La Brasserie - Showcasing Asian Cuisine and Chef Duong's Culinary Diversity
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
When I first heard the news that Executive Chef Phillip Duong was leaving the Palace Hotel for the new Holiday Resort Guam, I knew that it would be a lucky throw of the dice for the new property. When you've eaten the variety of foods prepared by local chefs, whether buffet or a la carte that I have had the good fortune to do, you learn to discern the personality and skills of the chef. In Chef Phillip's case, it's his ability to prepare Pan-Asian cuisine, and the descriptive food labels on the buffet lines don't even come close to describing the intensity and authenticity of the flavors that await.
La Brasserie has been a fixture on Guam's dining landscape ever since the Parc Hotel opened in 1996. The restaurant has carried on through the various hotel name changes, serving many cuisine styles as it sought to establish an identity, and has ironically returned to its European (primarily French) origins though placed firmly in the colony formerly known as French Indochina, or Vietnam. Chef Phillip is Vietnamese and his culinary experience has been broadened and deepened by his postings at hotels throughout Asia, in particular Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong. So, it came as no surprise when I walked into the $11 (inclusive) Asian Cuisine Lunch Buffet served Mondays through Wednesdays that I saw and tasted fabulous foods that are the trademark of this soft-spoken, talented chef.
Although the menu elements are subject to change each day, you can easily gain an appreciation for what Chef Phillip Duong has done to impress from the variety and diversity of foods he's created for this Asian Cuisine buffet. The appetizers started out with sushi, then followed by platters of Charsiu Pork, Century Eggs, Chicken Kelaguen, Fresh Lumpia, and bowl of Shredded Chicken & Cabbage for making a cold appetizer with sauce. Also on the appetizer counter were pre-made bowls of Cold Rice Noodles, some with cut portions of Fried Egg Roll, and others with Sauteed Beef, but all garnished with chopped peanuts, lettuce, and mint. To these you add red chili paste, pour over fish sauce, and you have a Vietnamese delicacy! There was a hot soup in a closed kettle that could have been either a Sinigang or just hot/sour broth that I didn't have time to explore.
The Hot Line had chafing dishes that continued this Asian culinary tour, with the first stop being that Indonesian staple, Nasi Goreng, followed by a Filipino classic, Pancit. Next came a vegetarian delight, a braised tofu with broccoli and cauliflower in a brown sauce, which seemed Singaporean. This was followed by Deep Fried Breaded Fish with Tartar Sauce (this fish used was Basa, a Vietnamese fish very similar to catfish that had been coated in panko crumbs before frying). When I rolled back the cover of the next chafing dish, I had no idea that this was going to be the most defining of all the entrees. It was Curry Lamb with Potato & Eggplant topped with lots of whole cooked cherry tomatoes. After the Lamb Curry came Braised Pork with Peanuts, followed by a pan laden with Shrimp Sauteed in a Sweet Chili Sauce. After the hot line there were food platters under heat lamps at the elevated chef's counter. Here they had Kalbi Beef, BBQ Spare Ribs with Finadene, and Beef and Chicken Satay on skewers. Needless to say, I loaded up my plates and bowls and proceeded to eat my way through my Asian banquet.
Instead of describing each dish, I'll just mention the highlights. The Fresh Lumpia were cut in half, with plenty of cooked shrimp and rice noodles. Chef Phillip had prepared a thick, creamy peanut sauce to accompany these. The Century Eggs were certainly a novelty. These are duck eggs that are coated with a mixture of powdered lime, rice husks, and salt, then left to cure for a few months. Once the shell is peeled, the eggs can be quartered or chopped. They have a strange, translucent black albumen and a greenish yolk....an appearance which can put some people off, however, they have a unique taste and texture. The Vietnamese Cold Rice Noodles were absolutely fabulous once I added the red chili paste and ladled fish sauce over them. The fish sauce has a sourish odor alone, but when mixed with the mint, nuts, and chili paste, it is transformed into a potent, flavorful sauce that is both refreshing and stimulating. I could eat that dish all day. I did the same with the shredded chicken and lettuce by adding chili paste and fish sauce.
The Nasi Goreng and various other entrees were alright and might have received more attention had they not been served alongside the Lamb Curry with Eggplant, which for my tastes, was a superior achievement. The lamb was infinitely tender (all lean and no fat). The curry was deep, rich, and aromatic, almost mythic in its potency. After I'd finished my meal, I returned to the line and accosted two young sailors who were from the visiting U.S.S. Nimitz. I noticed them looking cautiously at the dish but not sure...I then asked if they liked lamb, to which one responded yes. I then told him this was a delicious lamb curry. He put some on his plate and on the spot picked up a chunk of lamb with his fingers and put it in his mouth. You should have seen the transformative look on his face as he erupted into a grin, saying that it was awesome. He ladled out some more and told his shipmate to try it, which she did. The cherry tomatoes were hot from cooking and bursting with a sweetness that complemented the spiced curry sauce. The eggplant was a delight. The Chicken & Beef Satay skewers were everything you would ask for in a Satay sauce...this is one of Chef Phillip's specialties.
The Kalbi Beef was barbecued to charring, which is what you want since the sugars caramelize. The meat was tender, flavorful, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The spareribs, on the other hand, seemed a little bland and tough, but were aided by the finadene which improves most any meat. Though there was a bread station with pastries and hard rolls, some of which were being finished off in a toaster oven, I passed but they are available.
I didn't have a lot of room for dessert, but I felt I deserved a treat. The dessert selection was quite impressive when you consider the cost of the buffet. There was a selection of sliced fresh fruits, several cakes, a flan, Kutsinta (a Filipino dessert), coconut cake, and ice cream. This wasn't any ordinary ice cream - they wanted things to end on a high note so the two ice cream choices were Ube or Green Tea. I had the Green Tea, and that was it!
There's a reason why the Holiday Resort Guam is proud to promote the talented Chef Phillip's Asian Cuisine Buffet as well as his Euro-Chinese Buffet, which is served Thursdays through Saturdays. Chef Phillip knows what he's doing and the growing number of guests at his buffets are proving it. For a first class taste of Asia that's priced at an economy fare, go to the Holiday Resort Guam's La Brasserie Restaurant for Chef Phillip's Asian Cuisine!