Sam Choy's Superb Culinary Creations - Bold Taste Sensations That Satisfy Cravings
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
The best way to enjoy Sam Choy's Guam Restaurant is to dine with friends or family...the more the merrier! That proved to be the case for doing a dinner review, since Sam Choy's many dinner menu choices are irresistibly tempting. I was joined by my discriminating colleagues Gail, Erik, and Zee, whose impressions and comments about the dining experience were invaluable contributions that provided a more balanced consensus to the review.
Located smack dab in the middle of Tumon's Pleasure Island across the street from the DFS Galleria (you can't miss the giant whale protruding from the top of the building), Sam Choy's is open 7 days a week for lunch (11 a.m. - 2 p.m.) and dinner (6 p.m. - 10 p.m.). Although most of the credit for the original Pacific Rim menu creations and food concepts go to the illustrious founder Sam Choy himself, we are blessed on Guam to have extremely talented local chefs and management who not only carry out Sam Choy's culinary mission, but who also give this Guam restaurant its unique style by adding their own creations.
You'll notice this when opening Sam Choy's Dinner Menu, with the first section featuring "The Chef's Menu: Culinary Innovations from Chef Peter Duenas", consisting of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, all of which change every week. This is followed by a page showing Live 1 LB. Maine Lobster Specials, with five styles of preparation. The Main Menu, "Chef Sam's House Specialties", lists the most entrees and remains constant, subject to the availability of certain items. (Be sure to check out the specially created weekly lunch and dinner menus which change every Thursday.)
To get the best selection of foods we had to strategize our ordering. The San Vitores Crab Cakes ($10.95) on Chef Peter Duenas' menu was the first pick, followed by the Combo Platter (Sam's Famous Fried Poke, Luau Crab Dip w/garlic toast, and Sam's Onolicious Char Siu BBQ Ribs - $15.95), listed under "Da Kine" Pupus. Our capable server, Paul Alfred, was knowledgeable, attentive, and indulgent, catering to our various requests. His easy humor and accommodating style were key to this evening's success. We also ordered the Island Caesar Salad ($10.95), described as the traditional salad with an Island Twist. A basket of crescent dinner rolls was delivered which had whipped garlic butter ramekins. They were lightly toasted and tasted good.
The Fried Poke, flash seared Kajiki (Pacific Blue Marlin), was freshly-prepared and spiced, seared to give a hint of doneness outside, and had a soft texture that chewed easily. The ribs were tender, lean and meaty, infused with smoked flavor. The coconut glaze made them a finger-lickin' good appetizer. Truly a great treatment for ribs, especially when they are premium grade. The Luau Crab Dip was an overall favorite. Probably the best crab dip on island, it was the perfect blend of spinach, cream cheese, and seasonings, and spread easily on the garlic toast provided. The Crab Cakes were thick, had a crisp outer crust, and made with a generous amount of crabmeat. I thought they were good, though a little more sauce (spicy wasabi aioli) would have improved them.
The Island Caesar Salad was impressive, filling a large round platter and delivered by a smiling waiter aptly named Cesar...I had to take a picture of him holding the salad. Croutons and red bell peppers were mixed throughout the fresh romaine lettuce, all laced with a light, delicately-flavored aesar dressing that revealed hints of a special tart/fruity ingredient that gave a tropical flair to the familiar traditional dressing.
We orchestrated our main course selections to get the most from the entrees by ordering two combination Platters ( $38.95 each), with Gail choosing the Onolicious Char Siu BBQ Ribs and Pika Prawns (featuring Chef Peter's boonie pepper cream sauce), and Erik opting for the Grilled 8 oz. Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin (served with kapa mash and a brandy cream sauce) with the Macadamia Crusted Fresh Island Fish (with a shiitake mushroom cream sauce). Zee ordered the Cajun Butter Baked Maine Lobster ($49.95) that was oven baked and served over Kapakahi mashed potatoes and stir-fried vegetables. I picked an entree from Chef Peter's weekly specials, the Lemon Herb Crusted Opakapaka ($24.95) that was served with a Chinese crab risotto and a lobster butter sauce.
