Tastes of Japan on Guam

by Ken Stewart
The Guam Food Guy

Bento like never before

Benkei Japanese Restaurant is revered thanks to its long tradition of quality. Located in the Nikko Hotel, Benkei’s prices are geared for tourists although they still retain a viable local customer base thanks to the consistent excellence of the food and the serene atmosphere.

I was fortunate enough to visit Benkei recently for a private luncheon and order the Benkei Shoukado Bento ($25). This traditional bento set features a sashimi appetizer, tempura as the deep fried dish, the grilled dish was cod, chawanmushi (savory egg custard), rice, miso soup, oshinko (pickles) and dessert.

It’s always a visual and taste experience to eat a well-executed Bento since the presentation, seasonality and taste are all carefully considered. Bento truly is an art form that one must respect and appreciate. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a bento competition? I’d love to be a judge!

The other dish we had was one we shared - Special Nigiri Sushi-Zen ($35). I did manage to get one of the pieces of Uni (sea urchin roe) sushi, along with a shrimp and tuna. I missed getting the “tobiko” (flying fish roe). For sushi, it’s better to go to Benkay’s sushi counter to order a la carte. I would have loved to have the hamachi toro!

Hotel Nikko Guam, 245, Gun Beach Road, Tumon; Tel: 671-649-8815

Salaryman’s lunch sets

If you are planning on having a business luncheon with a small group, you might consider the private room at the Sango Japanese Restaurant. It has the Japanese-style seating with the feet and legs under the table and you are supported by a comfortable “L-shaped” legless chair that rests on the floor.

Word to the wise - be sure you do leg stretches before sitting! You will need some flexibility to sit down and to get up! These seats are curved to accommodate the contour of your back. The buzz word for this is ergonomics. The view is fantastic, looking all the way south along the white sandy beach to the Hilton.

Sango offers several lunch set menus. I selected the “tonkatsu” (pork cutlet) lunch set ($16). This is served with an appetizer, rice, miso soup, pickles, according to the menu, fruit. Though there was no fruit served, I did get two salads, and on this day, that was a blessing since I was in a salad mood and the lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, bell pepper, and purple cabbage were fresh and crisp, drizzled with a Japanese vinaigrette.

The crispy panko-ed pork cutlet comes pre-sliced and was a sizable portion. They put a little pile of hot mustard on the plate, which I used along with the tonkatsu sauce that’s in a small bowl on the tray. The pickles were marinated thin slices of cucumber and radish. The miso soup was typical. The only drawback was that some of the dressing from the salad had leeched over and soaked the bottom of my cutlet, sogging it a bit.

Others in my group had the Sango Bento Box, with sashimi, tempura, grilled fish of the day, braised dish, and served with appetizer, rice, miso soup, pickles, and fruit ($20). I can’t really comment much on this as I didn’t taste these, but the consensus seemed to be in favor of these bento boxes. Again, there wasn’t any fruit served, perhaps it is served seasonally.

Guam Reef Hotel, Tumon; Tel: 646-6881

Say ‘Amen’ to this ramen

Attention Ramen Lovers! Would you believe that Guam is a home of a Michelin-rated ramen house? Yes, Misoya is serving people their unique version and varieties of miso ramen like you’ve not had before! Misoya is part of an international chain with locations in New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Montreal, Taipei, Bangkok and Tokyo!

They’ve made it a point to carefully explain and educate diners about the health benefits of the soybean as well as they taste for the styles of the miso they serve. These styles and preparations are regional in Japan. For example, Kome Miso (Hokkaido Style), is the standard Japanese Miso with a full-bodied taste. Shiro Miso (Kyoto Style), has a fruity and natural taste. Finally, Mame Miso (Nagoya Style), has a taste with a bitter finish.

Misoya’s menu serves each style of miso in a variety of ramen types including Cha-Shu Ramen, Ramen, Yasai Ramen (assorted vegetables), Spicy Ramen, and Kimuchi Ramen. Each entree has topping suggestions, such as miso-flavored egg, or green onion, for additional charges. Like other ramen shops, they offer add-on ingredient toppings (would you believe butter?) and additional charges for extra noodles and their special Pork Cha-Shu, which is marinated in their own special homemade Miso.

I had the Kome Miso Cha-Shu ramen ($11.90 w/miso flavored Egg - add $1.50). The ingredients include soybean paste and chicken soup (they make their soup stock everyday - it’s fresh). There are 3 thick slices of char-grilled miso pork cha-shu on the top of this bowl! It is a very dramatic and powerful visual, and when you taste this pork it is absolutely delicious and tender. Other ingredients are ground pork, bean sprouts, green onion, corn and fried potato. It is a very busy ramen and challenges you to finish!

Zee’s Shiro Miso Yasai Ramen (assorted Vegetables - $9.90) came without the ground pork, but had plenty of bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onion, and green onion along with fried tofu. She enjoyed this and as you can tell from the photo, it has an entirely different broth. We both were ecstatic about the quality of the noodles! It was like we had eaten earlier in the month in Sapporo. I also ordered their Gyoza (6 pieces) which cost $4.95. These were also fresh and flavorful. I am looking forward to returning and trying their Chicken “Karaage” with Miso Mayonnaise, as well as their Spicy Miso Mini Cha-han.

We did have a chance to meet with Yu Furukawa, Area Manager for North & Latin America for Misoya Ramen. He’s here working with local partners Charles McAlister and Keiko Nishida who have envisioned this high quality authentic ramen experience for Guam. You can expect more great things to come from this Misoya Ramen adventure on Guam!

