and Robin who are a dynamic duo. I ordered Salmon Benedict ($12), which has two poached eggs and grilled salmon chunks on English muffins slathered in a really good Hollandaise sauce. The meal comes with potato hash garnished with parsley.
Zee had the Vegan Rancheros ($10), with Katson's soy chorizo and tofu scramble, black beans, cilantro rice, tortilla and a side of salsa. She detected a slightly sweet taste in her meal that didn't suit her and when I tasted her dish and it had that typical sanctified veggie-bland feel, though with more flavor.
I also ordered the Kahlua French Toast ($7), which offers drunken French toast dusted with powdered sugar. These you could really taste and they were good! I also ordered a side of bacon ($3) to see what it was like and the thick-sliced and smoky strips were a good choice.
Pika's Cafe has been open for a little over a month and you can get other great breakfast treats like The Classic Steak & Eggs Wrap, So Cal Brunch Wrap (grilled chicken, avocado spread, egg whites and salsa), Benedict Dela Cruz using Katson's Chamoru sausage, and a few other entrees. They offer a lot of options so you can customize a dish.
The servers are great, and ours (Alexis) hails from California and brings a refreshing customer service orientation with her. Pika's lunch menu has some intriguing goodies I'll have to come back and try out. You can get a Turkey & Brie Melt Panini, Cobb Club, Shrimp Club, Prosciutto & Chicken, Citrus Tuna, Pork Belly Banh Mi, Fiesta Crab Salad Sandwich, PB & B Panini, Cali Burger, New Salisbury Steak and a Vegetarian Penne.
Give Pika's a try - they want to make a difference for you!
Vivian's Coffee Shop
It was my November 2009 review of Vivian's Coffee Shop, titled "New Home of Sichuan Hot Pot and a Whole Lot More" that first got the attention of local diners who had been craving the Sichuan Hot Pot experience. Similar to Japanese Shabu Shabu, where you dip vegetables, meat, seafood, and noodles in a boiling kettle and spoon it out to eat with a sauce, Sichuan Hot Pot usually has a divided pot with one side of a spicy red peppered broth and the other side a clear, pepperless broth.
Well, it was time for our Hot Pot fix and we invited our close friend and neighbor, Toshie Ito, to join us. It was Toshie's first time and was she in for an elevating experience. As Toshie would soon find out, this is an intense dining experience, with red pepper causing all types of physiological responses. We all had much clearer sinuses after dinner here!
It is good to call ahead to get a kettle started. Tell Vivian Xia how many in your party and what meat your prefer (shrimp, beef, or fish). You can also wait until you arrive to make more selections.
We had the shrimp and fish for the main proteins. Tofu, bok choy, romaine lettuce, enoki mushrooms, imitation crab, and vermicelli noodles all came with this $35 pot for 3. The process of taking the hot fish, shrimp or tofu and dipping it in your sesame paste, which is mixed with pepper broth and chopped cilantro, before eating is one you will soon master. The flavors and feelings are fantastic, even exhilarating. I prefer Tsingtao beer when eating this fiery Chinese feast.
As an add-on, I'd ordered a Salt & Pepper Pork Chop ($7.99) to satisfy one of my earlier cravings that day for a pork chop. Vivian's was really very tasty and we all had a few pieces of this - it was so good it didn't even need the finadene that came with it. Try Vivian's for great hot pot or go there anytime (even Sunday for breakfast as we do at times). She's open 7 days and opens early!
Shoreline Bar + Kitchen
Of all the new restaurants that have emerged in the past few months (outside of Chuck E. Cheese), Shoreline by far has created the most buzz. After all, they have the highest expectation threshold to cross, having replaced the legendary Old Hagatna Grill.
I've been asked countless times if I've eaten at Shoreline and what was the food like. I've heard both good and not so good from diners. Pretty much what you'd expect from a new restaurant.
Shoreline is a restaurant and bar, with the bar occupying a very large space. It's really a beautiful renovation that has transformed this space to accommodate Shoreline's concept of being a fun and entertaining place to hang out, have some drinks, eat some "small plate" comfort foods, and offer great customer service.
I dropped in for lunch, sat at the bar, and ordered Clam Chowder ($6.95), and a Philly Cheese Steak ($11.95). The sandwich description was compelling: "Pepper and onion sauteed with thinly sliced beef, accompanied by Pepper Jack Cheese and a roasted jalapeno mayo". Moreover, I could have it wrapped in a herb garlic or chipotle wrap, or stacked on a hoagie roll. I did the hoagie.
The soup came first. It was quite attractive in its sour dough bread bowl. My first spoon was a bit cool but then it did warm up in the center. I liked the consistency and the blending of ingredients. It was rich. The bread was baked with rosemary, which lent a nice flavorful quality to the dish.
The Philly Cheese Steak came with a lot of French fries. I was not very happy with the sandwich. The hoagie bread was hard and didn't seem to have any moisture or heat. The beef was meager and stringy. I didn't get the Philly cheese experience with this at all, though I did see the red and green peppers inside. They just didn't merge well with the beef, cheese and jalapeno mayo.
Undeterred, I noticed another customer having the Plaza Beef Sliders ($7.95) so I ordered this item. It has two ground beef patties, topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Shoreline's Signature Sauce. The buns were gentle and soft, welcoming my bite through the beef patty, cheese and tomato blessing inside. These were worthy, though I can't say noticed or detected the Signature sauce.
