The Grille at Santa Fe - Local Chef Blazes Sensational Culinary Trail
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Finally, The Grille at Santa Fe has found the right chef to bring this restaurant's potential up to the world-class standard that has eluded it since its beginning including the years the Tamuning property operated under prior ownership. This idyllic, beach side restaurant had everything going for it except for a menu prepared by a competent and confident visionary who wanted to make a culinary statement to the world. The chef who has stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park is Joseph Borja, who helped open Old Hagatna Grill before going off to culinary school in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Borja also worked at Latini's, a popular Italian American eatery in Louisville, Kentucky. He has returned home to Guam (he is passionate about loving Guam!!) and has created a menu with a stellar line-up of appetizers, entrees, and desserts that would make his mama and golf-pro papa, proud!
We were finally "allowed" to come in for a review (he had armed guards on the look-out to keep me from entering until he got the menu down!) and I can only say it was worth the wait! Chef Joe's menu is exciting, fun, fresh, original, big-portioned, and full of moxie, just like the guy who created it. The Clams Casino appetizer ($10.25) is great, with clams on the half shell stuffed with peppers, bacon, and more clam meat than was in the shell, then baked to marvelous perfection. His Grilled Quesadilla of the Day is a must-have ($8), and our day's version had fresh spinach inside the grilled wheat flour tortillas, and smothered with Monterey Jack Cheese. The shells vary too, and accompanying the quesadilla is dollop of cumin-laced sour cream, a rash of jalepenos, and a savory salsa filled with big, sweet chunks of tomato! Delicious! The Spinach Artichoke Dip with Tortilla Chips ($5.50) was sensational, and further evidence of what Chef Joe advocates - fresh ingredients, large portions, and great taste. Honestly, I've never seen so much fresh spinach in an appetizer...and it's not ground up into a fine paste...it still retains its naturally fibrous, stalky texture.
We had one of his pasta dishes, the Shrimp Fussili with Cajun Cream Sauce ($20.95), which includes a choice of soup or salad. Words can't describe the first bite of this edifying concoction. Imagine, chunks of Chamorro sausage and big shrimp sauteed just right and blended in a flavor-bursting spiced cream sauce coating the spiraled pasta. It'll make you dizzy! Can't wait to try the other pastas, the Seafood Linguini in Chipotle Marinara or the Pesto Chicken Penne.
For entrees, we had a sampler plate of the Baby Back Ribs ($22.50), which is a full rack of succulent ribs with your choice of 3 awesome sauces, All American (a tomato-based, rich "Born in the USA" sauce); Honey Garlic, which is a sauce that demonstrates the compatibility of two great ingredients; and the Hoisin Apple, which I'll leave to your imagination, since you may already know that pork and apple have had an ongoing affair since day one. I'll just say that "hoisin-izing"it puts it in another flavor dimension! If you like ribs, you'll appreciate what Chef Joe's done to his. Fabulous.
The Grilled Prime Rib we were served was the last thing we thought we could eat (we did save room for dessert). For $21.95, you'll get a thick slice of Certified Angus that has been slow-roasted, marinated, given a rubdown in their secret blend of spices, and grilled the way you want it. Tender, juicy, and original...cooked like no one else's on the island. We savored it and also liked the baked potato with cumin-laced sour cream, fresh bacon bits, and fresh chives, as well as the char-grilled local eggplant and chili peppers. Chef Joe is a maniac about using local produce and seafood...he goes to the Fisherman's Co-Op every day to pick his fish. Go Local!
To cap off a wonderful dining episode, we had to have the Key Lime Pie ($3.50). Well, we didn't have it, rather it HAD us....totally captivated and under its glorious spell! Chef Joe made it fresh, except for the whipped cream, but it didn't take away from the delightfully tart key lime filling that was accented by the chocolate pie crust. This was all crowned by a glistening fresh slice of lime, making it a crowning achievement. Chef Joe said we should have tried his Cinnamon Apple Spring Rolls...next time!
I've not had to describe the physical beauty of the Grille at Santa Fe....it is dining in paradise at its best, with waves lapping up along the shoreline just yards away, and tiki torch flames licking up toward the evening sky. Our server, Antonette, maintained our contentment, and we listened to the inimitable sounds of Rick Ashe in the background, performing at Santa Fe's bar. You can catch Ro & Rick (the other Rick) performing on Thursday and Friday nights, from 6pm until 10pm. This is a happening place! The Grille at Santa Fe opens for breakfast from 7am until 10am, lunch from 11am until 2pm and dinner is served from 6pm until 10pm. For reservations and information, call 647-8855.
Kudos to Chef Joe Borja for his splendid vision and for sharing his culinary passion and talents. Thanks, Joe, for coming home!