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September 28, 2012, Volume 12 Number 19

Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,

Adios, September and Hola, October! Yes, the processes of our lifetime continue on inexorably as we turn another page on our calendars. The constant ebb and flow and yin and yang of our daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities in our march of life is part of the never-ending story which seems at times to replay or repeat an event or a happening. Yes, it seemed like "deja vu" when I noticed in our May 5, 2009 newsletter we'd covered the closing of a wonderful Thai restaurant, Andaman Restaurant, and in a following paragraph we announced the opening of GYOZA-YATAI Guam in Tumon. Well, it seemed serendipitous when I learned that Gyoza-Yatai has just closed its doors and today's newsletter will be covering a newly opened Thai restaurant in Agat called Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant. I'm sure many will miss Gyoza-Yatai's Chinese Metro Cuisine(especially those who liked their giant gyoza and Yurinichi chicken). I wonder what new restaurant will open in that choice Pacific Place location between Outback and Capricciosa?

Today's newsletter takes us back to the past with a revisit of Chao's Restaurant in Dededo. We also will be touching base with our old friend Lutz Uhmeyer of McKraut's Fast Food in Malojloj where he'll be featuring special Oktoberfest dishes during the month of October. We'll even share a few savory "bites" of our recent visit to Pika's Cafe. I promise this will be fun! Enjoy!!

Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"

The 3rd Annual Mangilao Donne' Festival
September 13-15
Children's Park (next to Santa Teresita Church)

I was so glad we were able to finally attend Mangilao's Donne' Festival. Although we were there for a little over an hour on Saturday, we appreciated the growing interest and enthusiasm of the vendors and home-growers who are sharing their love for Guam's own donne' Sali pika "boonie pepper" and other pepper varieties. There were some pretty amazing plants sprouting unusually-shaped peppers. We bought a few "value-added" products - a spice rub from TUNU along with their Donne' Dinanche', and a bottle of "Chaifi's Fire" (100% Pure Donne Sali Peppers). This is a product created by Dave Crisostomo (DJ Aquafarm, Mangilao) which is also being sold at Pika's Cafe. I was planning on returning on Sunday but was unable to so I missed out on the competitions. Congrats to the winners (one was Chef Jason Datuin of DFRNT who won the Finadene Dinanche contest). I'll definitely look forward to attending next year's Festival!

McKraut's Fast Food & Beer Garden
Rte 4

It's already OKTOBERFEST at McKraut's Fast Food & Beer Garden in sunny, idyllic Malojloj (pronounced "Mah Low Low")! Located way down south from Jeff's Pirate's Cove, you won't miss this place --- it's grown from a quaint road-side stand to a full fledged building complete with has to be one of the largest private developments on Route 4! Since the owner, Ludwig "Lutz" Uhmeyer, is German, he's celebrating his native homeland's most popular festival, OKTOBERFEST, in a very special way. In addition to serving an awesome variety of German beers on tap (and by the bottle), he has donned his Lederhose (German breeches-real men do wear leather!!) and has cooked up two Oktoberfest specials that will only be available during the weekends in October (starting this weekend, too).

You can order Bavarian Goulash with Red Cabbage and Mashed Potatoes, which will price in the range of $10-12, or you can order the Roast Smoked Pork Knuckle with Sauerkraut and Mashed Potatoes (in the $15 range - prices were not yet fixed at the time of publication). Just take a look at the size of that ham hock!! Not only is it huge, but it is also fork tender and full-flavored (add some mustard to further enhance the taste)! The Goulash is mesmerizingly just can't stop eating this traditional braised beef delicacy (nothing delicate about the strong flavors!!). Combine it with that red cabbage!! Superb!

Aside from these specials, you can order from McKraut's fast food menu of burgers, hot dogs, fries, wings, and of course his famous Smoked Bratwurst in Loaf of Basil Bread, Dijon Mustard, Salad & Fries - $7.75, as shown in this photo.