Fujita Road, Tumon; Tel: 649-6476  www.miosoya.net

Ramen fit for an Emperor

If you can get a better bowl of ramen on Guam than what they serve at Menkui, please let me know! One of the selections we had was the Soy Ramen (no meat) for $7. Ideal for vegetarians, the freshness of these ramen noodles is the first thing that hits your palate, because they have a freshness you can taste! The MSG-free broth is light and served at the right temperature so you can eat without having to slurp your noodles. Rounding out the flavor and texture are bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and scallions.

For this visit I passed on my regular Special Negi Ramen which is loaded with shredded Japanese green onion and specially seasoned ground pork, and had the Chasyu-men ($9) instead. This is something you can definitely compare to other “Chashu” ramen dishes featuring slices of pork loin.

I was told that Menkui uses a special recipe for the pork - it was heavenly in flavor, sliced thickly and noticeably tender. This superb pork is only matched by the awesome noodles with which they’re served.

I’ve talked about the pedigree of Menkui’s Gyoza ($4/five pieces), and it’s no secret why people who’ve ordered these before make it a point to re-order them on their successive visits. You can make your own dipping sauce with hot chili oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and red chili paste.

Tumon Grade Center, Fujita Road, Tumon; Tel: 649-0212

Japanese pub food at its finest

Yamato boldly announces its presence with a bright neon sign and clean, solid metal framed exterior. Numerous people have asked me about this and one had written and told me that he’d lived in Japan and the food here is good and geared toward local tastes.

Once inside, the decor is definitely Japanese, with a sushi counter/bar directly visible from the front e ntrance. The place is roomy (they even have a function room that seats up to 20 people). There is one amazing aerial photo (enlarged) of the Reef Hotel and Tumon Bay in the background taken in the early 80’s, prior to the additions like the Pacific Star (Marriott), Holiday Resort, Hyatt and Outrigger. They also have NHK on a large TV – this certainly lends to the “izakaya’ (Japanese pub) ambiance.

Yamato has fashioned itself as an izakaya, much like Green Door (Katsu), Kai, or Ebisu, however, t hey have a menu that goes beyond in their effort to reach out to locals (one item in their appetizers is called the Guam Style Poki ($7). There are some eye-catching offerings such as Salted Squid Guts ($5) and Beef Guts Stew ($4), along with traditional edamame ($3), deep fried garlic ($3), and deep fried squid Leg ($7.50). The menu is quite extensaive and it took some effort to narrow our selection down to what would be a manageable amount of food to sample.

We ordered a hot sake ($7) and a large Asahi ($8) to start. Our server was a perky young lady named Kumiko (Kumi for short), whom I later discovered was the daughter of one of Guam’s venerable Japanese chefs, Chef Kanda (Kanda’s Corner at Tentekomai). The menu has photos of some of their offerings. I asked about the Yakitori since it looked pretty good.

We ordered the Assorted Sashimi (serving size 2-3a persons) - $16. Zee ordered ddamame, and wanted a Daigo Maki ($5). We also ordered the tofu steak ($7), BBQ Chicken (two Yakitori sticks for $6), fried chicken ($7, Karaage), and a Spicy Tuna Roll ($7). After the Edamame was served, we received the tofu steak.

It looked rather promising, sliced into four big cubes, smothered with bonito flakes and green onions, and sitting atop grilled onions on a sizzling platter. The tofu itself was disappointing. Once you cut through the crusty exterior, the interior was spongy, which made it difficult to eat. It literally sucked all the moisture out of your mouth. I had to dip it in some of the sauce at the bottom of the sizzling platter to moisten it. Perhaps they need to try a softer, silken tofu.

Served just after the tofu steak was my assorted sashimi plate, which was beautifully presented with the three types of fish layered on perilla leaves atop shredded marinated onions and carrot on a banana leaf. This had a tropical appeal. The wasabi was the tube type. The different sashimi were kampachi (almaco jack, from Kona, in the same family as yellowtail and amberjack), Maguro tuna, and KariKari (a white fish like hamachi). The sashimi was fresh and I found it quite good. I would have preferred a larger selection, however, this eatery is still new. Need to give them some time.

The Spicy Tuna Roll was brought next. This was also well-presented, with sesame seed, mayo, and chili sauce garnish. The spicy tuna itself was good, however, there was a bit too much rice in the roll for my liking. The Yakitori Chicken sticks were on the right track for me. They were better than many of the others I’ve had, but I would prefer a little more charring on my chicken. Zee’s Daigo Maki simply had too much rice for her. She’s used to smaller vegetarian sushi rolls that are made at Ebisu and Kai.

The fried chicken was another disappointment. The pieces were well-seasoned and almost looked appealing if not for the amount of grease that was visible. I had to use napkins to absorb the grease off the chicken before eating it. The cook was not cooking them at the right temperature. The oil needs to be higher. I did tell this to Kumiko and she said she’d bring it up to the cook.

I do believe that people will come to like this neighborhood Japanese restaurant that chose to build away from Tumon. It takes time for restaurants to build up their cooking experience and and quality of their food. Kumi’s service and energy are gold! I would definitely go back and try other dishes on the Set Menu items. They are open for lunch and dinner. Try something new in Tamuning. Try Japanese Restaurant Yamato!

Farenholt Ave on Sheraton Way, Tamuning; Tel: 646-1818

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