Marriott Cafe's Flavors of Japan - A Japanese Culinary Excursion
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
There is a good reason why I don't like to review buffets - there's just too much food! What makes it even more difficult for me is when the majority of the buffet offering is truly delicious, which is not typical given the challenges associated with buffets in general. The Marriott Cafe's Flavors of Japan is a buffet adventure which most diners will appreciate for the quality and variety of entrees, appetizers, and, at the dinner buffet, which is what we're reviewing, the seafood salad bar; specifically, jumbo shrimp, oysters, crab legs, mussels, calimari, and smoked salmon. Though you can enjoy the seafood and salad buffet selections year round at the Marriott Cafe's dinner buffet, it's the Flavors of Japan promotion available now through February 28 that makes it all the more special, with Japanese appetizers, such as chilled unagi (eel) and chawanmushi (savory egg custard) added to emphasize the Japanese dining experience.
Your journey starts just outside the entrance to the Marriott Cafe when you see four food stalls from the distance, decorated in the style of Japan with brilliant red paper lanterns and banners. As you pass by to be seated in the main dining area, you observe the Oden (Japanese Hotpot) station on the left, followed by the Shabu Shabu stall. On your right you'll pass the Sushi Display case where you'll see chunks of firm Maguro (Tuna) and sushi rolls, and then you'll come upon the Somen stall, which has an assortment of little bowls with cold noodles awaiting your topping selections. After passing through this entrance corridor (which is a brilliant marketing strategy, since it really brought you through an authentic Japanese "food stall market" to set the stage for your dinner experience), you arrive in Marriott Cafe's "Japanese Foodland", which is where the journey begins.
Since food is very personal and based on preferences and habits, you can start anywhere you'd like, either with a soup; there are several choices here, one being a Wakame (Seaweed) Soup, or a Caesar Salad, which is made fresh and often. Or, you can avail yourself of the seafood (oysters, shrimp, crab, etc.) on ice, or create your own green salad from an ever changing selection of salad ingredients and blends. You can even start with sushi and sashimi, or a combination of any of the 40 or 50 choices awaiting. This is the best part and the worst part of buffet dining...too many choices!
You'll also find hot entrees with name placards identifying the featured dish. Among these are dishes like Sakana Niniku Bata (Fish with Garlic Stem & Butter), Ebi Shioyaki (Salted Shrimp), Niniku Ebi (Shrimp with Garlic Stem), Yakisoba, Kani Karaage (Fried Baby Soft Shell Crabs), Chahan (Fried Rice), Steamed Fish (Red Snapper), and Marriott's famous Prime Rib, which I think is one of Guam's best tasting. They use rosemary and rock salt to season the outer crust, and these flavors permeate the meat then it is cooked to a beautiful rare (if you want it 'more doner', one of the line cooks will gladly grill it for you).
I didn't eat a lot of sushi (I did like the sashimi) as there's so much sushi available at other buffets and restaurants, I wanted to concentrate on foods not common to buffets, such as the Oden (Japanese Hot Pot), which is a simmering dashi (soup stock) filled with daikon, fish cakes, whole boiled eggs (no shells), tofu, and konniyaku (clear yam starch squares). Be sure to get a little of the Karashi (Japanese hot mustard) to add to each bite of your Oden, which is a popular winter-time dish. The Shabu Shabu station was another of my particular favorites, as you can pay a pretty penny for Shabu Shabu as an a la carte menu item at other restaurants. The Marriot Cafe's version uses high quality thinly sliced beef, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, rice noodles, tofu, and your choice of two sauces for seasoning to your taste. For a buffet creation, it was outstanding, and I guess I could have returned for seconds if I'd had I the space.
I don't think I even touched half of the food spread out before me...it really is amazing. The foods eaten were quite good. If a place is extremely busy, the chefs will continue to replenish large panfuls of food. The Marriott Cafe's method is to prepare small batches of food so that large portions don't sit too long cooking in the pan. This approach to the hot foods is especially important if you are particular about buffet food quality. The Spring Induction chafers manage to save energy and not over cook. You're a step closer to fresher when you do small batch prepping on the hot line. Another key factor in the Marriott's quality is their adherence to internally-imposed quality standards. Executive Chef Michael Devlin and Executive Sous Chef, Leland Feng, are seasoned veterans with established reputations. They have done a commendable job in training their cooking and kitchen staff, and it is evident in the food that's served.
The Flavors of Japan Food Promotion includes all you can drink Lite Beer on tap though I just had Iced Tea. There is also a station near the entrance for sampling Shochu and Plum Wine. The dessert station is the last place to visit, and if you take your time enjoying your meal (perhaps two hours), you'll have space to enjoy Marriott's impressive selection of tarts, cookies, cakes, and mousses. I liked the ice cream station, where I could build my own with almonds, walnuts, raisins, sprinkles, peanuts, and cherries.
The service staff at the Marriott Cafe is very friendly - I was greeted by several of their servers and watched them as they worked the large dining areas, checking on tables and re-filling beverages. They were really taking care of people, which is nice. The pace of dining at the Marriott Cafe is very relaxed, and the soothing music and smooth crooning of Ben really puts the Cafe in a class of its own. This veteran performer had all the Japanese ladies smiling and nodding to his singing (his repertoire included popular Japanese hits, along with old American standards and contemporary songs).
The price for the Lunch Buffet (11am-2pm) is $15 and the Dinner Buffet (6pm-9pm) is $35, with children (ages 6-12) at half price; all prices are subject to a 10% service charge. The lunch spread for the Flavors of Japan promotion doesn't include the Shabu Shabu station nor the chilled seafood selections. Diners for both lunch and dinner have the opportunity to enter a weekly raffle draw for a chance to win an overnight stay and dinners at the Marriott restaurants. All entries will also be eligible to win the Grand Prize of a Round Trip to Nagoya with hotel accommodations at the Renaissance Gifu, the Guam Marriott's sister hotel. So eat often to increase your chances of winning!
The Flavors of Japan at the Marriott Cafe is a special dining experience and certainly not just another buffet. For buffet style dining, however, Marriott Cafe does a good job at keeping the food alive and fresh tasting. I highly recommend the Marriott Cafe's Flavors of Japan to those who want a variety of quality Japanese dishes, which vary every night, adding more to the intrigue of dining in Japan. Make reservations (recommended especially for the evening hours) by calling 648-1610.