Kai Restaurant - Tumon's Secret Hideway for Exquisite Food, Extraordinary Fun, and Spontaneous Entertainment
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
It's places like Kai Restaurant that makes me proud and glad to be the Guam Food Guy. Actually a better word would be "ecstatic", since eating the wonderful culinary preparations by this izakaya's Chef/owner, Hideto "Pancho" Yanase, always seems to put me and other customers in a state of ecstasy! Kai Restaurant has been opened for more than two years and is operated by Chef Yanase, his personable wife Sue who manages the front of the house and serves as a goodwill ambassador in charge of customer service, and their son Sean, who does the hot food preparation in the kitchen. It's a family affair that's open 7 nights a week (from 6pm until whenever, with last call for food at 11:30pm), and has developed a very wide following, many of who you'll see if you visit their website which is an ongoing blog of customers having fantastic fun and food at Kai!. Many regulars who go to Kai can sit up at the sushi counter and chat with "Pancho" (a nickname he acquired during the time he worked and lived in Mexico) while sipping on a shochu or beer and munching on some of Kai's daily posted specials. There's a menu board behind the sushi counter and also one in the main dining room. There are also other featured menu items on little hanging shingles behind the counter.
The dining room is small, intimate, and has an overhead TV on that's tuned to popular Japanese television shows and news so you always get the sense you are in Japan. Kai is atmospheric, adorned with calendar art, playing cards, miscellaneous pictures, mementos, assorted denominations of currency posted on the back wall, left by satisfied customers, and wall areas adorned by Pancho's considerable ukulele collection - you'll be delighted if it's your birthday or special occasion as he'll play for you! Small tables and chairs with cushions make the seating cozier. The closeness here gives you an opportunity to make new friends with those sitting in adjoining tables, which really adds to the charm of this place. There are racks containing tagged bottles of shochu and sake belonging to regulars who come to Kai to pay homage to their favorite beverage. Kai also has a modest selection of good wines that can be enhanced by using their Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator, which is something Sue really enjoys demonstrating for customers
In addition to the wonderful ambiance, conversation, and entertainment available at Kai, the food here is phenomenal, as you will see as I take you on a culinary tour of some of my favorite Kai dishes. Start out with Kai's Sashimi Plate ($25), which has yellow tail, maguro, salmon, octopus, squid, mackerel, and uni (sea urchin roe, subject to availability).
If you are in the mood for eggs, the Nira Tama Chinese Chive Omelet ($6) is a winner.
As with all Japanese izakaya (small inn) dining, diners order a series of small dishes to go along with their drinking. It's remarkable how well an ice cold Carlsberg goes with Yanase's dishes! Be sure to try the Teriyaki Beef Ribs ($8), which are melt-in-your-mouth tender and exploding with a rich teriyaki glaze with sesame seeds and hot mustard! Awesome!
Pancho makes a signature Kai Roll ($8) every night, with ingredients that sometimes vary. It's usually made with tuna, shrimp, unagi, tobiko, avocado, cucumber, carrot, and has a sweet sauce and spicy mayonnaise to perk things up. Other sushi treats include the Pink Dragon with shrimp, salmon, and tempura shrimp with spicy mayo ($7) and Spider Roll, deep-fried soft shell crab, fish egg, and spicy mayo ($7) .
There are a number of specialty dishes that are sauted, including the Pan-fried Asparagus with Bacon ($7), which has crisp asparagus spears blended with smoky, meaty bacon pieces - an excellent pairing. Another "porky" treat is the Eringi Mushroom-Bacon ($7). You will fall in love with this superb mushroom sauted with Kai's special bacon….it's really something you don't want to miss!
Kai's Koebi Salad (Shrimp Salad- $8) is another sharing dish that's on my "A-list" as it offers a refreshing and replenishing break for your palate. It's one of those "wow" dishes that impresses the moment it's put down on the table - veritable mound of baby shrimp piled on top of cut lettuce garnished by criss-crossed ribbons of Kai's special salad dressing.
Usually available on the Specials Board is Tuna Salt & Pepper, which I recommend since it has plenty of cubed tuna chunks sauted with the sweetest white onions and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.
Grilled Fish (Salmon $9 or Hamachi $11) are also on my list…there is something transformationl about eating either of these, or the even stronger Saba (Mackerel $9) or Black Codfish ($10). This is really the essence of Japan - simply grilled fish with lemon and a little shoyu. Heaven.
On our last visit to Kai before the holidays we were joined by one of our good friends, Toshie Ito, and had for the first time a dish that completely captivated us! It was Kai's Curry Udon Noodles Spicy ($13). These came in a large stone bowl beautifully and colorfully garnished with finely-sliced green onion and a few red shreds of pickled ginger. The noodles were thick, sturdy, and coated with a savory sauce spiced with a hot curry. Eating this surpassed ritual - we ate til finished and though we craved more, we were satisfied by our resonating palates that seemed to be abuzz with the delightful tingling sensation of the afterglow!
Kai Restaurant is truly one of the places you must visit when you are in Tumon and are looking for food that's beyond ordinary. The fact that there's so much more fun to be had at Kai makes an even more compelling case! With Pancho playing his ukulele and even acoustic and electric guitars, it's even possible for folks like you and me to pick up an instrument and jam with the man! It's something we've done at late hours (past 11pm and into the wee hours of the morning paying tribute to Lennon, McCartney and Elvis! How much fun is that? Spontaneous excitement happens at Kai Restaurant! Domo arigato gozaimasu, Pancho, Sue & Sean!