Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
The Wagaya 88 Korean Restaurant's logo has pagoda-type roof tops over the double 8's (powerful Asian symbolism) with blue streaming looped banners/streams below. The name means "Our Home", but also promotes good health,living, and happiness. I'd previously met Jim, the manager, who scheduled a time for me to meet with Sandra Bang, wife of "Tony" (whose mother, Mrs. Lee founded this restaurant "chain"). Sandra (born and raised on Guam) and Tony's marriage was due to Typhoon Paka when she was teaching him English. Hers is impeccable, and she is very intelligent, capable, and attentive to every detail.
Tony's mom is here helping them establish this third restaurant in their family-run business. The other two locations are in Osaka, Japan. Those of you familiar with Japan understand the stringent criteria for success--so this is definitely a restaurant that maintains high standards of food quality, preparation, and sanitation.
The wooden tables are specially-ordered, each capable of sitting four persons. In the center is a round grill that lifts up to expose a tray that holds the special wood chunks that are carried in already as hot coals). The table contains a a built-in ventilation filter that eliminates all the grease-laden air and smoke. There's no gas cooking, so there are no fumes nor are there any flare ups nor grease spattering. It's clean grilling!
To start, a bottle of Bek Se Ju (Korean Traditional Wine- Gingseng-based) was opened and a small glass was poured. This is a refreshing, easily-drinkable wine that was an ideal match for the entire meal. Other beverages are available, with Western and Japanese beers, Japanese Sake, Korean alcohol, Chivas & Johnnie Walker, wines, sodas, teas, juices, and coffees.
An elaborate array of kimchees were brought out, with some combined 3 types to a dish. The first grilled item was Zo Shiotan (Premium Beef Tongue). The juice from a lemon wedge was squeezed into a small bowl to dip the cooked thinly-sliced pieces of meat into before eating. This tender, marinated meat is a delicacy and was delicious.
The other grilled items that followed were: Kalbi (with bone and boneless), Beef Tripe (exceptionally good---a special way to cooking and marinating),squid, shrimp (ebi), Hotate (scallops), fresh mushrooms, eggplant, carrots,and sliced garlic. Eating these items hot off the grill and dipping them into a secret sauce blend, and accompanied by the variety of kimchees, made this an exercise in eating--my chopsticks were all over the place! The special wood imparted a unique flavor to the grilled foods.
Although standard kimchees come with the meals ordered, there are special kimchees that can be ordered a la carte, such as the Ika Kimuchee (Seasoned Raw Squid), which is divine. Mrs. Lee is a busy-body, and her creations are legend. Her Kyuri (Cucumber Kimchee) is a work of art, and can best be described as a cucumber stuffed with kimchee.
I also tried the Ishiyaki Bibimbab (Seasoned Vegetables over Rice on Hot Stone Pot). This wonderful dish has green onions, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, cooked ground beef, stems, and other vegetables that are on a bed of rice in a ceramic bowl that is HOT. A raw egg is atop this and you mix the ingredients together with a spoon as it cooks---you never touch the sides, as there's a base plate you hold on to as you stir and turn the bowl. A small side dish of chili paste sauce is added to liven up this blend, creating a sensational taste.
The Ogoji soup provided is like a miso soup, only it had collard greens and tender beef, in a rich, tasty broth. I noticed a dish served to another guest and asked Sandra which one it was. It was Kaisen Chijimi (Seafood Pancake - $12.00), which is similar to the Okonomiyaki (vegetable/meat pancake, Osaka -Style). All in all, it is a diverse menu, with enough variety and selection of food styles to please all diners. Sandra is so confident of their food that she said I could quote her in this review:
"If they (customers) don't like something, they can return it at no charge"! There.
The ambience and decor is traditional Korean with some Japanese screens. Three separate rooms are available (and have sliding paper screen doors for privacy).
Wagaya 88 Korean Restaurant offers a unique and interesting dining experience. The food quality, variety, and taste, the meticulous home-style preparation, the presentation and table-top Yakiniku cooking style, all combine to create a memorable meal that's casual, relaxed, and fun. I'm sure it's going to be a popular destination for the serious diners of Guam!