Chung Hae Korean BBQ - New Eatery Boasts Great Cuisine and Homey Hospitality
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
"When humans eat very delicious food it makes them happy." Okay, so this may sound a bit trite when you first read it, but it carries a world of weight and veracity when happily proclaimed by Hyunn, Chung Hae Korean B.B.Q's cheerful owner. She truly believes this and has made it her personal mission to make her guests leave "happy". In truth, they leave much happier! It's almost too good to be true! You'll just have to find this out for yourself! I can honestly say that this review turned out far better than I'd expected. It has everything to do with the mesmerizing confidence of Hyunn's sincerity and faith in the quality of her food.
Barely open for a month in one of the two gold-colored arcade buildings on Fujita Road, just down from the Tumon precinct, the sign "Korean B.B.Q." is impossible to miss. The adjacent twin building is the new home to Marty's Mexican Merienda and Cantina. I was invited by Hyunn to evaluate her restaurant. This is her first time running one, she said, and wanted my advice. I don't know what possessed her to jump into Guam's fiercely competitive restaurant arena, but I'm glad she did. Even though the furnishings and modern equipment that were built by the original owner (pink ventilators hang from a duct system suspended from the ceiling over each table's self-cook burner) creates an impression that this could be a franchise operation, Hyunn runs this restaurant like it's her home and treats each diner as a personal guest.
After we were first seated, I went outside to get a few photos of the exterior before the sun set, and accosted a guest who had just picked up take-out from Chung Hae. I asked if he'd been here before. He said it was his second time and that the food was really good, just like he had when he was stationed in Korea. He also said he liked the hostess( Hyunn). When I went in, Hyunn had given us the menu, taken our drink orders, and then gave me a loose ringed binder that contained written testimonials from her guests. The comments from the guest book were consistent, with remarks like, " Excellent food, superb service"; "Very delicious and outstanding cuisine. Great service."; "A pleasant surprise to my tastebuds--light, healthy, and yet filling. Gracious hostess and wonderful dining music!. Good luck!"; and "Thank you! Good traditional Korean food. We will be back!". There were all of these (and more) effusive positive comments and we'd not even had a bite yet!
We agreed to follow her recommendations and ordered Sweet & Sour Veg Dumpling ($12.50, which is shown in several photos displayed on her walls), Kalbi ($25 - marinated beef spareribs cooked over fire), Neng Myun ($12, cold noodle soup), and Bulgoki ($16.50, marinated beef cooked at the table). This was more than enough. Hyunn explained that there was NO MSG in their food, and that they would only add some on upon request (interestingly, some customers ask for Ajinimoto).
Fortunately, our appetites were at the ready and we had time to pace ourselves. The first arrival was a small salad with a light dressing and a large grape. It was followed by a few pan chan (radish, kimchee, bean sprouts, and a tasty shredded daikon blended with pickled jellyfish). Then we were brought out the first house specialty, the Sweet & Sour Veg Dumpling. To be honest, neither Zee nor myself, are super-fond of sweet & sour anything. The dish had fried dumplings (with tofu and corn inside), blended with sauted vegetables(red & green bell peppers, zucchini, onions, carrots, and cucumber. Also, there were small round objects (about the size of small grapes) that were battered and deep-fried. We bit into these and something warm oozed and squirted about...it turns out these were eggs, not grapes! The thick sweet & sour sauce was a bit overbearing for us, but the dumplings and vegetables were fresh and crisp.
Next to arrive was the plate with the raw kalbi. It looked different than any other kalbi I have seen locally. Hyunn had pre-heated the recessed burner in our table and wiped the grill with a fresh lime before cutting strips of meat onto the grill. The beef was thick - not the usual thin seasoned meat at other places.
As it cooked, she cut smaller pieces which she then placed in a sauce dish (this sauce used beef stock, lemon, and some other secret ingredients.). The meat chunks (two or three) were then be placed in a romaine lettuce leaf then topped by a dab of red miso and chili paste before folding up to bite. Wow! Talk about succulent and juicy beef - it was extraordinary! Her secret to this beef is that she marinated it for three days in a blend of soy sauce, garlic, onions, ginger, honey, and Korean pear. The pear is finely chopped and tenderizes the beef while imparting a unique flavor. It seemed as tender as filet, and I can't say that I've had better. It was not overly seasoned or spiced. In fact, all the pan chan were lightly seasoned...not the heavy, garlicky, red peppered blends usually served. The strongest flavor of this delicacy in wraps is the miso chili paste topping, and you can regulate the quantity to suit your taste. Hyunn credited her mom for this exceptional kalbi recipe.