The wine selected for dinner was a bottle of Chateau Lagrezette 1998. This deep colored red wine was an ideal companion for the complex varieties of food we ordered. This outstanding wine is easily drinkable on its own, working wonders on the palate with its rich fruited fragrance and slight resonance on our tongues.
The Lemon Herb Crusted Opakapaka was "off the hook" (terrific)! A deep fish (they've got to go down 700 ft. to catch them), this special red snapper was light, flaky, and moist, with a regal presentation atop a mound of tasty crab risotto. Crispy onion curls crowned the top. The sauce was lavish. The lobster (affectionately named "Larry" by Paul who also selected it live from the tank) had a stunning presentation, and the Cajun butter flavored the meat, which was a little tough, but still quite sweet. The Kapakahi (means "crooked" or "askew") mashed potatoes were unusual, mixed with a blend of vegetables. Other Maine lobster preparation options include Herb Infused Grilled, Ginger Pesto Crusted, Whole Steamed, and Grilled with Mushroom Risotto.
The Pika Prawns are prepared in a spicy boonie pepper butter sauce (one of Chef Peter's trademark creations). The first bite is deceiving, giving you a savory creamy taste that begins to slowly build up in temperature. It's a marvelous dish--highly recommended for flavor and quality. The Rib Rack should be served with a measuring tape, so you can see how far they go across your platter and to show how well they measure up against the competition. The ribs are so lean and the meat is so thick you'd think the pigs worked out at Paradise Fitness Center..not an ounce of fat was evident! The Macadamia Nut Crusted Fresh Island Fish is another one of those "must try" entrees, especially if you like Macadamia nuts! It was delicate, moist, and just melted with each bite. The Grilled 8 oz. Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin was plain by comparison to the other exotics we enjoyed...I will have to try the Grilled Ribeye Steak with teriyaki or "pulehu"style (salt & pepper) on a future visit.
Other entrees I'd like to try include the Seafood Linguini (jumbo shrimp, scallop, mussels, calamari, crabmeat, and fish in a creamy alfredo sauce over linguini noodles) and Sam's Award Winning Seafood Laulau (island fish, shrimp, and scallops steamed in ti-leaves and served with a garlic-shoyu-butter sauce. There is a children's menu, which has Teriyaki Chicken Strips ($6.95), Tempura Fish Fingers ($6.95), a Keiki Burger ($5.95) and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($5.95), which include French Fries and ice cream.
Our meal was completed by a sampler platter that included some of Sam's Dreamy Dinner Desserts (all priced at $6.95), among which was the Lahaina Lilikoi Cheesecake (with a passion fruit sauce and macadamia nut crust, making it a superb creation, one of, if not the best, on island; the Banana Coconut Bread Pudding (the banana and coconut blended with bread croutons and served with coconut and caramel sauces made this a delicious treat---again, receiving a unanimous top ranking amongst the island's bread puddings we've tried); the "Ultimate" Brownie ala Mode is a dangerously decadent deep chocolate brownie served warm with a scoop of Haagen Dazz ice cream (just bad, really bad--addictingly bad!); Chef Peter's Carrot Cake, which I really enjoyed for a fresh carroty homemade goodness...with a light cream cheese frosting; and lastly, the Malasada Surprise, which was a Malasada (not the traditional yeast fried Malasada, but a thicker, cake-like, baked Malasasa, that's filled with chocolate Mochi, rolled in cane sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. We didn't like the Malasada--it just didn't have the properties we appreciated in the other desserts. Surprisingly, it's Sam's #2 seller!
Sam Choy's local management team is headed by G.M. Frank Toves, Operations Manager Greg Rosario (who kept a watchful eye on us during the evening), Executive Chef Peter Duenas, and Sous Chef John Fernandez. As a testimony to the training standards at Sam Choy's, our meals were prepared in Chef Peter's absence. If there was any room for improvement, it wasn't much. There's definitely a tradition at Sam Choy's--to make sure customers go home satisfied with a memorable meal experience that's complemented by good service. If you don't receive this, let the folks at Team Sam Choy's know...they will do whatever must be done to meet your service expectations. They exceeded ours!