Get to McKraut's Fast Food & Beer Garden for a fun dining experience the whole family will enjoy!

Pika's Cafe
Star Bldg Across From St. John's
Upper Tumon
647-PIKA (7452)
Hours: Mon-Sat 7:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

I don't know how they do it but I'm glad they do it! I know it has a lot to do with culinary inspiration. I know that this is one of the few island eateries that is committed to using fresh local produce and ingredients in their menu creations. So it's no secret why I did everything I could to get to Pika's Cafe this Thursday morning to try out their Athena's Wrap lunch special and Pika's Local Key Lime Cheesecake. Talk about fresh and lovely! Athena's Wrap ($9.75) is all about ingredients! You've got Chipotle Garlic Hummus, Tzatziki, Feta Cheese, Roasted Eggplant, Roasted Red Peppers, Red Onions, Romaine Lettuce, and Black Olives wrapped in a tortilla that's Panini-grilled! This is a vegetarian dream, and as I told owner, Lenny Fejeran, "you don't even miss the meat!" Pika's will be featuring this wrap throughout the next month.

While I was eating this wrap, Lenny had me sample Thursday's Soup, which was Tofu with Local green beans, string beans, celery, carrots, and onions, and bean sprouts ($3.50). It was a light broth with amazing flavors. I should also mention that I was blessed to quench my thirst with a cool, refreshing, and elevating glass of "Ike's Lemonade", made with local calamansi and local mint grown by farmer Ike Guerrero! I'm so proud of how restaurant's like Pika's Cafe have embraced our local farmer's produce - it's naturally fresher and better than what's imported!!!

Another blessing came in the form of a unique dessert, a Local Key Lime Cheese Cake made by baker Tori Pritchard. She made this confection with the juice of local key limes from farmer Angie Mendiola. The first bite surprised me because it took my sensitive taste buds in two directions-sour and sweet, and it was so subtle that I was a bit perplexed while my taste buds were deciding on a response. Good, very good indeed. It was a surprise to the palate similar to one I received a few years back when Sweet Relief (PROA) created a Chocolate Wasabi Cheesecake.

Another menu item I need to report on is Pika's Chamericano Breakfast Burrito ($8.50) , which has a Panini-grilled Tortilla Wrap filled with Chamorro Sausage, Cheddar Cheese, Red Potatoes, Scrambled Eggs, Lana Sauce and a side of Salsa. I had this for breakfast a few weeks ago (yes, I was able to secure a seat for breakfast!). The salsa made by the folks at Pika's should be bottled and sold! It actually comes the closest I've had locally to a salsa you get in Southern California. I can tell you that Lenny really worked on this one...I still don't know how he did it, but I'm glad he did!! (Stay tuned for news on Pika's Cafe's move and expansion within the same complex coming this November).

Chao's Restaurant
Daily Plaza (near the Flea Market)

Since my September 2004 review of Chao's Restaurant I'd been back for lunch a few times, but haven't done a major write-up. Well, it's about time, and perhaps overdue! After all, Chao's is a great little Chinese restaurant (they actually expanded to another bay since that first review). They are open from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. all week except for Mondays, when they take the day off and are closed. Chao's is owned and operated by a husband and wife team. Chef/owner Zhang Zi Min is as passionate about his cooking as his wife, May, is passionate about service! Both are always smiling when you see them and they seem sincerely grateful to all their customers for their patronage.

Chao's offers what everyone wants - great tasting food that's affordably priced. They use no MSG in any of their soups and vegetable dishes, and will eliminate it entirely from any other dish by request. They offer a multi-choice fast food lunch special from the hot line steam table as well as a la carte, which is what I prefer.

Zee & I went there for dinner on a Sunday night. Unfortunately, they didn't have any duck left since they were closing on Monday. (I'd managed to get some on my 2nd visit). Our first dish was KanKong with Garlic( $7), which was a very generous portion for the price. It was hot, fresh, and full of the nutritious natural flavors you'd expect from locally-grown vegetables expertly cooked in a wok!

