February 14, 2014, Volume 14 Number 4
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
It's great to be on Guam! This little slice of paradise may not have all the glitz and glamour of big cities with all their attractions, but it is an ideal place for relatively peaceful living and community involvement. We've just returned from a short holiday in Sapporo, Japan to attend the annual Snow Festival. It was a chance to see, feel, touch and taste "snow"! Although Sapporo was spared the devastating snowfall that hit Tokyo and other parts of Honshu, we were eventually affected by the flight disruptions on our return. One of the things we were able to do was to catch up with some former Guam chefs who now live in Sapporo. We also had the opportunity to eat some of the amazing Hokkaido seafood and produce. Hokkaido is known to have the best food (seafood, dairy, beef, and produce) in Japan.
Guam continues to expand its restaurant repertoire. Read about the newly-opened Shawarma Express at the Micronesia Mall and my first taste of Guam's Panda Express. Next week you'll have a chance to taste some finger-licking good American style BBQ at Big Boi's BBQ in the old Burger King (and Logan Farms) building in Upper Tumon. We're sharing some of their story in this week's newsletter too. Finally, we want to wish all of you a very Happy and Romantic Valentine's Day!
Ken, the Guam Food Guy
Micronesia Mall Food Court
Hours : 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Open for just over a week(they opened on Super Bowl Monday), Shawarma Express caught my eye as I was on my way to try out Panda Express. I was further enticed by Richard, manager/partner, who gave me a compelling sales pitch about trying out their food. I did just that and I can honestly say I was generally impressed. I've always enjoyed Mediterranean cuisine, and when I saw the Shawarma cookers in the kitchen, I knew I would definitely get some lamb.
The menu is basic and divided into five categories: Shawarma Wraps, Shawarma Plates, Dips, Vegetarian, and Desserts. I ordered the Lamb Shawarma Plate ($9.50), which includes Lamb, Pita Bread, Hummus, Baba Ganoush, and Fresh Vegetables. I also was persuaded to try out their Baklava line-up, which included an original Baklava ($2.50), the Choco Baklava ($2.50), and the Pecan Baklava ($2.50).
The Lamb Shawarma Plate comes with a choice of Special Sauce or the Spicy Sauce. These are both yogurt based and I had the spicy, which was a good choice! The portion of sliced lamb was considerable and I created my own wraps with my Feta Cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and lettuce. There were also some Sweet Gherkin Pickle slices. There is a great satisfaction that comes from eating this special blend of fresh ingredients. For the price, I thought the value was reasonable. The wraps (beef, lamb, chicken) are priced at $7.50. You can get Hummus Dip with Pita or Bab Ganoush Dip with Pita, both priced at $4.95. The Hummus, Baba Ganoush, and Falafel Wraps are all $7.50.
The Baklava proved to be a surprise, since I thought the Choco was a creative departure from the standard baklava. I didn't actually like the Choco nor the Original (these are great bite-size desserts priced right). It was the Pecan Baklava (Tart) that was the best tasting of the bunch - it was really a good creation, especially if you like pecans. Give Shawarma Express a try next time you are in the Micronesia Mall Food Court. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Agana Shopping Center
Panda Express is the dream that came true for founder Andrew Cherng. Boasting some 1600 family-owned locations across America, Andrew has solidly placed his Gourmet Chinese imprimatur on the country's culinary landscape, something that has taken just 30 years. They are brilliant marketeers! All you have to do is stand in line and watch the live action wok cooking in the kitchen! It's bedazzling! The impression is fresh, immediate, hot and savory! They have managed to accentuate the most compelling attraction of Chinese cuisine by making these hot dishes in small batches and in some cases, a la carte made to order. How can you not point to your server that you want "that" dish that just came out steaming hot!!? This is in contrast to the other fast food vendors whose food pans seemingly sit idle for long periods with little or no movement of food.
Panda Express has a menu of offerings that cover the bases when it comes to popular Chinese (for Americans and Westerners). Orange Chicken, Broccoli Beef, Honey Walnut Shrimp, Chow Mein, and their own creations like Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, Shanghai Angus Steak, String Bean Chicken Breast, Beijing Beef, Mushroom Chicken, Sweet Fire Chicken Breast.! The side choices include Mixed Veggies, Chow Mein, Fried Rice, White Steamed Rice, and Brown Steamed Rice. You can get any 2 entrees and 1 side for $7.99 and 3 entrees and 1 side for $9.49. No MSG is added to the food and for Premium entrees there is a slight upcharge (for Angus Steak and Walnut Shrimp).
My 3 - Entree Plate ($9.49) had a split Chow Mein/Mixed Veggies side, Kung Pao Chicken, Sweetfire Chicken Breast, and Shanghai Angus Steak ($1.50 extra). Everything I had was generally palatable, and the beef was better than most since it was very tender and well-seasoned. I still prefer sitting down at traditional Chinese restaurants and sharing plates as they are delivered steaming hot. These are my preferences, but I still have to admire the consistency and insistence on quality that Panda Express exemplifies. You can't find fault with most of their ingredients. In some ways, their food seems "sanitized" in comparison to the Chinese food many of us are used to eating. We don't even have the opportunity to see it being cooked in most cases! You just can't beat the convenience and price of fast food Chinese, especially when it's Gourmet Chinese offered by Panda Express, now available as well at their 2nd Guam location in the Agana Shopping Center!
