Niji's Japanese Lunch Buffet - Enhancing the Quality of Value
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
If you've not been to the Hyatt Regency Guam's Niji Japanese Restaurant in the last few weeks, you can expect to be pleasantly surprised (if not amazed) at their new lunch buffet! I recently had the opportunity to dine there with my lunchtime companion, Zee, who'd never been to Niji. We both were very impressed (and frankly overwhelmed) by the amount and variety of food items that were available to eat. In these rather difficult times when the trend has been to cut back on food offerings and selections, Niji has taken the opposite path by providing an even greater selection of food and condiments, without compromising quality nor value. Unbelievable, you say? Not really, if you understand the direction that the Hyatt is following. The philosophy of the Hyatt's management team is to enhance the value of what they are serving their customers, so that you get more for your money, not less. Judging from the way some of the customers were piling on sashimi and sirloin teppanyaki, I can vouch that Niji's customers are delighted with this new Japanese buffet expansion.
One positive observation was that the layout and positioning of the food items has been changed so that all the sushi, sashimi, and cold salad items are in the main dining room, set up on the entire length of the sushi bar counter. All of the hot food items are now available in Niji's Teppan room and these are positioned on top of the counters where guests would normally sit and eat while watching the Teppan cooks expertly slice and dice meats and vegetables on their sizzling superheated griddles.
Before going further, I want to mention that a Japanese buffet like this does not exist in Japan, especially for the paltry sum of $16.50! Yet, you as a customer at Niji are receiving the benefit of the expertise of Chef Kenji Yoneyama, (Japanese Chef), and Chef Shu Shirahata, (Sushi Chef). Freshness, quality, presentation and consistency are paramount, and these gentlemen work with surgical precision and artistic flair to assure that their creations meet the high standards and expectations of Japanese customers, with locals benefiting from the authenticity. It's a matter of great personal pride and professional reputation. It's what they are trained to do.
We started with the salad bar, where crisp lettuce, red tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers were sliced and displayed neatly, along with dressings. A special sashimi poki was available in a dish next to a large wooden boat filled with sashimi slices, made from a large mahi whose head and tail decorated each end. Yellow fin ahi slices were also in the boat, and I decided to do my sashimi and sushi run later, since the selection was so large I needed more plate space. I added poki as a side to my salad plate and also spooned up some thing unusual in an adjacent bowl. This was one of the special creations using local eggplant that was out of this world! The eggplant was sautéed, and mixed with miso and bonito flake. For one who doesn't usually like eggplant, Zee was very impressed with this tasty treat.
I returned to the sushi bar, made up my wasabi and soy dipping sauce and started collecting my sashimi and sushi pieces. The range and selection of pieces from tekkamaki (tuna w/rice in seaweed), norimaki (sweet pickled gourd strips w/rice in seaweed), and keppamaki (cucumber w/rice & seaweed), were joined by ebi (shrimp), ever-popular California rolls, awabi (abalone), and salmon, with more items that I didn't have room to sample. I noticed that every time one of the wooden platters began to empty, Chef Shu would make up a fresh new roll and slice it up, replenishing the tray. It was impressive seeing these prepared right there "on the spot" instead of having a pre-made sushi tray brought out from the main kitchen. Even more impressive was the wide array of condiments that accompanied the sushi and sashimi selection. Nearly 10 items filled black ceramic dishes, and included sliced ginger, pickled radish (daigo), preserved radish, and other pickled, marinated vegetables popular in Japan. Also on the bar were two platters with two types of noodles, soba (buckwheat) and wheat (udon), along with a large bowl of silken tofu chunks. Again, this was far too much for me to eat, but it was nice to know they had it.
Zee had already started on the hot food items (she wasn't fond of raw fish she told me) and was praising Niji's shrimp tempura, saying it was cooked perfectly with no oily residue. She also commented on the chicken curry, saying it was really good and not too spicy. She relished the yakisoba, which had a nice combination of meat and crisp vegetables and also commented that it was not greasy like in some other restaurants where she's had it. I watched her steak chunks disappear as she smiled with pleasure. She told me that the grilled pumpkin pieces were unusual and tasty. I hadn't even seen that teppan room yet, so off I went.
The hot food items were mounted on warmers, and I was cognizant of the need to limit my selection from amongst this large display of foods. The ceramic dishes were varied in shape and color, and were made to fit onto a special carrying tray. I sampled grilled bell peppers, onions, pumpkin, tempura, steak, grilled swordfish, fried rice, chicken curry (a remarkably good curry, mild but richly flavored), a sour, egg drop soup with noodles and chicken, and much to my surprise, a bowl of Shabu Shabu, which I enjoyed preparing myself from the beautiful tray of thinly sliced raw beef.
I don't know how I managed to eat all of this but I did. I found everything to my liking and was glad that I limited my portions, since I wanted to save some room for fruits and desserts, which they had on display in the main dining area. Here the Hyatt excels--in desserts! Though not nearly as large as La Mirenda's selection, Niji's selection was representative, with about 6 different cakes, tarts, pastries and a medley of fresh fruits.
The Hyatt's new General Manager, Mustafa Issa, stopped by our table for a while and told us about some of the changes and improvements that have been made. He did mention that each day the chefs prepare a few different entrees, so that today's curry may be another type of curry or something else. He also wanted us to try a special apple pie that he claimed was his grandmother's special recipe! He had several plates brought for other customers to try, too. It was baked nicely, like a tart with raisins, more European than the typical American pie. The pie was surrounded by a special cream with chocolate splashes decorating it. Great presentation!
The Niji's lunch buffet is served Monday - Friday, from 11:30 a.m. - 2:45 p.m., allowing for later than usual dining. Dinner service is a la carte, with opening hours of 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Even though buffets are generally self-service, the waitstaff was extremely attentive and re-filled our glasses as well as my o-cha (green tea) before they were half-empty. In fact, my o-cha cup was replenished several times. The ambience of Niji is yet one more of its many assets...hidden away from the rest of the hotel and accessible by a large corridor, the Niji is its own environment, kind of an escape away from the pressures of the rest of the world. The Japanese garden views, the picturesque pond with flowing fountain, and the ocean visible in the distance through the beautifully landscaped grounds are all enchanting, allowing the observer to slip into a peaceful, meditative state.
No doubt about it, Niji Japanese Restaurant's lunch buffet's new format and food selections will impress, please and satisfy the heartiest of appetites, while at the same time meeting the demands of more discriminating tastes.