Prubechu opened four years ago to only a modicum of fanfare. While the cuisine itself caused a stir — there are no other restaurants serving food from Guam in San Francisco, and very few in the nation — the place itself is so low-key that, even on this well-trafficked corridor, it is easy to miss.
Guam, a small U.S. territory, came into the news last summer when our Dear Leader started his shenanigans with North Korea, and the tiny Micronesian island became a potential target. Fortunately, things have calmed down (er, debatable?), and Prubechu has continued to serve the Guamanian population in San Francisco — turns out there are quite a few — and all us other lucky folks.
Shawn Naputi and Shawn Camacho, both of whom hail from Guam, formerly worked with local Chef Manny Torres Gimenez (The Palace, Francisca’s), and opened Prubechu in 2014. Chef Naputi mans the kitchen, and Shawn Camacho, with his wide knowledge of the cuisine and his home country, is front of the house/general manager.
Our first visit, we arrived shortly after they’d opened and had the place to ourselves. Which meant we had the full attention of Shawn Camacho.
Most of the food had a Spanish tinge to it — of course, since Spain colonized Guam for something like 300 years — but also typical island flavors. The BF and I started by splitting a Chamorro (the native culture of Guam, and hence, Chamorro cuisine) empanada with a spicy aioli.
Hyperbole warning: Best. Damned. Empanada. I’ve. Ever. Had. It came with an option to add lobster, but I was with the dratted seafood-averse BF, so we went with the original, and it was wonderful. Replete with toasted rice porridge, mushrooms, parmesan cheese and achote (achiote, here — a seed that is ground and used for coloring food a bright orange in Latin American cuisine), it had a great texture and flavor unlike any other I’d had in an empanada. The aioli that came with it wasn’t particularly spicy, but the empanada came topped with crispy onions and sided by excellent pickled daikon.
Camacho informed us that grilling and smoking is a big deal on Guam, and the restaurant has its own smoker, so we had to try the ribs.
These were even better than they look. Simply marinated in soy, onion and vinegar, the tender flesh exuded pure smoky porkiness. One of those times I totally resented having to share with the BF. You must have these.
Next came my main dish, the kelaguen manok.
Or, chicken ceviche. But no need to freak out, this isn’t ceviche as you would think of it. It wasn’t raw at all, but lightly cooked and then marinated like ceviche, with lemon juice, coconut, scallions and lemon zest. Camacho said that, at one time, when they had good, fresh, farmed chicken on the island, they would indeed serve it raw like ceviche, but now that Guam gets commercial chicken, no one does it that way anymore. I wish they would do it here (like the Japanese — who were also one-time Guam colonizers), but I’m sure they’re afraid it would scare off the squeamish. Regardless, it was superbly refreshing and tart, perfect with the spicy aioli and tucked into their tasty coconut flatbread known as titiya. A very generous serving, as well — half the chicken came home with us.
The BF ordered tinaktak for his main.
…which turned out to be a creamy coconut braised beef with crimini mushrooms and green beans over handmade noodles. Excellent. There was also a hint of something lemon-grassy.
Now, the Shawns aren’t trying to make fusion cuisine here. Rather, they’re making Guamanian food with California ingredients, and maybe elevating their island fare — rustic dishes that use finer versions of ingredients than you might find in your nanan biha’s kitchen, while still training an eye towards old-school authenticity — this is what they’re striving for. Camacho told us that they have several Guamanian regulars who at first may have looked suspiciously at the menu, but then kept coming back as they found dishes they remembered and treasured, if maybe in a slightly different form. The tinaktak, for example, is always served over rice in Guam. Prubechu decided to liven it up a bit with house-made pasta. Whatever — it was really good.
And we actually ordered dessert! Not because we were still hungry, but we’d been so impressed with the food, we needed to see how they did with their sweets.
Banana fritters with a lovely, lovely banana whipped cream, toasted pistachios, and black sesame seeds. I could have just had the cream alone and been happy, but the whole thing was a delight. BF ate three of those fritters all on his own. (I knew I should have snagged both the ribs.)
When I asked Camacho if the menu changed very often, he said that the base of the menu stays pretty much the same, but the prix fixe menu changes sometimes daily, driven by the whims of Naputi and the market. I vowed to do the tasting menu next time.
And, at Prubechu, everyone at the table does not have to have the tasting menu. So, the BF went off the regular menu and got to try a bite of each of my dishes — a generous practice, in my opinion, by the Shawns! Why hold your whole table hostage?
However, I’d sign up to be kidnapped by Naputi’s prix fixe any time! ($65 for six hefty courses.) First up were these adorable and delish sweet rolls, which were slightly reminiscent of King’s Hawaiian bread, but infinitely lighter and fluffier, served with a dab of butter blended with coconut vinegar and topped with crunch salt and chives. Shockingly delicious! (And they kindly gave the BF one too.)
Next came shrimp donuts with an oyster aioli.
This is what I want all my donuts to taste like henceforth! Topped with more of their pickled veggies, these were crispy and melt-in-your-mouth, all at the same time. Heavenly. Even the BF liked them.
Next, a chicken/mint sausage steamed in banana leaves atop an onion soubise.
Tasty, interesting texture, nice and light, but for me, probably the least impressive of everything we’d had here in the two visits.
The BF, in the meantime, got a bowl of market salad.
Avocado, beets and arugula in a sesame/ginger dressing (that Japanese influence again) — really good but quite a large portion which, in addition to his bites of my food, really filled him up.
My next course was chalakiles.
This turned out to be a bowl of rice porridge with coconut milk, with no relation to Mexico’s chilaquiles. THIS is what I mean by elevated rusticity — homey, yet light and playful. Elegant, even. The porridge was classic Chamorro comfort food, here topped with a poached & fried crispy egg, homemade Spam, mushrooms and greens. A perfect dish.
The BF’s entrée was pork:
Labeled as pork belly with red rice, this was something more like an arugula “salad” topped with a heavy dose of cured, marinated, and pickled pork, charred broccolini, grilled zucchini slices, and a slab of crispy, succulent pork belly. Served with finadene — a typical sauce of soy, vinegar, chilies and onions (“We put it on EVERYTHING”) — which helped cut through the fatty richness of the belly. Fabulous!
On the side came a big bowl of the “red” rice (more of the achote, which Camacho says they get fresh, not the powdered stuff we buy at our local Mexi-marts), which I found less flavorful than I would have expected. Still, eaten altogether, it was another demonstration of down-home food raised to another level.
For my last savory course, black cod.
The cod came in its own broth with asparagus and smashed creamery potatoes. The dish was lovely, but I was pretty full, and I have to say, the potatoes were almost the best part, retaining so much of their wonderful earthiness.
Dessert was memorable as well.
A coconut/tapioca cake-like thing, but steamed in banana leaves, with a creme anglaise and kiwi, juxtaposing slightly sweet and tart, while the banana leaves gave it a subtle, delicate, almost tea-like flavor.
The restaurant has a very small wine list, but a very eclectic and sizeable beer selection — “We really like our beer,” Camacho told us. It shows. The BF had a knock-out pilsner both times. The food really does lend itself to beer, although I had a very nice Argentinian red with mine.
“Prubechu” comes from the Spanish word “provecho,” which is said as a blessing, almost, to someone who is about to start their meal — “Please, take advantage and enjoy!” In Guam, it is also used as “Welcome.” Both Naputi and Camcho certainly made us feel so, by the goodness of the food, the warmth of the service, and the thoughtful knowledge they brought. What a gem in our neighborhood. This is definitely a destination restaurant. Hafa Adai!
2847 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110