PRUBECHU, 2487 Mission St. between 24th & 25th, 415-952-3654
Merely open two and a half months, Prubechu – meaning “you’re welcome” – is easily the tasting menu steal in the city. For merely $40, it’s an imaginative five courses touched with fine dining flair in an uber-casual setting.
As the city’s only Chamorro (Guamanian) restaurant, the island breezes of Guam first come in the form of a warm welcome from Chef Shawn Naputi and business partner Shawn Camacho (fellow Shawn and Guam native). Music envelops the still humble but completely revamped space in a warm glow that reminds me more than a little of Hawaii. The musical style evokes slack key guitar, ukulele lullabies and other sounds akin to – but different than – traditional Hawaiian music.
Pulling from his grandmother’s recipes and the high-quality/low-price tasting menu concept modeled after Naputi’s days cooking with Chef Manny Torres Gimenez in the space’s former restaurant, Roxy’s Café (Gimenez is now down the street at The Palace), Prubechu also offers an a la carte menu ($3-16).
It’s hard to decide what I love more: the tasting menu or the a la carte offerings, the former more delicate and exciting, the latter, heartier and gratifying. Best to go more than once as you’ll want to try it all – and as soon as you wait a couple weeks, it will change again. As I’ve not been lucky enough (yet) to visit Guam, it helps to get an education on its comforting, flavorful cuisine here.
From the a la carte menu, keleguan ($12) is mounds of shredded, lemon-cooked chicken mixed with green onions and coconut on two coconut flatbreads that look like mini-tortillas. In fact, they’re called titiyas, a name derived from a Guam attempt at pronouncing the Spanish “tortillas”, given such influences on the island’s cuisine.
Another a la carte offering is tinatak ($14): tender, handmade capellini noodles, tossed with ground, sugar snap peas and okra in a lemon coconut milk sauce. It’s sheer, home-style comfort, sliding down easy with a bottle of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA ($6). Ubiquitous pickled items ($3) are a pleasurable palate cleanser, changing often but can include pickled eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, daikon, and a delectable house kimchee.
The five course tasting menu ($40) begins with an amuse bouche of an oyster from Somerset, Washington, bright in kiwi “mignonette” with a liquid base of coconut vinegar fermented to 90 proof, based off a spirit (the typical “moonshine” of Guam) called binakle tuba.
Sashimi-style Atlantic salmon is a pristine first course, mingling with pickled sea beans, avocado orange segments, and sesame seeds.
A sous vide-cooked egg runs seductively over crunchy asparagus and achiote powder-dusted rice crackers in smoked asparagus puree. Creamy yolk, smoky notes, and fresh green crunch results in a dreamy Spring veggie dish.
Escabeche (spelled eskabeche in Guam) is slightly crispy fish poached in citrus, partnered with tender baby octopus, vibrant in rice wine vinegar. I immediately craved more of that octopus. The dish is rounded out by bits of eggplant, okra, sunflower sprouts and marinated onions.
Chalikilis is a toasted, achiote-laced rice porridge that would make an empowering breakfast. Pork belly, enoki mushrooms, a sous vide quail egg and slippery-fresh boquerones (anchovies) add intrigue to the porridge, but I found myself doing a double-take (or taste) with tinino katne, a chunk of dried, applewood-smoked pork jerky rubbed in salt, pepper and garlic, delightfully reminiscent of southern BBQ/dry pork ribs. The dish is even better with heat: a side of blissfully spicy denanche hot pepper sauce, made in house, and a staple condiment in Guam.
The last savory course: fall-apart, braised oxtail kadu, a stew in coconut soy vinegar broth, punctuated with smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils. The oxtail shines, rich yet not heavy. From my limited experience, a common thread in Chamorro cuisine seems to be flavor-rich sauces, broths, and plenty of vinegar, adding complexity to seemingly simple dishes like porridge or stew.
Dessert is inspired by a popular kids treat in Guam where coconut is cooked down with brown sugar. Chef Naputi crafts salted coconut ice cream marked by toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts.
Refreshing island breezes, flavors, music and farewells send me off into a warm, Spring evening, eager to return.