Magnolia China Gourmet - Northern 'Magnet' Attracts With Tasty Chinese Fare
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Magnolia China Gourmet recently opened in Yigo and has already earned a reputation as a place to eat. It resides in the Yigo Plaza just north of the 7-11 Mobil, VFW Lodge, and Great Mart IV and across the street from the Yigo Shell Station. It is in the same location that was home to Quizno's, Island Grill, and Yummy Tummy, none of which were able to sustain enough business to stay alive. Magnolia China Gourmet, however, appears to be destined for longevity. The food is really very good and extremely affordable - how do 49 lunch specials in the $5 - $6 range sound? That $6 is for Honey Walnut Shrimp!!
We went there on a Monday night about 7pm and there were only three other tables occupied. Within the hour that followed, they had filled 14 tables and booths, and had packed 10 take-out orders! My companion Zee had eaten lunch here a few weeks back and recommended the Salt & Pepper Shrimp ($9). We also ordered Chop Suey Wonton Soup ($7), Yang Chow Fried Rice ($7), Sesame Chicken ($7.50), Eggplant with Hot Garlic Sauce ($8), Chinese Kang Kung ($7.50), and Lapu Lapu Fillet Hot ($12).
Magnolia China Gourmet is a brightly-lit, clean, airy restaurant with booths set along the walls and free-standing tables lined up in a row between the booths, as well as few large round 10-seaters in the back near the kitchen. I didn't realize it when I first walked in, but very shortly after we were seated, I noticed a familiar face. It was Yu Lan, who used to be one of our servers at Lee Garden Chinese for a number of years. Well, she and her husband, Rong Biao (the chef), own this little Yigo eatery, and there's something about Yu Lan's smiling confidant demeanor that spells success! "A good Chinese restaurant is a gold mine". Guam Food Guy proverb.
What was also interesting to notice is that a lot of the customers knew each other, so there was greetings and chit-chat sessions that are par for the course with popular hang-outs. Yu Lan explained that her name translates into "Magnolia". I'd have believed her if she told me her name translated into magic or magnet, since what I saw around me was like magic as people came in happy and left as happy, if not happier (and certainly fuller) than they were when they came in!
The first to arrive was our soup. It was a huge portion filled to the brim with vegetables, shrimp, and won tons. It was a good start, with the vegetables giving the soup broth a richer taste than I was used to having. The wontons had minced pork inside while the shrimp were floating freely. Next came a mound of fried rice. Yu Lan said she'd use BBQ pork and shrimp as our meats. This was a respectable fried rice, better than many, with lots of egg, green onion, pork and shrimp.
The Sesame Chicken was a dish recommended by Yu Lan and when it came it was one of those dishes that you'd rather share in a group seating. The chicken chunks were piled high and coated with sesame seeds. I thought it to be a bit bland compared to some of the other spicy dishes we had especially compared to the next offering. The Eggplant with Hot Garlic Sauce (spicy) was one of the more visually appealing dishes we ordered. If you like eggplant, then I recommend this one since it celebrates it! This is an excellent vegetarian dish that has tofu, white onions, green onions, mushrooms, and red peppers in a thick, spicy garlic-laden sauce.
My favorite dish, the Salt & Pepper Shrimp, was served next. These came headless and butterflied, with a light corn-starch coating. The entire piece (including tail) was fried crispy, so that it was easy to eat it them whole. These shrimp were piled on a plate and then covered with a blend of sauteed onions, chilies, and garlic. Surprisingly, they were lightly salted but were quite peppery. I thought they did these the best and made them easy for most people to eat (some folks have issues eating shrimp heads, even when thoroughly cooked). Yu Lan brought us an appetizer sampler (Fried Wontons, $5) to try out. These were better than any I've had before. The wonton wrappers were crisp, light, and the filling was just right when dipped in the red sweet sauce.
By the time our Kang Kung had arrived, I was already getting full (small wonder!). I love Kang Kung's fibrous composition. They liberally used garlic in their Kang Kung, just the way I like it. Our final dish, the Lapu Lapu Fillet in Hot Pot, was placed before us. I can't tell you how wonderful the fragrance was, but I can tell you that they put a lot of food in this small cauldron! The thick sauce had a hint of Chinese rice wine in it which gave it a sweet, nearly fruity taste. It was all very hot still, so we carefully picked out tofu, mushrooms, baby corn, cabbage, carrots, and white lapu lapu meat, of which there was plenty. This was actually the first dish that Zee wanted, and we were both too full to do it justice by the time it arrived. That's why the Chinese invented "take-out"!
We also discovered that no matter how full you can get from eating food, there's always room for sweet orange slices. We marvelled at just how sweet tasting and juicy these oranges were. Magnolia China Gourmet's dinner menu has some 79 entrees, covering the most popular items; fried rice, noodles, soups, roast duck, chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, seafood and vegetarian. They are open daily from 10:30am-2:30pm for lunch and from 5- 9:30pm for dinner. You can call for take-out at 653-0163.
I recommend Magnolia China Gourmet for fast, tasty, and affordable Chinese food - it's certainly a place I'd return to again when I'm in that northern neighborhood!