Next came the Orange Chicken ($7) Zee wanted to try. This was also good, better than I remember. Not sweet, but tangy with a nice crunch of crust before you get to the soft chicken. It was cooked well to eliminate any grease. The portion was generous as well.

Our large bowl of Won Ton Soup ($10) came. It was a lot for the two of us! Cilantro (Chinese parsley) was floating on top along with green onions. Large pieces of bok choy could be seen beneath the surface. The won tons were plentiful and the broth was light and pleasant a comfort soup that warmed the soul and made you feel good.

I ordered the Salt & Pepper Shrimp ($10) and regretted it afterwards since this dish wasn't going to be shared by Zee (she's minimizing her shrimp ingestion). I say "regret" since I really didn't plan on eating it all myself (which I did). Yes, it was delicious Salt & Pepper Shrimp, even better than the first time! Big, meaty, and spicy shrimp crispy fried with onions and chilis .

I did return during lunch this week and ordered the Roasted Duck and Roasted Pork Combo ($12), which tasted even better than it looked and it looked great! The duck was juicy (the skin was crisp and crunchy). The Char Siu Pork was tender, juicy, not as salty as some I've eaten, and quite lean. It is an appetizer that's better shared!

I wasn't sure about my next choice when May asked if I Iiked Fresh Wide Noodles with Beef ($12). Of course I said yes! This is not on the menu and usually available after is arrives on Tuesdays when the noodles are flown in fresh from Taiwan. This is a glorious entree, a wonderful mixture of carrots, bean sprouts, green onions, and beef interspersed with those awesome flat wide wheat noodles. I could only manage half of this large plate and took the balance home for another meal!

Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant
Agat Commercial Point (across from Inn on the Bay)
Route 2

Hooray! We found another one, and this time, it's definitely a "keeper"! I'm talking about Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant, which has only been open since early August. It is in the same location as the former Fortune Cookie Thai Restaurant. In fact, they literally transitioned from one to the other and still offer a modest though impressive All-You-Can-Eat Thai Lunch Buffet ($10.95) adults, ($6.00) children (4-7), with iced tea included. The buffet is only open Monday- Friday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., however the a la carte menu (the restaurant's true treasure trove) is offered Monday - Friday from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday from 5 - 9 p.m. Imagine, a Thai Restaurant open on Sunday night!!! Moreover, it's not just any Thai restaurant, it is among the best on island, with food so tasty that even customers from Andersen AFB will make the long drive to Agat to get their Lemon Grass fix!

Why would I say this after a first time visit? Well, I went for lunch and returned for dinner on the same day. When I had the lunch buffet (which had a respectable Tom Yum Soup, Spicy Chicken Salad, Green Papaya Salad (som tom) fried and steamed white rice, Phad Thai, Stir fried vegetables with pork, Green Curry with Chicken, Fried Chicken, Stir fried vegetables, Fried Spring Rolls, Fried Bananas. Everything I ate seemed to radiate flavors and freshness. I was even surprised by the Spring Roll, which was greaseless, crispy, and tasty. I had the iced tea (they have both sweetened and un-sweetened). The Fried Bananas wore black sesame seeds and were crunchier and tastier than other fried bananas I've had at Thai buffets.

I met the owner, Noi Waechter, who had come out of the kitchen where she'd been cooking up a storm. I introduced myself and told her I was enjoying the lunch buffet and that I would like to try at least one a la carte dish. I asked if she could make me Phad Kra Prao Moo ($9) Spicy Pork with Thai Basil (Thai style, w/egg). She asked if I liked it spicy and I nodded yes! (I would have a moment of truth about this later). Noi had worked a few years before at Ban Thai where she had established a following. Her cooking is meticulous and exceptional!

