Guam Diner Bytes: PROA Restaurant - Hagatna
Dear “Guam Food Guy” reader, Just for some fun, let’s take a short trip down memory lane, and see if you can recall any of the following restaurants that used to grace our island:
Jim’s Island House, Surgose’s Italian Kitchen, Istimewa, Kimchi Cabana, Latte Restaurant, M’s Steak House, Crow’s Nest, the Captain’s Table, Azuma Restaurant, China House, Malesso Inn,Yakitori House, The Panciteria, Salzburg Chalet, Joe & Flo’s Mexican Restaurant, Rocco’s Italian Restaurant, Tina Marie’s, The Tapa Room, Galleon Grill, Kurumaya Restaurant, Ivory Gourmet Cuisine and J&K Hong Kong Restaurant,
Then there’s: Latino’s Italian Restaurant, Signature Lounge, American Cafe, Andok’s Fast Food, Cool Spot, Mongolian BBQ, Pim’s Place, I Natibu, Epicure, Furusato, Papa John’s, Greek Freak, The Brig, Ocean Bay Chinese, Sobroso’s, Shanghai, Melanzanne, Yakitori Grill, The Pill Box, College Cafe, Joyful Chinese, La Mesa’s, Chianti, Flamboyan,Planet Noodle & Cafe, Downtown Deli, Bolsa, Wing’s, Josephine’s Chamorro Kitchen, Wet Willie’s, Genji,
Tom’s Table and Gu’s Shanghai Bistro.
And we also had: Isabel’s Cafe Nouveau, Mini Cafe, Coral Palace, Creations, Shiranami, Lotus Garden, Mimi Ramen, Hale Kai Seafood, Planet Hollywood, Korean BBQ, Le Creole, Claret, Pacific Grill, Y Kusina, Shakey’s, Bully’s, Firefly, Kiyo Sato and Amantes. Do you remember their locations?
This clearly shows you how more than 60 restaurants have come and gone (there are many more) over the years, with some leaving this past year.
My career in food service on Guam has given me a unique perspective on and a direct involvement with most of these restaurants.
Many are like long lost friends and old acquaintances. We don’t have rosaries or graveyards for restaurants – just for restaurant people. Now there’s some food for thought!
PROA's Hagatna location is a super-sized version of PROA's legendary Tumon location. The Restaurant is an amazing remake of the original T.G.I.Friday's building, which really has no recognizable reminders. It's all dazzlingly new and aesthetically appealing with local arts and themes. It is spacious beyond intimate, with plenty of room for large groups and parties. There's no rubbing elbows like in the original PROA. PROA Hagatna had some start-up challenges that took some time to correct. They have been inundated with customers and have had to work their way through service delivery issues. The food, once you finally got it, was delicious and people raved about the fantastic flavors and original creations. PROA's owners and management team have been on the ground listening and responding to the myriad issues. This is what makes PROA different and stronger than most restaurants - the owners care very much about their customers feelings and reactions. They do every thing they can to make things right.
Aware of the concerns raised by disappointed customers, I knew it would only be a matter of time for this large and powerful organization to settle into a working excellence mode. PROA had to develop new recruits and personnel to a level of proficiency achieved by their corps of hearty veterans trained in the Tumon trenches. This can't be done overnight! How easily people forget some of the complaints from the first opening, but they still came back for more of the magic grub PROA's kitchen wizards kept kickin' out! Just to get a whiff of those Marianas Glazed BBQ Ribs would be enough to make one salivate and crave for satisfaction!
For this newsletter, I wanted to showcase some of the new menu items PROA's unveiled. Some of these photos were taken during an MCA Board Meeting and I can't say that I've eaten all of them. I did have a bite of many, though.
The Achote Fried Shrimp on a Stick with a Chorizo Sweet Potato Empanada and Calamansi Culantro Avocado Sauce ($10.95) is an excellent starter trio, which is a trend PROA adopted earlier. Give the people more by giving them less. That's the best way to eat a variety of items! The empanada will have you screaming for more!
Another appetizer I had during a separate visit were the Proa Style Hibachi Chicken Tacos with Peppery Papaya Salsa and Pupulu Drizzle ($8.95). These are actually very tasty and are shareable. The little crispy won ton wrappers are no match for the overflowing papaya salsa'd chicken, with red rice over and under. I like the playful creativity Chef Geoffrey and his team have put into their menu creations. Names and titles have alliteration and food is a mouthful of delightful words. Entice and delight - a culinary strategy that starts with a menu description creating an expectation that's met and or surpassed by the experience!
The "Short Rib Duo" Tender Braised Bone-In Short Rib and BBQ Boneless Short Rib Caramelized Garlic Mash Potato with Sauteed Vegetables is more than a mouthful to say and eat! This is about meat and getting plenty of it! It's a creative dish, for sure, but it all comes back down to MEAT! When you taste these distinctly different dishes, you may want to order one or the other. I know I really liked that Bone-in Short Rib!!
The "Pork Two Ways" has both Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and a Crispy Pork Belly with a Red Rice Risotto Cake and a Sauteed Cabernet mongo bean pan sauce - ($21.95). I will have to try this dish as I just have the photo. Looked good, though!
The same goes for this Char-Broiled Red Dirt Marinated Carne with Sauteed Tropical Spinach and Fried Fontina on warm crusty bread ($15.95), which I will have to also try out one day! There's a load of spinach in this! I have to avoid this volume of carbs for a while, but can probably order it on a salad!
I did have the Crispy Cornish Game Hen with Rosemary Baked Red Potatoes, Sauteed Green Beans, Roasted Garlic and a Thyme Brushed White wine Mustard Jus ($18.95). This could be a comfort dish. They've done well by taking the noble game hen back to a time in its past when it was thus celebrated by great chefs! Savory flavors from spices and seasonings do wonders when you add lemon, olive oil, garlic and sauces to a roasted fowl.
One special dish prepared by the PROA team to accommodate Zee's vegetarian preference was a Ratatouille with Fettuccine. It's not on the menu, is loaded with veggies like eggplant, onions, zucchini, and peppers, with a marinara sauce.
I had a lunch special the day of our visit. It was a masterful Pan-Seared Smoked Norwegian King Salmon served on a bed of Lobster Saffron Rizzoto! I don't remember the price (maybe $21.95), but I do remember how perfectly cooked that salmon was, with a butter cream sauce. One of the things I urge people to do is try the PROA Lunch specials. They've been consistently awesome for me!
The new Hagatna PROA has an expanded Patisserie with large state of the art refrigerated display cases where you can purchase a variety of confectionary treats. There is also a full-service bar where games can be watched on large screen TVs. There's no question about PROA's future prospects. They have a winning attitude and have translated that into a winning business model. We'll be doing PROA for a very long time indeed!
Ken “The Guam Food Guy” Stewart