By C.J. Urquico
The President Nippon is elevating Guam’s fine dining experience with legendary Chef Okamoto at the helm. The restaurant was my favorite go-to for business lunches and dinner pre-Covid. Chef Okamoto’s presence and skills made going back for dinner in the cards for my near future.
The chef’s table experience is limited to one group of up to five people per evening so I would call 671-646-2222 right now to reserve. If you don’t do it today, maybe you’ll get in some time in late 2023.
The experience starts before stepping into the lobby with complimentary valet parking for the chef’s table diners. As members of the media, we were given hors d'oeuvres and pre-dinner cocktails. I ended up with the Blue Hawaii which was sweet and very alcohol heavy. I think they know me already.
We were also graced with the presence of a former senator, and forever one of my favorite people on Guam, Regine Biscoe Lee.
With us are the fabulous reporter, Althea, and her very quiet cameraman, Leo, from the Pacific News Center.
The Rihga management knows how to roll out the red carpet and make you feel like you are Anthony Bourdain.
“We are proud to announce our new chef’s table experience at The President Nippon. Chef Okamoto is a world-class culinary expert who will introduce residents and visitors to an unrivaled teppan experience in Guam. We believe guests will be delighted by his fine craft of preparing the freshest local ingredients and top-quality wagyu beef in his unique style," said Nobuyuki Tsurui, Rihga Royal Laguna Guam Resort's general manager.
“Chef Okamoto speaks fluent sushi, Italian, French, Chinese and traditional Japanese Cuisine. You’re in for a treat," Tsurui added.
I believe him. I felt like I was on vacation. Maybe I am channeling Bourdain.
I’m not Tony, but maybe if I drink more, I’ll get there. I ask if they serve shochu. Oolong Hai was my gateway drug to the izakaya scene and I still enjoy a good mugi (barley) or imo (sweet potato) now and again. They don’t serve shochu, which as one of my legit foodie friends on Twitter said, “I consider that a fail. What legit Japanese spot doesn't serve shochu.” To which I tweeted back, “It sure is an easy problem to fix though.”
The GM’s vibe emanates from the ancient tradition of phenomenal Japanese hospitality. He really makes you feel like you’re in the right place at the right time in the universe. Tsurui not only believes in excellence, in very subtle ways he will make a believer out of you.
After the crab and poki and I really don’t know what was on the crackers but I ate it, they started us on Salmon and Hamachi Mariné that sat on a bed of jicama and apple with a sesame dressing. The hamachi, sublime. Then came a cold soup, vichyssoise. I’ve never had this soup but like Ms. Lee, I put the small spoon down and just chugged it. It’s fine dining but that wooden soup spoon was too small.
And then holy cow! The Kyushu Wagyu was presented.
Chef Okamoto cooks with an amazing flair and the seriousness of a person in absolute flow. He’s pretending to listen to you but really you just happen to be there. The food is at the same time his medium and his audience. “I go to the farmers market to find local ingredients,” he said as he placed the local okra next to the Korean mushrooms.
Medium rare as always and as I chewed, I’m sure that it sounded a little obscene. But then everyone else was doing the same thing so my moaning may not have not been noticed.
Rice, rice baby, was served after the Wagyu. Chef Okamoto made sinangag, a.k.a. garlic rice, an all-new experience. He gives equal care to expensive wagyu and to rice. It was my very first time eating rice on its own after the main course and it was otherworldly.
I forgot the name of the dessert, but I won’t forget that there was ice cream, gold leaf and unknown sweet things that resembled tapioca inside a cup. I am not a dessert person, but could not think of a reason to get a chance to eat gold.
“I love the experience because you get to use all five of your senses.” said Ms. Lee.
Chef Okamoto served guests in restaurants all over the world from prestigious French restaurants in Japan, as an executive chef at the Pan Pacific Hotel in San Francisco, and in fine restaurants across the United States and Europe. Most notably, he served more than 12 years at Roppongi Ukai-tei in Central Tokyo, Japan. Roppongi Ukai-tei is the premier teppan restaurant in Japan, where Chef Okamoto also held the position as its head chef.
Chef Okamoto's skills are high art.
Now that he’s here, you don’t have to buy tickets to Tokyo to enjoy a world-class dining experience.