Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
I remain convinced that I'll never cease being amazed at Guam's restaurant diversity! Just when I thought I've "done all, seen all, and eaten all," there comes yet another great food experience, and this time it's from one of Guam's older restaurants.
Now housed in a Tamuning building, along Marine Drive, that was once home to Tony Roma's ("A Place for Ribs"), is the newly-relocated Oriental Restaurant, which is still "a place for ribs," only marinated, Korean-style, with kimchee!
Upon entering this cavernous restaurant Wednesday night, I was impressed by the brightness, cleanliness, and coolness (great air-conditioning). There's a large NO SMOKING section in the front part of the restaurant, with a nice seating area near the full sized window facing Marine Drive. The chairs and tables are of a different style and material than those in the smoking section - an observation that raised my curiosity...I deduced it's because smoke would probably be retained in the fabric back and seat pads. Both sets of furniture are well built and match the interior decor of the Oriental Restaurant. It was apparent that the owners were aware of the magic of first impressions as well as catering to Asians, in particular the Japanese, who are fastidious about cleanliness. This restaurant was clean!
The varnished wood floors had a nice solid luster and were not greasy as one would expect in a restaurant that had tabletop hot burners for barbecuing. As I sat down at my table with my dinner menu I noticed that colorful plants, some artificial and others real, were strategically placed for decoration, giving the dining areas a relaxed and comfortable ambiance. Large bright lamps hung down throughout the restaurant bathing the tables with plenty of light. The color scheme of the restaurant was green and white, with everything looking as though it were just painted. The rafters above were green...I know that this color is a friendly color that also infers "nature," so the overall effect was that this was like a food garden, almost a green house, especially when you consider the colorful floral patterns in the stained glass ceiling in the middle of the restaurant.
(Is this a food review or an article for Better Homes & Gardens?) No, I just want to acknowledge that the owners have done an exemplary job in creating a pleasing dining environment - an improvement of the old Tony Roma's as well as an elevated quality overall beyond their previous location.
I asked Mrs. Cho, my shy and curious waitress, some questions about the menu. ("Shy" and "curious" because I asked her name as I was writing my observations down). The dinner menu had photos of all of the entrees, and everything offered appeared about the same as every Korean restaurant's menu, with some variations in descriptions and price. Since I was alone, I needed to try more than just my favorite Korean dish, Kalbe BBQ Short Ribs ($17.00). I decided to have the Chop Jae ($12.00 - their menu actually printed it "Jap Chae," however, I did note the correct spelling on their lunch special and thought it politically correct to use the more common spelling).
The menu is full of entrees, among which are Chicken BBQ ($12.75); Fried Shrimp ($16.75); Shrimp Chop Steak ($17.00); Shrimp Pancit ($11.00), Chop Steak ($11.00); Sukiyaki ($17.00); and Sashimi ($16.00). Also on the menu are table top grill entrees such as Bulgogi ($16.00); Beef Koreana ($16.00);and Chicken Koreana with Beef ($16.00). All of these entrees come with the standard assortment of kimchees - small bowls of pickled and marinated vegetables, seafood, and mixed food combinations.
I asked for a Korean beer (OB), however, they only import they had was San Miguel, which I had. The Chop Jae arrived first, and I gasped at its size! I had no idea it was this much food - the platter was filled with slices of beef, mixed with carrots, broccoli, cabbage, onions, bell peppers, and rice noodles, along with a generous serving of steamed rice. The kimchee assortment had a few variations - I like the dried anchovies, and asked another member of their staff, Myong (who recognized me from Shisen Ramen Noodle House), what was different about Oriental Restaurant's dried fish condiment. She informed me that they used local green chili peppers cut up and mixed in their anchovies. I tasted the fish, and surprising, they were moist and flavorful, with just a touch of "pika" (hot) flavor. However, I daringly took a bite of the pepper and chewed on it, savoring it's taste, and as the seconds passed I began to hear the alarms go off and knew that I had a serious burn working on my tongue!! Rice, beer, and ice water partially worked to abate the heat - however, I do know that there are many readers out there who relish the burning sensation of pika peppers, and aren't happy until tears are streaming out of flooded eyes!!
The bean sprouts were blended with sesame oil and there was another unusual item, called an egg roll (more like a folded omelette than spring roll). The other 4 kimchees were the typical assortment, with one having squid mixed in with marinated radish.
The major surprise of the evening came with the Kalbe (Kalbi) BBQ Short Ribs. First off, there must be some misnomer about the title - there was nothing "short" about this rib!!! I took several photos of this dish alone from different angles just to prove to people I wasn't exaggerating. It was the largest piece of Kalbe I've ever been served! (Now that I think about it, I vaguely recall someone telling me the same thing, that Oriental Restaurant has the largest portion of beef for their Kalbe ribs). I was getting quite a lot of interest from my neighboring table of 7 Japanese visitors (6 ladies and 1 guy), since I had two large platters in front of me, was writing furiously, and taking food shots. They were grilling up a storm and having a grand time. Myong told me that the Japanese know about the Oriental Restaurant through word of mouth, and many call once they are on Guam to be picked up at their hotels. Not bad for a place that does no advertising in tourist magazines. Must be the food!
OK, back to the Kalbe BBQ Short Ribs. Looks can be deceiving, and even smells can mislead (this sizzling meat smelled heavenly), so the true test comes from tasting. I sliced a piece with my steak knife and placed the bite-sized portion in my mouth and started chewing. Mmmmmmmm...great when you can taste the magic of it's creation. I rate this a full four stars (****). Taste, texture, preparation, and presentation...I was truly impressed. I've eaten this same entree at about 15 different Korean restaurants over the years, and the Oriental Restaurant's delivered the best overall Kalbe experience.
Oriental Restaurant has a daily lunch special from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm, featuring the following: Galbi ($10.00); Shrimp Combination ($8.00), Chop Chae ($6.00); Shrimp Pancit ($6.00); and Chop Steak ($6.00). I'll have to come back one day and try these.
Owned by Ro Pyung Kwon, and Mrs. Ro, they have been open for business for 25 years. They have learned well to do the right things that consumers both local and visitors appreciate. Good food at reasonable prices, in a pleasing environment.
The restrooms were immaculate with factory marble tile on the walls and counters. Hot water and stainless fixtures gave me the impression of being in some of the hotel's facilities. Impressive.
My only complaint was that the service was a little difficult to come by once the main course was delivered. This may have been due to the fact that I had a camera and I could have made the waitresses feel a little uncomfortable, but still, I had to make an effort to get their attention.
Next time I come I will come with a small group of friends to order more food and to have more fun...it usually goes that way when dining! Go to Oriental Restaurant for large and tasty portions! You won't be disappointed (unless you bring your camera!!)! Bon appetit! & Merry Christmas!!!