The husband-and-wife-owned Chapter One in Tumon is a cozy affair, so tiny you might miss it if you're not paying attention, so make sure you do: The 28-top restaurant is, according to co-owner Selina Wang, the place where Chinese visitors go when they want a taste of home.
Chapter One is no American Chinese takeout spot. This is authentic Chinese cooking served up in a relaxed, homey atmosphere that could be mistaken for co-owners Wang and husband Jeff Zhang's own kitchen, replete with decorative signs that say things such as "Farm to fork" and "In this house we do second chances" along with various mug sets lining the open cabinets.
"We don't want to change our flavors to meet the Americanized tasting," Wang says, noting that their cooking is a unique blend of the cultures she and Zhang hail from: Zhang from Shanghai and Wang from one of China's northern provinces. Plus, they both love spice, so there's a fair amount of Szechuan cooking mixed in, too.
While the overall atmosphere is relaxed, that's not always the case – at other times the restaurant is filled with a cacophony of shouted Chinese, as Zhang, who is the restaurant's only chef, passes dishes over the counter to customers seated at tables on the other side, while Wang moves at light speed, getting drinks, taking orders and passing out chopsticks. Wang was kind enough to replace my own chopsticks with a fork when she noticed my prolonged struggle to wrangle a fried dumpling from a bowl to my mouth.
Eating at Chapter One is about as close as you can get to enjoying a home-cooked meal while still at a restaurant. Don't be surprised to find Wang chatting animatedly with several guests – Chapter One, which opened in February, already has a loyal crowd of regulars, most of whom are Guam residents originally from China. And that, of course, is how you know you've found the real deal.
Chapter One serves up "real Shanghai food," Wang says, along with "traditional Chinese snacks," including pumpkin cakes fried the perfect shade of golden brown.
A unique treat
It's the dumplings that they're famous for, though.
"I can sell like 20 pounds every day," Wang says.
Chapter One's soup dumplings are a unique treat: The dough pockets are filled with pork and hot soup (give them a few minutes to cool down or risk burning your tongue) that bursts when you bite into it.
This is Zhang's second restaurant, his first being a seafood spot near China's southern coast. Wang says Zhang trained with a famous Chinese chef who specialized in seafood.
In recent years, after more than a decade away from the restaurant business, Wang says Zhang wanted to go back to doing what he loved. She got a job working in property development on Guam and decided to move their family of four to the island, where Zhang began his search for the location of his next restaurant.
"Guam is ... very good for enjoy your life," Wang says. "It's not like a too-rush place. ... We just want to find a small cafe ... where we can meet lots of different people and can sit down and have a cup of coffee and try some really Chinese traditional food we cannot find outside."
Wang says they're eager to show off Guam to visitors. She noted that Guam isn't a popular destination in China, with most Chinese favoring destinations such as the Maldives, the Philippines or Hawaii instead.
"We want to show people a different island," she says. "Because some people come here, maybe they feel a little bit boring. ... They don't know where to go. ... It's like similar island, like Hawaii. But you know, actually Guam is different, they have their own culture."
Wang says Chapter One is ready to welcome Chinese visitors who need a taste of home after several days of CHamoru and American food.
"We always say Chinese people have another stomach," she says. "We miss our hometown food and sometimes we cannot eat every day like French fries and a burger. We cannot. ... We're just missing our Chinese food."
'Like your mom will cook for you'
Wang pointed out that, unlike most restaurants, Chapter One doesn't have a "standard operating procedure" for the kitchen. It is, after all, a one-man show. And that means Zhang and Wang can decide on a daily basis how to tweak their traditional dishes into the perfect Chinese comfort food.
"Cooking is like a kind of art. ... We can taste that it's like a little bit of salt, some water ... some soy sauce. ... It's like a kind of feeling," Wang says. "The cook must (be) a kind of person who love to eat. So then he can cook a very good food."
Wang says they tried to hire a cook once, but many people in the food industry are used to cooking from strict recipes.
"That's not cook way, it's not family cook way," she says. "Like your mom will cook for you. Like (Jeff) will say, 'OK, today I want some spicy food, I will put some chili powders.' Or, 'Today's bad weather, we want that fish a little bit golden color and we want (to) fry it first.'"
Tea picked fresh in China
There's more to Chapter One than just food, however. Perhaps one of its best-kept secrets, Chapter One also serves real Chinese tea not available for purchase anywhere else in the world, picked fresh from the Zhang family's 1.5 acre tea farm back in China.
"We just provide tea to our own family and some friends who know us," Wang says. The tea is picked fresh each spring, then frozen to preserve its freshness. Chapter One even offers a tea service, which at $10 per person includes tea and snacks served on a Chinese tea tray.
Start brushing up on your chopstick skills, because Chapter One is a Chinese dining experience that can't be missed.