When the Mission's only Guamanian restaurant, Prubechu, closed the doors to its first restaurant in the fall of 2018, many let out a collective and depressed sigh. Now, we can let out another sigh, this time of relief, because the boys‚ co-owners chef Shawn Naputi and Shawn Camacho, are back in town.
The two who proudly tag themselves and their food as Chamorro—the name for the indigenous people and the language of Guam, as well as a signifier of its culture—have landed once again in the neighborhood.
With them come the charismatic flavor combinations conjured by Naputi, who in an interview in 2016 described his approach as "Grandma's recipes with a little bit of lipstick or perfume." As genuine as that humility is, it would be a mistake to underestimate his considerable skills in the kitchen.
As a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Naputi has spent time in the kitchens of Incanto, Foreign Cinema, and La Folie to name a few. At Prubechu, his innovations on food manage to incorporate the legacy of the Micronesian island's long history—which includes a fair bit of colonization under Spain, then briefly Japan, and later the United States. As the westernmost territory of the U.S.—15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time—Guam bills itself as the place "where America's day begins."
"We Chamorro are a result of our history," says Camacho. "And taking pleasure in the preparation and eating of food, is a big, big part of that."
The shrimp pancake is baked in a cazuela with peas and corn.(Courtesy of Prubechu)
Situated at Mission and 18th streets, Prubechu has taken over the space formerly occupied by Commonwealth, and feels miles away from the Valencia Street vibe that reigns only one block west. The experience here feels like a connection to the urban ambience and unpredictability that makes a city feel vivid, alive, and diverse, and this will be a welcome mood for fans of the "old San Francisco" that is often said to be lost.
A longtime Mission resident, Naputi—who takes jiujitsu not too far from the restaurant—was thrilled that playing the waiting game worked out, as the new kitchen here allows for considerably more freedom of creation and expression than the old space which, for all its slightly ramshackle charm, made difficult.
We sat and scanned the short wine list that leans heavily on biodynamic or low-intervention wines and decided on the Verdelho Orange 2018 from Koehnen Wine in Santa Rosa; it was fresh and even lemony on the palette, and wore its ABV casually. (We also especially enjoyed our segue to the rosé on the list: Sleepless Nights 2018 from the Oakland winery Subject to Change.)
First up was an off-menu item of octopus that had been poached in ginger and lemongrass before hitting the plancha for charring, the heat of which curled it at one end, giving the impression of a seahorse glistening on the plate. Served with a dollop of house-made kimchi, the combination of the two when eaten together set off a chain reaction of such sweet, salty, and chili-driven goodness that one's brain slowed for a brief couple of seconds to savor the moment.
Prubechu specializes in kelaguen, which are basically ceviches that are served in a drier manner than is typical. There are four options on the menu: shrimp, chicken, octopus, and steak. We chose the shrimp (uhang) and the chicken (manok). The shrimp is blanched and then marinated in lemon, scallion, coconut, and hot pepper, and then served on "titiyas" made with corn and achiote, which resemble a thickish corn tortilla. If shrimp is how you follow your bliss (it is for me), rest assured you've come to the right place.
The chicken is barbecued first before marinating in lemon, scallion, and coconut and served with a spicy aioli on "titiyas niyok"—a supple coconut flatbread that again recalls a tortilla. The tang on this is perfect, and we held back an impulse to double up on the order.
Similar to a ceviche, the shrimp kelaguen is served on a thick corn tortilla.(Courtesy of Prubechu)
Also on deck, the "lechen birenghenas" is a dish of eggplant that is first barbecued and then marinated in coconut milk with lemon and scallion. This was served chilled and, honestly, had the sweetness and depth of a dessert, a great change of pace. My dinner companion turned to me and said, "Guam revelations!"
For our final share we opted for the shrimp pancake, baked in a cazuela with peas and corn and served quite hot at the table. It had the yielding feel and reassurance of a casserole, a nice antidote to the cold, damp night outside.
Looking around, we saw other menu items being served that two people could easily share, including an iceberg salad and a bone-in short rib, both very generous portions. Other items include chicken sausage, caramelized potato soup, red rice (a specialty, for sure), crispy fried snapper, and empanadas. They also offer what they call the Fiesta Table, a sampling platter of different Chamorro specialties that looks very tempting indeed.
We arrived at Prubechu (which means "you're welcome" in Chamorro) at 6:30pm on a Thursday evening. The place was absolutely humming, so reservations through Resy are recommended.
// Prubechu, 2224 Mission St. (Mission), prubechu.com