Proa Restaurant - Discover One of Guam's Newest Culinary Treasures
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
There are good restaurants, and there are great restaurants. Proa is a great restaurant. Though it has only been open for about six months, it has already lighted its path as an island favorite and it's really because the food has dazzled people's palates! Although I've had lunch at Proa a number of times, I had not yet been to dinner, and this night's review was one that had mixed elements of good and bad, which is what usually happens in the real world, right? In case you've missed it, Proa is located in Tumon across from GVB overlooking Ypao Beach. It is located where the popular Mom & Pop store, Ypao Beach Store, was for many, many years.
Let me just mention the bad first and get it out of the way. If the word "din" means anything, it was defined anew this Thursday night! In fairness, Proa was hit by an unexpected rush of guests...they were packed with people waiting for seats so it was a good thing I called for a reservation. The acoustics in Proa are quite good, in fact, you could probably hear a guest across the room whispering if it wasn't crowded. Well, tonight, it was crowded, and we had the misfortune of being in close proximity to a table that had a toddler with aspirations of becoming an opera star. So, above all of the usual background noise, which included some really nice easy listening music, the boisterous shrieking of "Pavarotti, Jr." filled the air. Unfortunately, there's little a restaurant can do when guests are unable (or unwilling) to maintain table decorum and manners with their little ones when dining in public. This isn't usually the case at Proa, but since Zee and I found ourselves constantly repeating our conversation as we tried to talk across our table, I feel obligated to mention it so you can be prepared.
The positive side to the noise factor is that it gives Proa an intense, bustling, happening place, with all the energy of your favorite bar or night club, but with fantastic food! There are actually many people who thrive on this buzz...it is like being in the middle of a UN social party, since you hear people speaking in different languages. Fascinating. Believe me, though, the food's so good that you'll be oblivious to practically any distractions.
We ordered a Pellegrino and a Fiji Water to start...these are really wonderful beverages and the effervescence of the Pellegrino stimulates and refreshes my taste buds. Zee added lemon to her Fiji Water for a citrusy twist on a water that I think is one of the Pacific's finest. Our waiter, Curtis, came to take our order and I asked for a glass of Yellow Tail Cabernet to help me unwind from the day's rigorous challenges. We ordered New Zealand Green Shell Mussels with White Wine, Lemon, and Chipolte Chilies ($7.95); Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Red Onion Salad with Tomato-Basil Feta Cheese ($9.95); Grilled Roasted Vegetable Panini with Queso Blanco ($8.95), without the cheese, and I had what I'd been craving for a long long time, Dry-Rubbed New York Steak with Tamarind Barbecue Sauce served with Fingerling Potatoes ($17.95).
The New Zealand Mussels were fantastic! Aside from the appealing presentation, these nine mollusks were some of the tastiest I've had in years...aside from wine, lemon and chilies (which I didn't see, but tasted) there were diced onions and ginger in an exquisite broth that I'd pour over each shell before devouring its stubbornly-perched, tender denizen...I could have eaten these all night long! (Now I've got another great reason to go to New Zealand!)
The Grilled Panini sandwich was centered in a large plate. Proa's plate presentations are meant to impress, making the portions appear smaller than they are, so don't be fooled. The grilled vegetables are colorful, with mushrooms, peppers, onions, eggplant, and zucchini, and the ciabatta bread is fresh. I liked the Shoestring Potatoes as well. I didn't have any of Zee's salad, but did get a bite of the sandwich. I would have preferred it with cheese for the additional flavor, but for vegans, this is a beautiful meal.
The Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Red Onion Salad was a dream! The first bite revealed a soft and almost powdery feta cheese layered throughout the salad which was dressed with a vinaigrette that had tomato and basil at its core. I dubbed this the "salad you can't stop eating" as I savored mouthful after mouthful of cucumbers, zucchini and wonderfully grilled pieces of eggplant ...it's no wonder it's one of Proa's most popular dishes. I even tossed some of the shoestring fries atop this for extra crunch and taste - a little creative enhancement I might do in the future.
I couldn't wait to get to my steak. It was at least 12 oz., and could have been 16 oz., however, I was more interested in getting a taste of the promised Tamarind Barbecue Sauce, which was ladled generously over the medium rare steak. Yummy...this was masterful...I don't know how they did it, but it registered as a totally new steak experience for me, demonstrating that great sauces and rubs can do amazing things. I didn't really pay much attention to the dry rub elements, though the steak had a lot of flavor. It was perched atop fingerling potatoes, those gourmet-quality potatoes shaped like fingers. I really enjoyed the distinct textural quality of the potatoes and with that BBQ sauce, they were just perfect. Zee was dipping the potatoes, too! This was a completely joyful dish which didn't overstuff. After all, I needed room for dessert.
We ordered the PROA Dessert Sampler ($7.95), which features two Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coconut Banana Fritter with Caramel Sauce, Strawberry Creme Brulee, and Mango Panna Cotta. I had this before at lunch during my first visit and this time it was pretty much the same. It's an ingenious dessert presentation, since it appeals to nearly everyone's cravings. Obviously, there's a pastry chef in the kitchen, right? Actually, there are two - Mark Duenas and Edward Cruz. Mark is a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute specializing in pastry. Ed is an exceptional baker and has an extensive knowledge of Chamorro cuisine. Eventually they will expand their preparations to include a range of tantalizing cakes and pastries in the soon-to-be-completed pastry shop, Sweet Relief.
The main driving force and culinary vision behind Proa's incredible menu creations is Geoffrey Perez, Executive Chef. Perez has an extensive background for such a young man. He's a graduate holding two Certificates in Culinary Arts from Boston University and the French Culinary Institute. He's worked under the direction of famous Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa, of Nobu Restaurants around the world, as well as famous Food Network icon and Iron Chef contender, Bobby Flay, at his Mesa Grill Restaurant. Locally, has held positions as Executive Chef at Hy's Steak House and was Demi Chef at Roy's Restaurant for seven years. Perez was also Chef Supervisor for Governor Felix Camacho. Another member of Geoffrey's team is his sous chef, Ryan Chiquina, whose cooking we first enjoyed when he was chef de cuisine at Sereno's. It's really a thrill to see so much enthusiasm and talent assembled behind the pass-through window in front of the kitchen line...these guys are young pros with the world at their feet!
A few must try dishes are the Tuna Tartare with Jalapeno, Avocado, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis and Cumin-Dusted Potato Chips ($8.95), the Cornmeal Crusted Soft Shell Crab Sandwich ($9.95), the Pork Rib Chop Marinated with Orange, Ginger and Toasted Paprika ($11.95), and any of the Pro BBQ dishes like Hibachi-Style Short Ribs, Chicken, or Spareribs sauced with Proa's proprietary Marianas Glaze (each $8.95), or go for the Big Feller Trio Platter which features all three meats for $10.95.
A Kid's menu is available featuring Tobin's Chicken Fingers ($5.95) which are named for Chef Geoffrey's son. Proa's Director of Hospitality, Chris Bejado, is no stranger to the restaurant business and he brings a wealth of knowledge, customer service skills, communication talent, and business savvy to Proa. The team at Proa exemplifies what's required to create a successful synergistic relationship...everyone has a strength to add so that the whole is absolutely stronger than any of its parts.
Proa is open daily for lunch (specials offered) and dinner from 11am-10pm except on Sunday when it is open for dinner only from 6-10pm. You can contact them at 646-7762. I highly recommend Proa Restaurant as a venue for extraordinary food. It is still a new restaurant and will be working to improve the process. I look forward to revisiting many times in the future and to having a special party in Proa's Private function room. Until then, bon appetit!