This month we celebrate Chamorro Month! Biba Chamoru! Biba Guahan! I don't think there's any better way to celebrate being on this island than to eat what's grown on this island - fresh produce! That message was driven home this past Tuesday at Candy Santos' farm in Talofofo when the Farmer's Cooperative Association collaborated with the Micronesia Chef's Association and the University of Guam Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service to hold the 2nd Farmer Chefs Grill Competition. We'll cover part of this event in today's newsletter with more to follow in a future edition.
I don't know if it's a coincidence, a sign of the times, or the natural progression of life cycles, but it does seem odd how we are seeing established brands closing down. Planet Hollywood has been here for 15 years, however, their lease is up and DFS will be using their space for something else. The Planet will shut down March 31. TGI Friday's Hagatna closed their doors on March 1. Their employees will be absorbed by the busier Tumon location. Hooter's has been closed for a few months and there's no definite word on any future re-opening. Blockbuster Video is shutting both Guam stores. These are all "brand" name establishments that have been part of this island's lifestyle. Technology has made Blockbuster an obsolete business model (Netflix). A lackluster economy with a delayed and reduced military build-up has also had an impact on the recent restaurant closures. I still believe, however, that the future is bright, with new food and restaurant concepts waiting to be introduced. Here's to better things ahead!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
New Restaurants on the Scene
If you've not noticed, there are some new signs up in Tumon. The old Stanley's has transformed into EN Japanese Restaurant, which will feature Sushi, Tempura, and Teppanyaki. I don't know the precise opening date, but it looks nearly finished. Gorilla has opened in the Acanta Mall (have not been there yet), and a new fast food outlet has opened in Tumon's Plaza complex next to Hot Diggety Dog. It's called Godzillabowl - cute name and certainly Japanese!. This place offers a modest selection of donburi - Gyudon beef bowl for $7, Beef Teriyaki & Vegetable Bowl - $8, and Vegetable with Teriyaki Sauce Bowl - $8, along with a few more. Can't wait to try this out as it seems to be quite a hit with our visitors!
Island Sunrise Cafe Closes Temporarily
I have just learned that Island Sunrise Cafe has temporarily closed its doors until further notice. We covered this scenic Talofofo restaurant in our November 11, 2011 newsletter. It has in the past few months become a cherished hangout for many who appreciate the wide open vistas along with hearty local fare and savory burgers. Hope they'll re-open soon!
Mexican Fiesta @ taste
Westin Resort Guam
March 5th - 9th
Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Join us at the Westin and savor flavorful Mexican-inspired dishes that will please the senses and rejuvenate your body. Pork enchiladas, chicken quesadillas, bunellos, pico de gallo, mole poblana and more, will be served alongside taste's regular signature dishes.
Call 647-0915 for reservations.
Pika's Cafe continues to, and never fails to, surprise and delight me with their extraordinary tasty creations! I recently went for lunch after hearing from owner Lenny Fejeran that he had just introduced a new wrap, and that I should come and try it! Wow, that was certainly some kind of wrap! It was a Spicy Thai Chicken Wrap ($11.50) made with Chopped Chicken, Local Thai Basil, Local Culantro Crema, Local Cucumbers, Hoisin Chili Sauce, Red Onions and Romaine in a Tortilla Wrap Pannini with Local Mint and Calamansi Garnish.
My first bite delivered an explosion of flavors and sensations that compelled me to bite again and again. The vegetables were crisp and fresh and balanced out the heat from the hoisin chili sauce. I liked the texture of the chopped chicken, which had been sauteed in a blend of seasonings. While eating, I squeezed some calamansi juice over the meat in the wrap. Yumeee! I even picked up every piece of mint and ate it along with the wrap.
I also ordered one of the Daily Side Salads which happened to be Greens with Mountain Apples and Strawberry Roasted Almonds and Parmesan. This tasted as good as it looked...maybe better, and it looked terrific!!! Again, mouthfuls of fresh goodness. I had one of Pika's Cafe's Tangs, this time it was the original (something I'd not had in years but sure to remember).
For dessert I had the "Not Your Mom's Latiya" ($5), which is a Banana Mocha Latiya. Talk about delicious and not overly sweet. This was a smart twist on a local favorite recipe. The banana and mocha really brought new taste and meaning to our regular latiyas.
Pika's Cafe really supports the local farmers and they do all they can to utilize fresh locally-grown produce in their food. They want to educate their customers about this and have made table tent cards promoting local farmers. This month's featured farmer is Ike Guerrero of Guerrero Hilltop Farms. The farm specializes in basil, parsley, mint and other herbs. Ike's an Air Force veteran and is passionate about farming. He is currently working on his calamansi and citrus orchard. Let's celebrate our local farmers. Buy Local! Biba Guahan!!
Farmer Chef Grill Night
Candy Santos Farm
February 28 2012
The Micronesia Chefs' Association, in conjunction with the Farmer's Coop and the UOG Agricultural Extension Services, have held another successful Farmer/Chef Grilling Competition in the heart of Talofofo- "God's Country." This highly arable farmland is blessed with an abundance of rich soil. The competition featured three chefs who had to utilize a variety local produce to make a four-course meal. For this event, there were two mystery ingredients - wing beans and jackfruit. The competing chefs were Kevin Dietrich, Chef Instructor at Guam Community College's Culinary Arts Academy, Chef Jo Ong, Executive Sous Chef at Hyatt Regency Guam, and Robert Walter, Executive Chef MWR. They were assisted by GCC culinary students in the preparation and cooking of their courses. Among the produce available were local plantains, macau bananas, cherry tomatoes, pepino, papaya kangkong, starfruit, lemon, mango, figs, dailkon radish, guava, Japanese cabbage, eggplant, chili peppers, mint, basil, culantro, lemon grass, pepper leaves, local squash, long green beans, cucumber, sweet corn, bittermelon, and red and green bell peppers. Even tuba was used as an ingredient.