Lemon Grass Thai is clean, bright, with plenty of seating in spacious air-conditioned comfort. They play a selection of marvelous Thai music, lending a welcoming "sawadee" ambiance to the entire dining room. The restrooms are clean and the staff are very friendly. The walls are adorned with various types of Thai artwork, so much that wherever you look you'll see something that will engage your eyes and mind. Suddenly, I was brought out my Phad Kra Prao Moo. This looked awesome and was very aromatic with a spicy and sweet steamy fragrance. Nothing like fresh Thai Basil!! Garnished with cucumber slices and carrot, the fried egg was the first thing I cut into, taking a little piece and adding it to some rice with the basil-infused pika pork. Did I say "pika" (spicy) pork? After a few bites my ears were burning and I could feel the heat (my mouth had already gone on alert). Noi came out and asked if I was alright (I said yes, but she saw I was over-heating. She said she used just a little bit of the Ghost Pepper(Bhut Jolokia) which has 1,001,304 Scoville units(our boonie pepper -donne Sali, has 140,000. She apologized and I said it was ok...just had to get used to it! She brought me more napkins to help with the sweat! I did eat half of this wonderful plate and brought it home.

When I returned later for dinner with Zee, we ordered the Fresh Spring Rolls ($7 - popia sod) and the Chicken Satay ($9 - gai Satay) as appetizers. The Spring Rolls were bigger than usual and filled with carrots, rice noodles, cucumber, tofu, imitation crab, and lettuce. The peanut sauce was thick and rich, however, Zee wanted to kick it up with more heat and added some Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. That did the trick!

The Satay was beautifully presented - I'd even say "glamorous"! The coconut milk on the golden brown grilled skewered meat pieces was tantalizing. Two sauce dishes were on the plate with the four skewers placed in between atop a bed of shredded salad. One had the traditional satay peanut sauce while the other had a sweet vinegar and red onion, cucumber, hot pepper dipping sauce akin to finadene. Both worked equally well complementing the satay meat!

Next came another item we ordered, the Spicy Thai Beef Salad ($10-Yam Neur), which was a virtual masterpiece! The red, white, and green color combinations from the tomato, cucumbers, cilantro, green onion, red onion, celery, garlic, and red pepper stimulated my taste buds before I could take my first bite. There was so much tender beef, too This was an awesome and flavorful dish, again ranking high among my favorites.

We then had the Fried Noodles with Black Soybean Sauce (Phad siew) with Shrimp $9). I liked the chewy texture of these richly flavored noodles...almost al dente. The broccoli pieces and carrot slices gave color and texture to this dark-colored dish. The shrimp were plentiful and meaty.

Wow, it was amazing how we were still managing to eat as the final dish we ordered came was delivered. It was Noi's Panang Curry ($12-Phad panang gai), with chicken. This is one of those "WOW" dishes, the kind that once you taste you begin making "mmmmmmmm" noises! We'd ordered this spicy and it didn't disappoint (no ghost peppers!!). It was absolutely a first level panang and definitely praiseworthy. Needless to say, we had plenty of left-overs, all of which had flavors that deepened and intensified over time.

On our way out, we saw some friends who were eating an assortment of dishes. I got excited by one and asked if I could at least take a photo for this review. It was the Steamed Fish Filet w/Tofu ($10), and though I'd seen it on the menu, I couldn't imagine what it would look like. Now we know!!

Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant doesn't serve any alcohol, which didn't create a problem for us. I had the Thai Tea (well made of course) and Zee had water. The food we ate at Lemon Grass Thai was made with a genuine love and respect for the food, the ingredients, and the customer. The dining experience here can only get better as this new restaurant's owners work on improving the physical aesthetics (fluorescent lights and large open spaces). However, for all the diners I saw at lunch & during dinner-no one paid any attention to these frivolous details...they were there to eat!!

Bon Appetit!

Ken the Guam Food Guy

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