Prego - Offering a Fresh Twist on Italian Classics
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Have you ever eaten a meal when everything you ate was "excellent"? When your attempts to be objective and critical fail miserably as you succumb to the enchanting spell of gastronomic perfection? Well, that's what seemed to occur at the Westin's Prego Italian Restaurant last Saturday night, which coincidentally was "quake day."
Prego's ambiance is one of casual elegance, with the plush carpet supporting the heavy wooden tables, whose surfaces are intentionally absent of the white tablecloths usually found in fine dining restaurants. One side of the dining room opens up to Tumon Bay, and the back wall displays a fresco depicting the medieval Tuscany Palio horse race. Soft, diffused ceiling lights were met by small table candles to set a romantic mood, only this time food would be passion's focus!
My dining companion and I decided on an aggressive ordering course to gain a wider sampling of Prego's menu selections. One of our servers, Edward, brought Prego's wine list, which is encased in a richly padded binder with the title "Westin Sommelier". Flipping through its pages are labels of the various wines available, with wine notes and suggested pairings. It's truly well-done, and I especially identified with the sentiments expressed in the closing quote, which says, "A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine!" Matt, our waiter, was an affable fellow who answered our questions about today's specials, as well as gave us knowledgeable feedback on our final selections. We started out with a Brindisi Salad ($8.95), which had Romaine Lettuce, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives, and Red & Green Bell Peppers, dressed with a Red Wine Vinaigrette. Prego's salads are large enough for two people to share.
We also ordered a Minestrone Soup ($8.95), the traditional Bean & Vegetable Soup with Pesto, and a bowl of Gazpacho ($6.95), that wondrous Spicy Cold Soup made with tomato, vegetables, and toasted Cumin. Prego's version added some fresh crab. Prego's known for its terrific Designer Pizzas, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to do one of their selections, so we had the Pizza of the Day, which happened to be Grilled Vegetarian. And, of course, "when in Rome, do as the Romans," or so goes the saying, and what is more Italian than "pasta?" Prego boasts ten Pastas, from Fettucine Pescatora (fresh seafood w/marinara), Spaghetti Camberi - (Shrimp, Thyme, tomato sauce), Spaghetti Puttanesca (Olives, Capers, Anchovies & Garlic - an intriguing dish popular amongst courtesans who'd feed it to their suitors), to Fettucine Alfredo (Chicken & Garlic Cream Sauce) and Spaghetti Peperoncino (Red Chile Flakes, Garlic & Olive Oil). Pastas are served in Small & Large sizes, and we chose the small Pasta of the Day, since it sounded so darned good - Spaghetti with smoked ham, sun-dried tomatoes, and Feta cheese, in a garlic cream sauce ($8.95).
Before our salad dishes arrived, we were brought a platter of warm, thick-sliced, cheese-topped fococcia bread, with rosemary seeds inside. It was excellent when dipped in the olive oil dishes. I did order a glass of the Shigle Peak Sauvignon Blanc to go with my elaborate dinner. The wine promised an "intense gooseberry and passion fruit characters with zesty varietals, flavors, and aromas". It kept its promise. What I didn't tell you was that the first thing that my companion wanted was the Osso Buco, that legendary Milanese specialty. This classic dish is made by braising a Veal Shank, and Prego adds Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Gremolata. (the latter was not on the plate for unknown reasons).
Since she was going to have the Osso Buco ($23.95), I thought the Sea Bass Aglio ($23.95) would be a safe way to keep to my lighter fare regimen. The Sea Bass was made with Spinach and a Light Tomato-Garlic Sauce. Now, on with the food tasting!
The pizza and salad arrived close to the same time, and we went for the pizza first. It was fabulous to look at, and even better to taste. The mozzarella and marinara sauce was mixed with a plentiful supply of fresh tomatoes, roasted garlic, Italian squash, sliced stuffed green olives, and herbs. The thin crusted dough had baked perfectly in Prego's stone hearth pizza oven, which can be viewed in the open pizza prep work area in the dining room. We relished the "freshness" of this pizza, but limited ourselves (what willpower!) to a few slices. The salads were fresh as well, with the vinaigrette washing our palates to prepare for the next course.