We were surprised when the blue ceramic bowls of Neng Myun came since we were both given our own (we'd hoped to share).This is a meal in itself, and is ideal for hot days. Half a boiled egg was piled atop a bundle of thin green noodles along with some chopped kimchi. The broth filling the bowl had ice cubes and small strips of beef and bits of green leaf. This was the other house specialty, the Cool Noodle Soup, made with yacon root. Hyunn has signs with photos of this dish (albeit with quail eggs) and an explanation of the nutritional value of Yacon root. This essentially says that yacon (originally from Peru) is high in oligofructose which is a sugar the body can't absorb, so it's good for diabetics. It also stimulates the good bacteria in the intestines, so it aids digestion. It is now grown in Asia and is considered a specialty health food.
Hyunn cut the bundled green noodles and showed us how to mix up the ingredients. The first bite was so refreshing! Cool, sweet, healthful...tasty...all combined in this special bowl. The beef strips were kalbi, so they had their own distinct taste and texture. There were also small pieces of pear. Really a marvelous dish. Later, we were told by Hyunn to pick up the bowl and drink, which we did. ( I have to mention that Hyunn's friend Mike, who is a local contractor, helped describe some of these dinner experiences.) We were again taken beyond our expectations...it was like drinking a cool, thirst-quenching fruit drink, though it was blended with beef stock, the yacon noodles brought a soft, semi-sweet fruitiness to this iced noodle beverage. You'll have to try it when you come. You don't even need a straw!
We were then pleasantly surprised when Hyunn brought out the Bulgoki (we thought we could have this in another visit since we'd had plenty to eat already). She insisted we try it...so she used a lime wedge over a new metal grill before placing the seasoned sliced beef atop, along with Inoki mushrooms and an onion slice. As parts of the meat were done, we'd take it off and eat. It was also quite tender and with a taste of its own. Hyunn said it was prepared the traditional Korean way.
As if this was not enough, Hyunn said we needed to try the Scallops ($13, seasoned scallops cooked over fire). The scallops were marinated in sesame oil and other spices. She grilled it slowly, and then put finished pieces in a little dish that had sea salt. You'd dab a bit of this sea salt on the hot, charred scallop and yummy, it was quite savory.Tip: be careful with the salt...too much will over power the seafood.
Orange slices were brought out and Hyunn introduced us to Mr. Kim, her chef whom she describes as a "high IQ cook", who's always thinking of some new dish, and that sometimes he can't sleep with all this thinking! Chung Hae is Hyunn's namesake, and it translates into "clear ocean". She is Buddhist and says that her name can also be interpreted as "clear heart" and "clear service", which are attributes she embodies. During the course of our long dinner we both were noting how great and diverse the music was, with a range that mixed golden oldies, classical, jazz, pop, and Korean.
Chung Hae has other menu items such as Woosul (beef tongue), Yukhye (steak tartare Korean-style), and Mino (seasoned tripe), There are four Lunch Specials (labled "Chamorro style") for $9.50 each. There is a vegetarian choice and one each of beef, pork, and chicken. All but the pork (which is pork kalbi) appear to be stir fried.
Chung Hae offers a 10% discount to locals and military when paying in cash. You will only get 5% off when using a credit card. Chung Hae's hours are from 10am to 11pm daily. Chung Hae's is a small, cozy little place with big tastes and good service. You will notice a lot of small details that remind you of being in someone's home, like magazines and books around the counter...maybe it's meant to relax and provide comfort. Hyunn is open to suggestions on improving her service, so feel free to talk to her. Their phone number is 649-2343. The last thing we did before leaving was to sign the guest book by completing our own pages. As you can tell from this review, I have a lot of good things to say about Chung Hae Korean B.B.Q. I hope you do, too!