A Visit with Prubechu — Chamorro Cooking Arrives in San Francisco

Introducing Prubechu

 

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 
― Virginia Woolf

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I’ve lived a number of years on this planet now, and the one thing I am certain of is that good–no, great things in life happen unexpectedly. Other than turning 16 (driver’s license!), 21 (yay, alcohol, legally!), and perhaps childbirth (which is very expected when expecting, yet still is so unexpected in a lot of ways), many of life’s greatest treats come when you’re really not expecting much.

So goes it with restaurants, too. After this many years of eating out and reviewing food, I can only tell you this much: great food comes from unpredictable places. 

prubechu sf

Clean, small but very fresh and comfortable space

So, the surprise of 2014, thus far, comes from a pretty little restaurant called Prubechu. It’s quite new, having opened its doors in February of this year.

My visit to this restaurant on March 22nd was purely accidental; I had an event close by and a couple of nights beforehand, Mr. K told me to pick any restaurant and he’d take me for dinner. I randomly picked a restaurant in close proximity to the event venue that would meet the following criteria:

  1. I had never heard of the restaurant
  2. It was a less than familiar type of cuisine for me.

And in Prubechu, both requirements were fulfilled, as I know basically nothing about Chamorro cooking, and had not heard of Prubechu until I was looking at my choices on Yelp.

Bundaberg Lemon Lime & Bitters - Prubechu

Bundaberg Lemon Lime & Bitters

Walking in, it’s a rather narrow but deep space. It’s nicely lit and the decor is simple but stylish. The kitchen, at least the part where all of the preparation happens, is completely open. You can see the chef and his crew preparing and plating every dish. I was sitting right by the kitchen and watched a team of three hustling to bring out dish after dish.

But before the meal starts — get a load of this drink, shown above. Bundaberg Lemon Lime & Bitters! It’s an Australian company quite well-known for their ginger beer, and Prubechu carries this “Lemon Lime and Bitters” in a bottle. As I had already consumed two glasses of scotch at the event before dinner, I opted to try this nonalcoholic refreshment. It might be the best drink I’ve ever had — perfectly carbonated, a lime-crisp flavor with high notes and some lower notes provided by the bitters.

Then again, well into my second bottle, I almost choked when I saw how much sugar was in it, but I don’t think I can refuse it if someone were to offer it to me again. It’s like having a refreshing little palate cleanser each time you take a swig.

Anyway — let’s move onto the food.

 

The Food at Prubechu

prubechu oysters

Amuse Bouche: Washington Somerset Oyster w/ Coconut Vinegar from Guam, topped with Kiwi

Wait, wait….before the food, there was something else that made Prubechu special before I ever took a sip of that drink, or had a taste of the food.

The service.

Every encounter I had in this restaurant was incredibly friendly, welcoming and cheerful. I mention this not just because it’s something I value; I mention this because from this moment on, you’ll taste it in the food.

The food at Prubechu is…warm. Welcoming. And friendly.

First up was an amuse bouche from the kitchen. It wasn’t so much that the oyster itself was the greatest I had. It was that combined with the history of where their coconut vinegar came from, how it’s made and topped with fresh little slices of kiwi, the oyster became a quick and bright welcome at Prubechu.

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First Course: Farm-raised 8 minute egg wit house-smoked salmon

With almost every restaurant topping anything with a soft-poached or sous vide egg these days (and to be clear, I’m not complaining), it was almost refreshing to see a perfectly…boiled…egg. The egg was perfectly done without any denseness in the yolk, and with the right amount of bite to the white of the egg. Paired with the smoked salmon and sharp saltiness and crunchiness of the caviar, and some warmth from avocado and zing from the caramelized soy sauce, this was the “good morning” dish at Prubechu.

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Second Course: Chicken Kelaguen

If the egg with salmon was “good morning”, this next dish was someone offering you a comforting cup of good coffee on their sofa. This was the “let’s get to know each other” talking portion of this meal. This was Prubechu introducing something classically “Chamorro”; this was the chef introducing his heritage and culture to a palate that is otherwise unfamiliar and untrained to the tastes he’s about the present.

The chicken is cooked to about 80%–then the meat is removed from the bone, finely chopped, then the remainer of the “cooking” is done in lemon juice, going through the ceviche-like denaturing process. This maintained the tenderness and helped the chicken flavor to pop against the lemon juice. Served atop a coconut tortilla called titiya, which was most similar to a Columbian arepa but softer, it was a pleasant and refreshing course that was enjoyable.

I liked it.

Well, until I had the next dish.

prubechu

Shrimp Kelaguen –given to us to try, with what I presume is Prubechu’s Fina’denne’ Dinanche — Guam’s version of hot sauce.

If chicken were the pretty cousin, the shrimp kelaguen was the knockout supermodel sister that walked in behind her. This shrimp was served in the same style as the chicken, but the flavors on this one dulled the memory of the chicken in my mind. 

Shawn had asked if we like hot sauce–and when I most passionately nodded, he brought a bowl of their in-house hot sauce made of eggplant, coconut and asparagus out to have with the shrimp kelaguen.

REQUEST THAT HOT SAUCE AT PRUBECHU.

I could go to Prubechu with a bowl of rice and have a whole meal with just that hot sauce.

This was my favorite dish at Prubechu…

Until the next dish, that is. (See a pattern here?)

 

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“Shrimp Patty” with Sunchoke, served with soy sauce pickled radish and cucumbers

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Flavor-wise, the shrimp kelaguen was better.

