Nana's Cafe - Tumon's Quiet Oasis Featuring Chef Kishimoto's Special Sauces
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
It's been over two years since our last review of Nana's Cafe, which has a prominent beach-side location just north of the Outrigger and south of the Reef Hotel. At the time of our lunch review, Nana's had been open for a year and had evolved from what used to be Sails Restaurant, the outside deck of which still operates as Sails Seaside BBQ during evenings. In writing this review, I can't help but think of the first line from the previous review, which was "Nana's Cafe in Tumon is full of nice surprises." Nana's has a rather calming and disarming ambiance about it, in fact, you can easily go off on a tangent touring around the restaurant's large interior, gazing at the imposing wooden statues (one of which is a giant eagle with another being a fisherman with a talaya), antique South Pacific travel posters, plants, woven baskets, thatched wall coverings, and canvas and rope marine images. Its casual, nonchalant and unassuming, so you can come as you are and settle in easily, whether you sit at a table or at the large bar, where you can order a beverage of your choice as well as from the menu, while looking out to the azure bay beyond.
Nana's is where the Guam Plaza's Executive Chef Takuhiko Kishimoto "does his culinary thing", turning out a variety of intriguing entrees during lunch and dinner without making a big deal out of it. Chef Kishimoto, a 17-year resident, is best known for his stylized Cajun-spiced entrees and mushroom sauces at the former Seahorse Kurumaya Restaurant, a place that has passed into gastronomic legend. Nana's Cafe is a free standing restaurant separated from its parent (the Guam Plaza Hotel), which gives it an air of autonomy. The other distinguishing characteristic is the talent of Chef Kishimoto.
The A la Carte lunch menu and weekly specials all include a trip to the salad bar, where you can get miso soup, the basic salad bar ingredients with dressings including olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This week's lunch special was Assorted Seafood in Black Bean Sauce ($8.50), including iced tea. I also ordered the Grilled Chicken and Baby Back Rib B-B-Q Style ($9.50), primarily because I wanted to verify if this was still as good as it was when I had it in November 2003.
The Seafood in Black Bean Sauce was visually rich, with the strong green colors of bok choy encircling the lightly battered shrimp, scallop, mahi, and squid pieces, all of which were layered in a brown sauce and topped by sliced green onion. The taste and flavor of each type of seafood had the same slight crispiness to the outside that didn't get soggy from the sauce. This was like a light tempura batter, but not really conspicuous the way tempura is when identifying it. The bok choy was firm and nutritious, which is how I like to eat it, and the sauce was "oh, so magical", that I tried unsuccessfully to decipher its ingredients. I could see pepper and garlic and thought I could taste mirin or some kind of sweet wine. I later learned from Kishimoto-san that he used sake, oyster sauce, garlic, King Crab stock (in much the same process one makes a bisque), black beans, and onion.
Both the Seafood special and the Grilled Chicken & Baby Back Rib entrees came simultaneously and I decided that I'd just eat most of the protein and veggies from both and not fill up on the two large servings of rice. The chicken part was a broiled chicken thigh coated with a tangy, tomato based bbq sauce, and the baby backs were a partial slab of three meaty ribs with the pork flavor intact (sometimes the natural flavors are boiled out before grilling). Both the ribs and chicken were pre-cooked and re-thermalized. The ribs were perfect and actually what I'd been craving (something about his sauce), however the chicken thigh was a little dry ( good for those who want their chicken thoroughly cooked). Though the bbq sauce flavored the chicken, it was the excellent finadene that came with the dish that really enhanced things. I surprised myself dipping Western-style bbq chicken in this pika finadene before eating. The entree also included a sauted vegetable blend mixing eggplant, bean sprouts, onions, and mushrooms.
Nana's service staff was very attentive, constantly monitoring guest's tables and replenishing iced tea and water. I observed the diners at other tables and they all were immersed in conversations while enjoying their food ( later inquired of a few about their choice of Nana's and they all responded that they like the leisurely, informal and quiet atmosphere, and that they loved Kishimoto's cooking.) Other lunch menu items include Nana's Hamburger Steak ($9), which is what I've promised myself to have again. According to Kishimoto-san, this dish was inspired by King's Loco Moco which is has a bowl of rice under a hamburger patty with grilled onions & gravy, and topped with an egg over easy. Kishimoto's version (a picture is shown in the menu) has the egg sunny side up atop a perilla leaf over the patty, in a pool of one of his dark brown sauces. Had space permitted, I would have tried one of Chef Kishimoto's pastry creations - next time.
Other items on the lunch menu are three Japanese lunch specials: Bento Box $9.95, Broiled Black Cod "Yaki Zakana", Shrimp and Vegetables Tempura $9.50, and Inaniwa Udon with Shrimp Tempura $9.25. On the A la Carte side of the menu is Seafood Spaghetti "Pescatore" ($8.75), Cajun Chicken or Cajun Mahi Mahi (both $8.75), Fried Seafood Combination ($8.95), Rib-Eye Steak with Onion Sauce ($9.95), and Tenderloin Steak with Chamorro Sauce ($12.95). I also promised I'd do dinner one night since you can get a Whole Live Lobster (broiled or steamed) with Garlic Butter Sauce for $38, Soft Shell Crab with Caesar Salad $23, Nana's Special Salmon Steak for $16.50, Assorted Seafood with Honey Mayonnaise Sauce ($16.50), and many other items that feature Chef Kishimoto's savory sauce creations.
Nana's Cafe is open daily from 11am- 2pm for lunch and from 6-10pm for dinner. Call 646-7803 for dinner reservations so you can watch a glorious sunset and enjoy tropical drinks or wine with your meal. I can honestly say that writing this review has made me hungry enough to want to go to Nana's tonight! Who knows, maybe I'll see you there and we can all enjoy some of Chef Kishimoto's tasty entrees glorified by his mastery of sauces!