I recently took a short trip to Saipan and flew the new airline, FLY GUAM. What a world of difference between a 737-400 and the twin prop Cape Air planes! It's a shorter flight, serves a chicken kelaguen sandwich along with a beverage of your choice (beer, wine, juices, soda or water), peanuts, and a pack of made-on-Guam Coco Jo's Cookies. The interior is beautifully colored in blue with an aquamarine back-lit ceiling, carpets with local fish woven in, and comfortable seats with lots of room. This plane also flies to Hong Kong from Saipan, and there are plans to expand the flights to Japan, Shanghai, Palau, Guangzhou, and Manila. The airline is locally-themed, with a menu inspired by Chef Peter Duenas of Meskla. The inflight magazine, called HAFA ADAI, is all about Guam, Chamorro customs and culture, fun activities, diving, and dining at restaurants, covered in an article by yours truly! Try Fly Guam so you can feel the difference!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
Pochon Chicken II
Upper Tumon (across from St. John's)
If you've been following my eating exploits over the years, you know I have a thing for chicken, especially fried! Pochon Chicken is all about fried chicken, Korean-style. Zee has been trying to get me to stop here to try their wings for some time now as she frequents its first location in Mangilao, which she says has spicier and hotter wings! Everything in Pochon is simple and basic. You can order wings or drumsticks that are "very spicy, spicy, or non-spicy" . You can combine the flavors (half/half) for $2 extra. And you can order wings from 11am-1am (that's 14 hours!) Monday thru Saturday and 11am-11pm on Sundays!
Wings are $20/20 pieces or $11/10 pieces. Drumsticks are $20/8 pieces or $11/4 pieces. You can combine these if you like. All the side dishes are priced at $1 each. We ordered 10 wings and four drumsticks and included sides of salad, steamed rice, kimchi, pickled radish, and pickled cucumber slices.
The chicken is served in plastic baskets and is pre-marinated before frying. These are fried WELL-DONE, which means you they need to be dipped in something since they aren't juicy. I did find the taste of these wings and drumsticks palatable, though I really prefer traditional American fried chicken.
We were joined by a couple who let us take a photo of their 20-piece wing basket. Other items on the menu are Ramen, Udon, and Jajangmyeon. Lunch specials offer three wings and either Kalbi or Bulgogi along with salad, rice, and bottled water for only $10. Not a bad deal, considering. It's good to know there are late night options for us chicken lovers!
Beach Road (across from Microl)
San Jose, Saipan
I can't tell you how many times I've been to Saipan. The amazing thing is that I keep finding new places to try out. One of these places is Izakaya Imoya, a quaint little Japanese restaurant which is more of an inn/tavern as reflected in its name. This place is the archetypal izakaya, with a large bar counter, a few small tables, a private traditional dining room (shoes removed).
I made a rush visit at night for a beer and sake and returned for lunch the following day. The owner Jay has a jet ski rental business and told me that Imoya has been open for about four years. His Japanese chef has cooked in restaurants around the world and is proficient in preparing a variety of cuisines. His focus here is Japanese. For dinner, you can order a la carte appetizers like yakitori, chicken wings, shrimp tempura, natto, sashimi, and gizzards. There are also set menu options. These are all to be enjoyed while socializing and drinking your choice of shochu, sake, or beer.
The bento lunch box at Izakaya Imoya is priced at $7.50 and there are 18 choices written on the daily menu board. Among the selections are pork cutlet, chicken cutlet, pork ginger, fried hamburger, chicken teriyaki, shrimp tempura, natto sashimi with cold tofu, and mahi mahi fry which is what I ordered. For the money, you can't go wrong. The yellow tail sashimi was fresh and delicious and each compartment's ingredients are unique appetizing preparations. The mahi was excellent.
I'll have to make a return visit to Imoya and bring some friends so we can share some of the many small appetizers while drinking beers and talking stories.
Templa Chamolinian/A Taste of India
This restaurant used to be known as A Taste of India and has had a complete make over to change the image to Templa Chamolinian. Templa means to mix or blend, and they have decided to mix Indian cuisine with local food favorites.
I stopped by to se how this concept was working and had a few beers at the bar during happy hour and talked to bartender, Liza Comon, and waitress, Radhika Itani who is from Nepal. I was surprised to find that Liza recognized me from the GuamDiner.com website where we'd posted an article featuring her husband Bhoie who is the chef from Revolving Restaurant 360. Small world!
I was enjoying some kelaguen and spicy cooked meat appetizers when they said I should try the Tandoori Chicken. I really didn't think I was that hungry, but once that sizzling platter with a savory spiced half chicken on it was put in front of me, I surprised myself again by eating it all! It was pretty good, I might add.
This concept of blending local Chamorro tastes with Indian seems to have an appeal to young people and this would be a great way to introduce Indian cuisine to people who are willing to learn about this country's great food traditions.
Country House has been serving steaks on Saipan since 1992! Owner Mr. Tabei has created his vision of a bona fide Western-themed dining room complete with an animated buffalo head. Images of cowboys, cattle drives, wagons, Native Americans, cowboy hats and paraphernalia fill the walls, nooks and crannies of this museum of America's wild west. Naturally steaks abound here, and not just any old steak but C.A.B., which are the best in the West!