Shoreline's menu has a range of other, more interesting and creative items, including Shrimp Gambas, Firecracker Shrimp Tempura, Fried Calamari (I had a bite from another diner who shared and these were excellent), Crab Cake Sliders, Flank on a Plank, Poki Skewers, Carabao Wings, and Fiesta Sushi Rolls made with red rice and chicken kelaguen which were just awesome and pika!. There are salads including Caesar, House, and Asian, plus a chicken salad sandwich or wrap that's rumored to have bragging rights. There's a cute menu for kids and vegetarians will find a great wrap or sandwich to satisfy their cravings.
The full bar and entertainment makes this club one of the places to be. I can easily understand how this place can eventually become a favorite destination and hang out for many. It has that special open ambiance and sophistication you find in California restaurant clubs.
Kudos to owners Richard Gutierrez and Greg Sablan for envisioning this magnificent establishment that represents a paradigm shift for the island. Executive Chef Ken Taijeron and GM Shawn Trevillian head up the operation side of this endeavor and are responsible for meeting the expectations of their customers. It's a team effort and I believe they'll make this work.
Meskla Chamoru Fusion Bistro
Executive Chef Peter "the Outdoor Chef" Duenas has done it again! Always on the go and always ahead of the crowd, Chef Pete has re-vamped his menu and introduced bold new selections that reflect his creative instincts to do what hasn't been done before. Although we couldn't try everything on the new menu, we did give it our best effort to tackle some of the items that first caught our attention.
Meskla's Signature Ala King - $14.95. Local-style chowder with your choice of shrimp or chicken, olives, mixed vegetables, and boiled eggs, baked in a fresh cut coconut shell and puff pastry blanket. It's described as "Fit for a King!" I think anyone would be impressed with this unique local creation. We had the shrimp and let me tell you, it was loaded with them. The puff pastry reminds you of the pot pies we used to eat all the time. Using coconut is brilliant and a tribute to the island culture. The coconut shell imparts a rich and semi-sweet flavor to the chowder. The shell and coconut meat can be eaten later - we had ours broken up.
Big Mike's Chalakilis - $4.95. A Chamoru-style spicy rice porridge with grilled chicken. The Chalakilis delivers everything you'd expect from this local favorite. It's comfort food and eaten with titiyas, is plenty enough a meal.
The Kaduku Chamoru - $14.95. A Chamoru version of the Hawaiian favorite "Loco Moco". It boasts a homemade 8 oz hamburger steak served over red rice, topped with tinaktak sauce and crowned with an over easy egg. This is a superlative creation and represents a cross-cultural culinary fusion. I don't think I've had a tastier version of the loco moco since the hamburger steak is well seasoned and the tinakatak sauce with long green beans, eggplant, onion and coconut milk seems the ideal companion for this riff on classic "steak & egg" combination.
We also tried the Tinak Attack Pasta - $16.95 (ground sirloin, eggplant, green beans, & cherry tomatoes cooked in a flavorful coconut cream sauce, tossed with spaghetti noodles. For some reason, as appealing as this looked, the taste was kind of muted. It is possible we had too much spice on our palate from the other dishes but I added a little salt and it opened this right up. My sense is that the spaghetti absorbed some of the seasoning in the sauce. I also added some finadene dinanche to the mix and wow, did that perk this bad boy up! The quality of the ingredients made this dish notable, as well. There's a lot of sirloin here and the beans, eggplant, and tomatoes are locally grown and fresh.
Our final item was the Dinanche Glazed Pork Chops - One Chop $10.95, Two Chops, $15.95 . These are tender bone-in large pork chops griddled to order and brushed with a local-style pepper mash and served with mushroom cream sauce. We had the single chop, which was all we could have eaten anyway, though I could come back and have the double on my own. This will probably be one of Chef Peter's more popular dishes as the pork chop is one of the island's favorite foods. This is one great chop. It is succulent and flavorful, cooked just right and the mushroom sauce complements it along with the sauteed vegetables. Yet it another comfort dish from Chef Peter. Personally, I would brush a bit more dinanche on this as I'm a big fan of this condiment!
Other new items include a Chamoru Pizza, The Award Winning BBQ Ribs, Moni's Crispy Fried Ito Salad, The Chamoru Flat Bread Caesar, Chef Peter's Spicy Savory Cheesecakes, and Garlic Mustard Fried Chicken.I can't wait to go back.
Now for you super eaters, you can take the Meskla Challenge. The Pika Challenge ($24.95). If you can finish Chef Peter's super hot and spicy Kadun Pika in 10 minutes, it's on Meskla and your name will go on Meskla's "Wall of Fame". If not, you gotta pay the $24.95 and your name will go on Meskla's "Wall of Shame".
The other Meskla Challenge is the "Big Boy Challenge" ($100), wherein you have to eat a 3.5 lb. "Chamoru Cut" Ribeye Steak with the chef's choice of starch and sauteed veggies. If you can finish in 20 minutes (lick the plate and eat all the fat), you don't have to pay and your name is placed on Meskla's "Wall of Fame". Sounds like fun! Any takers?!!
For me, I'll just settle for eating and enjoying Chef Peter's compelling creations - he has done so much to further the appreciation of our island's food culture.
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