Iki Japanese - Escape to Where Two Chefs Quietly Create Culinary Surprises
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
The old maxim, "build it and they will come", certainly applies to the Leo Palace and its assortment of entertainment, sports, and dining facilities, most of which are "world class". Everyone who has made the drive (no more than 25 minutes) from Tumon to the Leo Palace's Hotel Belvedere has been astonished by the sheer magnitude and beauty of this complex located in the center of the island. What I find remarkable about the resort is the emphasis on quality and detail, from the design aesthetics of the hotel lobby and large windows, to the composition of the Bento box at the Japanese restaurant Iki. What most local residents don't know is that they can enjoy an elaborate, but affordable Japanese lunch at this paradise escape. I use the word "escape" because that's what you have to do to get away from the ordinary, and in the case of Iki's Shokado Bento Box ($15), you will soon discover the difference between ordinary and exceptional.
Currently, in what is a clear invitation to preview the fine dining outlets at the Leo Palace, guests can take advantage of the "Biz" Lunch Special at the Iki (and other restaurants), which offers a set menu for $12, an offer which expires at the end of the year. The Iki Japanese Restaurant has a sushi bar that is only open during dinner hours, however, Iki's two chefs, Masanori Murase (right), and Mitsugu Soga (left), manage to prepare a decent sushi selection for the lunch menu along with other lunch entrees that will both impress and satisfy.
My companion and I ordered from the a la carte lunch menu, with him choosing the Chilled Udon Noodle with Tempura ($10) and I ordered the Shokado Bento Box. Named after the monk, Shokado Shojo, who was also a painter in the early Edo period in Japan, this bento box style was modeled after the partitioned paint boxes he used. Usually the food that is served in the bento boxes will vary with the season and the occasion. I soon discovered that Chef Soga's intent and desire is to create new and unusual foods to comprise the Shokado Bento Box, which are artistically compelling as well as good tasting. Excluding the bowl of miso soup, there were six separate dishes, with one being sashimi. The menu describes this entree as having a grilled dish, deep fried dish, boiled dish, along with the sashimi, soup, and steamed rice. The fried dish was a vegetable kakiage (tempura, onion, carrot, and spring onion). The grilled dish had two pieces of unagi (eel) sandwiching a seasoned bean curd blend. The boiled dish had vegetables, a rolled fish, dumpling, and fish cake in a broth. The salad had a very rich Japanese miso dressing. The serving dishes for each item in the bento box were distinctly different, indicative that great care was taken in their selection and placement. It was an inspired presentation and certainly a compliment to the diner.
We also ordered a Nigiri Sushi Set, which is labeled as an appetizer, with eight kinds of Sushi, for $22. Nigiri means to grasp or squeeze using the hand. The process of making Nigiri sushi is both science and art. The plate had an assortment which included ebi (shrimp), maguro (tuna) rolls, tako (octopus), awabi (abalone), tomago (egg), shake (salmon), and saba (mackerel). It was all fresh, good, and well-placed. An order of Chirashi Sushi (seafood atop rice) is priced at $16, and the Soba with Tempura can be ordered for $10. The Udon with Soba was the most frequently ordered item from the Japanese guests who were dining.
Iki Japanese Restaurant is fairly large with individual tables as well as a dozen or so chairs at the sushi bar. The seats are comfortable and the tables are sturdy. Diners who eat in this restaurant, as well as the others at the Leo Palace, quickly get the impression that no expense was spared nor were any corners cut in providing what amounts to a "luxurious" dining experience. There are tatami rooms if one would prefer to dine in the traditional manner.
What I look forward to most with the Iki Restaurant is visiting during the evening when I can sit at the sushi bar, drink sake and/or shochu, and order sushi to my heart's content, interacting with Chef Murase, who has an affable, outgoing personality, probably resulting from his globetrotting. He's worked in Arizona, and Turkey, and previously worked locally at the P.I.C. and the Palace. Chef Soga-san is remembered by many for his years working at the old sushi bar in the Gold Club.
Iki Japanese Restaurant is open seven days a week, with lunch service running from 11:30am - 2pm, and dinner served between 6 - 9:30pm. Reservations can be made and more information available by callling 471-0001 ext 7131. I'm fairly confident that once you've made the journey to the Iki Japanese Restaurant, you will certainly find your way back!