But the partnership on this dish made this dish quite wonderful. The shrimp patty is, well, not really a patty at all. It’s closer to a light bread or souffle–a cornbread, even–baked in a bowl. Most interesting is that the buttery notes in this dish came without using any oil at all. And every couple of bites, you’d get a nice chunk of shrimp and sweet corn as a surprise. Slightly spongy in flavor, eating it with the soy sauce based pickled radishes and cucumbers made the combination very delightful.

It felt like…home. This was that nice, simple home-cooked meal that one appreciates so much after months away from home. This was the kind of dish that makes you realize how much you missed being home.

Combined with the sentiment that this course brought up–I found it vibrant and pleasant.

 

prubechu rice porridge

Chalakilis Rice Porridge with achiote and pork two ways

At the top of this review was the other side of this dish, showcasing the boquerones, a type of anchovy, that topped this dish. You can still see a sliver of it on the top, but on this side of the dish was the pork. You see the large slice of deliciously fried pork belly, but every few bites, you’d get one medium-sized chunk of what can only be described as good ol’ pork jerky. Between the crisp outside and melting inside of the pork belly, the salty and chewier but flavorful jerky, the sourness of the boquerones was pleasantly shocking. The asparagus, hardly cooked, gives the dish some interesting crunch, and the sous vide quail egg is always a sight to behold at Prubechu.

Most interesting about this dish was that every single bite of it yielded a different flavor profile entirely. It was American, then it was most definitely Indian….before it turned very Asian, and then it went to lands I haven’t visited.

To say it was an orchestra of flavors is not an understatement. And nothing pleases me more these days than having my palate intrigued and question marks firing off in my head. At first bite, I didn’t know what to make of it as it’s hard to tell what you’re tasting if you’re not familiar with Chamorro cooking.

And this, folks, was my favorite dish of the evening!

No, really…it was.
This was fun. This was exciting–and never did I think I’d call porridge exciting. 

This was…like falling in love. Complex, heavy, shocking–but so natural and so delightful.

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Braised short ribs in a conconut broth with smokes potatoes and thumbelina carrots with mung bean sprouts

Braised short ribs in a coconut broth with smokes potatoes and thumbelina carrots, spinach with mung beans, pea tendrils, served over rice

And if that was love, this was…marriage. A good marriage.

There was an element of familiarity in this dish. The sour notes in the broth were reminiscent of adobo; the coconut milk was of Thai food, the braised short ribs were near identical to Korean galbi-jjim, with the added familiarity of potatoes, carrots and sprouts over rice–a Korean staple. I was so full by this point, as I had seriously finished course after course, but the familiarity of this dish is what makes it possible to eat just one more bite. And one more bite led to finish the whole bowl.

Put together, it was beautiful, stable and safe. It was deep but playful, heavy yet light. The meat was phenomenally tender, and the vegetables were cooked wonderfully, still retaining a little bite but fantastic in taste. 

prubechu

Coconut ice cream with roasted macadamia nuts and coconut

What comes after marriage? (No, not divorce, my dear pessimists!)

The sweet, beautiful baby.

The only thing missing from this meal was something sweet. Not being a fan of most sweets, I was strangely craving sweet when the dessert arrived. (Counting back now, I had eight courses here, not including the amuse bouche…so I have no idea what happened, but now I realize why I was so ridiculously full!)

This was a house-made coconut ice cream. It offered just the right amount of sweetness without the richness that ice cream can sometimes have. It was rich in flavor but light in texture, almost sherbert-esque, and overwhelmingly refreshing, tempered only by the nuttiness sprinkled on top.

It was the exclamation point to the visit.

 

Initial Impression of Prubechu

 

I don’t usually like visiting young restaurants. I find it impossible and unbearable trying to enjoy meals when service is a mess, things get forgotten, everything’s in disarray and I’m the guinea pig. I may review restaurants on this site, but I have no desire to be the test subject. Anyone who reads my reviews has got to know by now that service is part of the overall experience. And more often than not, I’m inclined to visit 6 months after they open.

Prubechu, being in its infancy, made no mistakes. It was smooth sailing for this experienced crew of co-owners at Prubechu, as they had done much of this when the location was Roxy’s Cafe before they took over. These are experienced restaurateurs who present a cuisine that San Francisco wasn’t exposed to as of yet, unlike Hawaii, where Chamorro cooking is very popular.

Care elevates taste.

The food at Prubechu presents new flavors and creations while keeping things extremely simple, for the most part. There are some similarities with Filipino, Peruvian or Indian cooking, and even Korean cooking, but they did differentiate themselves clearly. It’s clean and fresh cooking, with many locally sourced ingredients and lots of care and love put into it. That’s the reason I chose to write this review around a relationship theme; it’s the care put into the cooking that made this dinner wonderful. It wasn’t the artistry in plating or the fanciness of a dish — it’s the care a mom would put into cooking something for the family, and you can taste…care.

While I don’t usually rate new restaurants (unless I hate it and vow never to return), I daresay it doesn’t get too much better than this. 

And I am certain beyond any doubt that it absolutely cannot get better than this for $40 for the tasting menu.

It’s a go. Definitely go to Prubechu. Very soon, you and I will be throwing down for a seat here.

 

Service: 9.3/10
Ambiance: 8.5/10
Food: 9.2/10
Addictive Factor: 8.8/10

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

Grace Keh About Grace Keh
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.

4 comments
Grace Horikiri
Grace Horikiri

I read about this place and now that it has your stamp of approval I will definitely make it a must go dining destination!

Marc Dimalanta
Marc Dimalanta

And that's the taste of Guam's love. HAFA ADAI. :)

Ange Tseng
Ange Tseng

It looks super good!! I can't wait to try Prubechu. Looks yum!

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