Big Boi's BBQ
Former Logan's Farm/Burger King Location
Guam's about to get a taste of some pretty serious and "sexy" BBQ! That's because Big Boi's BBQ is coming to town!. Most probably you've seen the windows open in their upper Tumon eatery. They should be in full operation by mid next week. I've heard they'll be having such tasty eats as bbq beef brisket, chicken, spare-ribs, pulled pork, dirty rice, potato salad, fries and onion rings. If you go to their website, www.getyourbbqon.com, you will see that they're making an ambitious move to grow internationally. Guam will be a major testing ground. It's the BBQ sauce that differentiates Big Boi's from the rest. One of the names for a popular sauce is "Big Sexy BBQ Sauce" and another is called "Woo Wee Baby BBQ Sauce". From what I gather, you'll be able to tell by the taste why they are named such.
There is also a few commercials that are on YouTube, one of which has an uncooked chicken coming on to a bottle of BBQ Sauce all to the singing of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On!" The commercials are cute, if not a little corny! I can't wait to try out some of the sauce. Looking forward to meeting the founder, Curtis J. Sheard, when he makes his Guam appearance.
65th Annual Snow Festival
Feb 5 - 10
We were fortunate to be able to plan a short holiday to Sapporo Japan to see the Sapporo Snow Festival. There was so much to see and do, with this event drawing an estimated 2 million visitors to the region. Believe me, on Saturday night it seemed like there was at least 1 million in Odori Park walking the one-way loop. Odori Park is the 11 block location for the ice sculptures, vendor stands, exhibits, displays, and carving competitions. There is so much to see and do that it would literally take weeks to walk through the city of Sapporo, both above ground and underground. Subways and trains are highly efficient ways to get around. It helps to have some familiarity with signage and to know some basic Japanese. There are thousands of stores just in the underground shopping centers.
We noticed that there were some teams from neighboring countries (Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Hawaii) as well as other countries making Ice Sculptures. We were wondering why Guam didn't have a delegation to this international event. After all, Guam participated about 11 years ago and won a 1st place position for their creation "Ocean Symphony". Wouldn't it be great to re-visit and have Guam compete again?
We also had a wonderful reunion with the former Prego (Westin) chef, Denis Schiavo, who has opened and operates his own Italian restaurant in Sapporo. It is called La Veneziana Cucina Veneta & Bar. (website: www.laveneziana-denis.com) He was quite happy to see us and we were happy to get out of the cold, snowy weather into a warm environment. He had us try his signature pizza made with pistachio pesto and shrimp. I had a home-made fettuccine with a delicious crab and tomato sauce. If you ever get to Sapporo , be sure to look him up! Denis also does some teaching at a local culinary school. It helps that he speaks Japanese.
One of our objectives during this Sapporo trip was to re-connect wih our friend, Toshiyuki Nakajima, who used to be the Chef De Cuisine for the President (Nippon) at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort for seven years. He was one of the Chef Competitors for the last UOGEF/MCA Celebrity Chef's Cup held at the Sheraton. He is now the Executive Grand Chef for the Renaissance Sapporo Hotel. We took a taxi to find his hotel and dropped in (without a previous phone call). He came out in about 10 minutes and we had a delightful time catching up on some of the recent events and happenings on Guam. He was so happy and surprised to see Zee and I!
Ishiya Cafe's Must Have HOT CAKE
It seemed appropriate that so many stores and pastry/confectionary shops and bakeries in Sapporo were advertising Valentine's Day specials. We were at one of the underground stations that connected to the shopping complexes that also housed countless eateries. We had Mocha Cafe's on the first visit and I had made a mental note to come back again one day before leaving to try their famous hot cake. I guess looking at the photo of Zee and her travelling mascot, "Theolonious" with their heads sticking out of the center of those giant cakes made me hungry.
So we set out to re-discover this special place. Believe me, it took us about an hour and a half. We were finally pointed in the right direction and then waited for a table. When we were seated, we ordered the Hot Cake Set Deluxe (with Chocolate Syrup and Maple Syrup), as well as whipped cream, fresh fruits, and nuts (Y1050 - about $10).
When it was delivered, it was as though time stood still. It was all about tasting and savoring the incredible fresh hot-baked goodness of the perfect cake. The strawberries were the sweetest, as were the blueberries. The almond slivers were crunchy crisp! The whipped cream was sweet and fresh, another level was achieved by melding this with the chocolate and maple syrups. We were both mesmerized and almost had to pinch ourselves to see if we were dreaming! I don't think I've ever eaten anything that tasted so decadently divine (and delectably heavenly) at the same time!! If you ever get to Sapporo, this is a must eat dessert/confection. It's best to share (if it's possible to maintain some civility). This is why desserts are Valentine's essentials!! Let's celebrate Valentine's Day!
Ita dake masu!!
Ken, The Guam Food Guy
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