Guam Diner Bytes: Kai Restaurant
It’s places like Kai Restaurant that make me proud and glad to be the Guam Food Guy. Actually a better word would be “ecstatic.” Eating the wonderful culinary preparations by this Japanese-style tavern’s chef and owner, Hideto “Pancho” Yanase, always seems to put me and other customers in a state of ecstasy!
Kai Restaurant is operated by Yanase, his personable wife Sue who manages the front of the house and serves as a goodwill ambassador 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 6 p.m. until whenever, with last call for food at 11:30 p.m.), and has developed a wide following. Many regulars who go to Kai can sit up at the sushi counter and chat with Pancho (a nickname he acquired while working and living in Mexico) while sipping on “shochu” spirits or beer and munching on some of Kai’s daily 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 and mementos. If it’s your birthday or special occasion Pancho will play one of his ukuleles 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 ambiance and entertainment, Kai’s food is phenomenal. Start out with Kai’s sashimi plate ($25), which has yellowtail, maguro, salmon, octopus, squid, mackerel and sea urchin roe (if available).
If you are in the mood for eggs, the Nira Tama Chinese Chive Omelet ($6) is a winner.
As with all “izakaya,” or Japanese-style-tavern dining, diners order a series of small dishes to go along with their drinks. It’s remarkable how well an ice-cold Carlsberg goes with Yanase’s dishes! Be sure to try the Teriyaki Beef Ribs ($8), which melt in your mouth and explode 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, sea urchin roe, fish egg, avocado, cucumber and carrot, with a sweet sauce and spicy mayonnaise. Other sushi treats include the Pink Dragon, with shrimp, salmon, tempura shrimp and spicy mayo ($7), and the Spider Roll, with deep-fried soft shell crab, fish egg and spicy mayo ($7).
There are a number of specialty dishes that are sautéed, 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 and Kai’s special bacon.
Kai’s “koebi” (baby shrimp) salad ($8) is another sharing dish that’s on my A-list. It’s one of those “wow” dishes that impresses the moment it’s put down on the table – a veritable mound of baby shrimp piled atop lettuce, garnished with 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 sautéed with the sweetest white onions and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.
Grilled fish dishes include salmon ($9), hamachi ($11) or the even stronger “saba,” or mackerel, ($9) or black codfish ($10). This is really the essence of Japan - simply grilled fish with lemon and a little soy sauce.
Then there’s 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. Your palate will 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 as well as 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, paying tribute to Lennon, McCartney and Elvis! How much fun is that? Spontaneous excitement happens at Kai Restaurant! Domo arigato gozaimasu, Pancho, Sue and Sean! Kai Restaurant is in Tumon in the Blue Lagoon Plaza; Tel: 646-0222
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