The cooking competition lasted two hours with the judges announcing that Chef Kevin Dietrich had won. He was able to create a jackfruit tamale and a pepino/lemon sorbet, along with an ingredient-intense salad and smoked pork chops seasoned with lemongrass. This was another excellent demonstration of the use of local produce to create palatable menu dishes that are notably fresh.
SUNDAY CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH at Palm Cafe
10:30 a.m. Ð 2:00 p.m.
$31.95 per Adult & $16.95 per Child (6-12 years)
Outrigger Guam Resort
"What a difference a Chef Makes"
It's a new day at the Palm Cafe and this past Sunday's Champagne Brunch was an example of some extraordinary changes and improvements that have recently taken place at the Outrigger's flagship restaurant. One of the most significant developments has been the hiring of chef David Jones to be the new Executive Chef. I'd met David about 12 years ago when he was Executive Chef at the Hyatt Regency Saipan and later worked with him during the opening of the Palms Resort (formerly Nikko). He and I had worked on the Taste of the Marianas Chefs competition in Saipan. Now he's here on Guam and he's already making favorable impressions, both on the existing culinary team as well on the customers.
One of the underlying elements responsible for the high energy going on at he Outrigger is the involvement of another ex-Hyatt personality who happens to be one of the region's most seasoned and dynamic hospitality leaders - none other than Mustafa Issa, who is the Owner's Representative for Tanota Partners, the owners of several hotel properties including the Outrigger. Chef David has worked with Mustafa at Hyatt as well as Palms Resort. Another former Hyatt Saipan (and Hyatt Guam) chef at Outrigger is Charley Venezuela, who is a Sous Chef here whose expertise is in making sushi. When you combine the specialized talents of good chefs and have the right leader as Executive Chef, you have a winning combination where food that's served should be quite good, even when it's buffet food.
One of the notable changes at the Palm Cafe is the expansion of live cooking stations. They now boast a sushi station, crepe station, a carvery (Roast Beef and Baked Ham), an omelet and pancake station, a pasta station, a tempura station, and dim sum. Having Charley gives Palm Cafe a competitive advantage over most brunch, lunch and dinner buffets on island as he is a dedicated, experienced sushi professional, not just one of the staff rolling sushi.
When I am talking about a chef making a difference, I'm talking about another recent addition to the Outrigger's culinary line-up, and that happens to be the presence of veteran Teppan Chef Joe Viduya, who has spent years at the Hyatt Regency Saipan's Teppanyaki and Govanni's. Joe is known for his "flaring" feats while at the teppan grill. Joe had worked with Jones and Issa before. When I saw him with his tall chef hat behind the griddle, I was beside myself with glee and gave him a high five! Joe made me the best omelet I've had in a long while...bell peppers, cheese, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, ham, and spinach. What I noticed about chefs (like Gene Soledad) who'd been there for years was that they were also caught up in this new excitement, new energy and new direction. Perhaps a good word would be "inspiration."
Whatever it is that's turning things around at the Palm Cafe, I can tell you that the food tastes terrific! The sushi, sashimi, and poke were spot on. I was able to sample something fabulous that the Palm Cafe will be offering later as an a la carte item. It is aburi salmon nigiri sushi and is most excellent. In the photo, Executive Chef Jones is torching the salmon toro(the fatty part of the belly), rendering it melt-in-your-mouth awesomely delicious. I even shared one of mine with Sweet Relief's Pastry Chef/owner Mark Duenas, who also was excited about the culinary renaissance occurring at the Palm Cafe. Can't wait until they have this available on their new menu!!
This is a free-flowing champagne brunch and the attentive servers were ever-present in refilling our glasses. There was so much food to eat I had to limit myself to only certain choices. With the omelet I did have bacon, sausage, prime rib, and baked ham. I put a piece of raisin bread in the conveyor toaster while at the same time I dropped a bagel in the pop up toaster, later making this into a lox & bagel treat, complete with thinly-sliced red onions, smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. I ate lots of sushi and didn't have room for King crab legs, oysters, shrimp, tempura, pasta, Mongolian stir fry, soups, dim sum, nor any of the hot well items (which are now more visible than previously). Chef Dominique's pastries were tempting but I could only handle the Chocolate Mousse Roll and Bread Pudding.
It's really going to be fun returning so I can try more food on Sunday. The view of Tumon Bay has always been an inspired and relaxing backdrop to my Palm Cafe dining experiences. I need to make it a point to visit during some of their theme nights. Thursday is a Taste of Southeast Asia Dinner Buffet. One of the chefs preparing this meal is another veteran chef, Jhamnong Kraitong, who has proven himself at PIC, Westin, Sheraton, and in his own restaurant (now closed), the legendary Andaman Thai Cuisine. Come down to the Outrigger's Palm Cafe and join in this culinary renaissance that's awakening palates! You will taste the difference a chef makes!!