I was here for just a quick bite and decided to have the 8 oz. Sirloin Steak ($20) it is served on a sizzling platter and makes a dramatic "spatter" when served. The meal comes with a bowl of pumpkin soup, French fries, steamed rice, and seasonal vegetables. The server also brought out a small sauce boat of Country House's secret steak sauce, which bore a strong resemblance to a ponzu sauce. The "double starch" approach of serving both steamed rice and French fries is something you'll only see in Saipan and Guam.
I will have to return at night for a more complete dinner when I can enjoy some of Country House's wine selection. I may even be able to hold a conversation with that moving buffalo head - I could swear he winked at me!
Mandi Asian Spa
Saipan Mariana Resort & Spa
One of the things you must do when in Saipan is experience the magic at Mandi Asian Spa. I only had three hours before departing Saipan for Guam and I had some back pain and was exhausted. The spa had been recommended to me years ago by my friend, Chris Nelson, but I had never made the time until now.
I called for a quick reservation and was able to assure the local rate of $30 for a Sports Massage. My masseuse asked what kind of pressure I liked and I said as much as possible. After being bent and shaped like a pretzel and hearing joints popping, creaking and stretching so much that I thought they were special effects, I felt a hundred times better and walked out of there on air!
Like most luxury spas, there are a range of services and treatments, from Asian Blend, Facial Care, Slimming Massage, Cream Bath, Deep Swedish, and Stone Therapy. For me, the Sports Massage worked wonders. This place reminded me of my Bali massage experience, which was a total return to the natural elements.
Table 35 Restaurant + Bar - First Look
Tamuning (next to First Hawaiian Bank)
At long last we applaud the opening of Table 35 Restaurant + Bar, which started serving food and beverage to people last week during its soft opening period. This is a sleek, modern, and yes, "classy", spot complete with a wine dispensing machine and a high caliber menu created by Executive Chef Christopher Aguon, veteran of the legendary Old Hagatna Grill. In fact, the menu reminded me of some of the provocative entree descriptions from OHG in its heyday.
Table 35 is an extremely sophisticated restaurant and the detail paid to precise construction details, high end furnishings, special stone and wood treatments, and compelling designs set it apart. Obviously a significant investment was made in everything from the bar stools and outdoor furniture to the utensils you dine with.
Generally, I prefer to hold off writing any reviews on a new restaurant until they've had some time to work out all the kinks and get the staff trained to work on the same page. This is still a very new restaurant and I think there's is the usual room for improvement.
I tried out some lunch items this week, which I thought were a fairly good indication of this restaurant's potential. Before describing the food, I have to first say that the welcoming by the hostess was great and my server, Janjeera, was a breath of fresh air with a cheerful, positive demeanor. I ordered a San Pellegrino ($5), which was a first indicator of Table 35's beverage service standard.
From the Lunch Menu I ordered appetizers, the first of which was Coconut Portobellos ($8.95) coconut-crusted beer battered portobello mushrooms served crisp with roasted habanero carrot aioli. These were certainly served "crisp" and perhaps a little too crisp, as these seemed to be a darker bronze than the golden finish I expected. I really loved the habanero aioli and how well it complemented the mushrooms.
I also ordered Shrimp Bruschetta ($9.95), which has mint marinated grilled shrimp, local cherry tomatoes, Napa Valley chevre and smoked bacon atop grilled bruschetta with mint vinaigrette. This ingredient intensive appetizer would be lovely with a Sauvignon Blanc. Certainly a lot of attention to detail and creativity were the first considerations for the chef. This dish demonstrated a new version of bruschetta as my expectation is one that is tomato-focused though the local ones used were wonderful. The bruschetta bread definitely got a grilling. The silky Chevre cheese and mint vinaigrette was a dreamy combination - did I say "Sauvignon Blanc" earlier?
I wanted the Salmon Spring Rolls, but these were not available - next time. I ordered the Bleu Burger ($9.95) which is a bold 9 oz. housemade patty, smoked bacon, caramelized onion jam and Gorgonzola cheese on a toasted bun. I had this with fries which are served in a cool hammered stainless steel container. The burger is really too lean and needs all the flavor assist it can get. This comes via the luscious Gorgonzola and caramelized onion jam. The ciabatta bun holds its own with this burger. It's a big sandwich and will certainly satisfy the heartiest of appetites. Other sandwiches I'd like to try are the Salmon Burger and Smoked Pulled Pork.
There are also some salads, pastas, and main courses including Grilled Salmon (I saw this plated beauty and I'll get one next time), Peppercorn Crusted London Broil, Garlic Chicken, and Braised Shortribs. All of these have tempting descriptions of the ingredient combinations which Chef Chris delights in creating.
Be aware that Table 35 has a service charge of 10% that will be added to your check and the prices are in line with those seen in Tumon. This didn't seem to faze the diners who were eating there today, and there have been a lot of them since they've opened their doors. It may be a good idea to call ahead for reservations.
I was cautioned to save room for dessert and managed to partition the space needed for one of Table 35's signature desserts, a Thai Tea Creme Brulee ($5.95). I really like Thai Tea and I was delighted to find its distinct flavor throughout this light confection. I can't wait to try the Kalamansi Cheesecake or Warm Chocolate a la Mode! If lunch is this promising, I wonder what's in store for dinner?
Kudos go to owner Jimmy Okuhama and Chef Chris Aguon for bringing an upscale outlet to the heart of Tamuning. This restaurant has to potential to impact the local restaurant scene the way Old Hagatna Grill did when it first opened. Time will tell.