The Gazpacho was served in an exquisitely decorated stoneware soup bowl atop a matching underliner, with the colors and simple leaf patterns centering attention on the contents, enhancing the presentation. The Gazpacho was simply dreamy, and if you like Gazpacho, you definitely have to try this ... the fresh tomato marinara was blended with celery, bell peppers, and cucumber. It was refreshing and zesty at the same time, with a bite. The crab meat in the center was a nice addition, and was accompanied by bits of toasted cumin.
The Minestrone was hearty and rich tasting, and had melting fresh parmesan on top. The serving bowl was part of a custom-made Villeroy & Boch (Luxembourg) China pattern made with Prego in mind. The Pasta of the Day was served in a matching bowl. I watched as Matt grated fresh Parmesan cheese on top of the steaming pasta blend. The aroma of the cheese, garlic cream sauce, and sun-dried tomatoes was dizzying, stirring my tastebuds to full attention! It was a marvelous pasta preparation, with the noodles cooked "al dente" (just right!). The smoked ham was thinly-sliced with a distinct flavor that blended nicely with the garlic cream sauce. Taste explosions were experienced each time I ate the sun-dried tomatoes ... these are such intense delights ... I love cooking with them.
The main event was the awesome Osso Buco ... something you'd have to see to believe! Prego's Osso Buco is an original preparation, differing significantly from the classic preparation. Prego's veal shank is left intact, with the meat bundled around the base and the shank bone protruding from the top, much like a drum-stick. The traditional Osso Buco cuts the veal shank, exposing the bone marrow, one of its coveted delicacies. The name means "hollow bone." Prego's version is perfectly prepared to a fork cutting tenderness ... the veal was bursting with the infused flavors of the vegetables and seasonings. My companion and I agreed it was probably our best Osso Buco ever. The fresh Garlic Mashed potatoes partnered nicely with the succulent veal.
I regret to say that the Sea Bass was overshadowed by the Osso Buco. It was delicate, well-cooked, and the light tomato garlic sauce was blended masterfully. We used the word "fresh" a lot during this night's feast. The Sea Bass had steamed spinach with roasted garlic (I liked that a lot) and polenta. The stoneware serving plates for both the Sea Bass and the Osso Buco were marvelous creations - rich, classy, and imaginative. These folks know what they're doing!
Just when we thought we'd maxed out our palates and bellies, we were coaxed into trying two of Prego's dessert specialties, the Chocolate Zucott Parfait ($6.95), and the Panna Cotta ($5.95), which is a traditional eggless caramel flan encaged in sugar. The Zucott was awesome, and nearly impossible to eat since all we wanted to do was look at it! Described as a "Decadent Chocolate Dipped, Mousse Filled Cake, Trio of Sauces," this dessert was created to win awards. Rich, rich, rich ... extravagant! The Panna Cotta was a shrine ... the latticework of the baked sugar formed a "bird cage" over the flan. Not at all what you'd expect, since the flan was made with gelatin and wasn't sweet. The melted caramel was light and only sweetened the dish mildly ... it just had a fresh, calming taste. These ornate creations are the work of Westin's Pastry Chef, Dara Takeshita. Bravo!
As for the rest of our culinary experience, credit must be given to Prego's Chef de Cusine and Westin Sous Chef, John Morrison, who attended the famed New England Culinary Institute. He has been on Guam for two years and has transformed Prego into a powerhouse experience, making each entree a fine dining experience and not just another dish. He has done a remarkable job of preparing and motivating his kitchen team, who follow John's original recipe creations and do much of the cooking. Masterful!
You know we'll be back! Bravo, Prego!