For many people the idea of a remote, tropical island in the Pacific is about as romantic as it gets. So where do you go for a good date night when that's where you live?

Enter PROA Restaurant in Tumon. Located next to Governor Joseph Flores Memorial Park (Ypao Beach), the restaurant has views of the sprawling park as it falls into a quiet golden hour just in time for dinner, and with its small size – the restaurant can comfortably accommodate up to 24 couples at one time – dinner and drinks for two becomes a peaceful and intimate affair of the heart.

"When the sun is setting, it's absolutely beautiful," says Tumon operations manager Ashley Flores. "You don't have to worry about anything ... just enjoying your night."

Tumon hot spot

Set just south of Tumon's main strip, PROA Restaurant owns an ideal date night spot: still part of the action, but far enough away to leave the crowds and traffic behind.

Plus, parking is a breeze.

Opened in 2002 and one of two PROA locations, PROA Tumon is the "mama hen," says owner and executive chef Geoffrey Perez.

The mama hen later hatched an egg in Hagåtña, where PROA's second location opened in 2006. With a capacity of 150 people located across the street from The Chamorro Village, PROA's second location is popular with locals and tourists alike, and often plays host to birthdays and graduation parties.

By comparison, Tumon sous chef Justin Taijeron calls their flagship location, "small and cozy."

Impressively, Perez says the Tumon location sees nearly the same amount of customers each day as the Hagåtña location.

"We don't rush anybody out the door," Perez says, "but we're quick."

For that reason alone, Perez says he highly recommends getting a reservation for PROA Tumon. Flores recommends getting a reservation at least a month in advance.

"Even though the wait times are sometimes ridiculous, it's absolutely worth it," she says.

A tale of two restaurants

If you've already visited PROA Hagåtña – known fondly as "the castle" by PROA staff, Flores says – and think you've tasted it all, think again. The two spaces, opposite in size and atmosphere, also have vastly different menus.

A strategic move, Perez says they landed on separate menus in order to showcase more dishes overall.

Both restaurants feature what Perez calls Marianas regional cuisine. Taijeron dubbed it "local fusion." Some bestsellers, such as the exotic-sounding izumadai fish, which rests in a pool of rich yet bright soy-ginger-garlic butter sauce, makes an appearance at both locations.

As they prepared to open a second location, Perez and his team were full of new menu ideas to go with it.

"We wanted to see those new menu items and new ideas materialize and see how they turned out," he says.

In Tumon, guests can sample unique appetizers including the Proa-Style Beggar's Purse, a furikake-infused crepe wrapped around fresh, ginger-dusted poke, as well as one of Flores' favorites: a fluffy, brûléed taro cheesecake.

For all PROA's success, Perez never dreamed he'd own a restaurant. But at the start of his island culinary career, he says, few did.

Part of a changing landscape

"That was pretty much the culinary landscape on Guam," he recalled. "There (were) the hotels and we had some smaller eateries here and there, but we never had anything like the independent restaurants we see today on the island."

"I never thought I was going to be a restaurant chef," he says. "I thought I was going to be an executive chef of the Hilton, the Hyatt. That was my dream."

In search of that dream, Perez bounced back and forth between culinary jobs and school on Guam and in the states, going straight to Boston University after high school, where he earned a culinary certificate, later returning to work at Roy's Restaurant at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa before heading back to the states to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York City. From there, he planned to work his way back to Guam.

Around the turn of the millennium, Perez returned to the island with a new dream in mind.

"I think the culinary landscape changed a great deal throughout the years," Perez says. "I think that PROA kind of paved the way for a lot of local people to start their own restaurant."

In another departure from Guam's culinary tradition, Perez says he's made a point to give junior chefs more creative license: while Perez sets the bulk of the menu, he encourages junior chefs to dream up specials.

It's something he wasn't able to do until he reached hotel restaurants' highest ranks, he says, and he promised he would change that if he had the chance.

It's an important process, he says, and he wants all of his chefs to learn what it takes to get a dish from their head and onto a guest's dinner plate.

Often, "it's this grand idea, it has the smoke (and) mirrors and the sparklers ... so we've gotta tone it down," he says. But chefs "have the opportunity to create and learn."

Labor of love

PROA's date-night potential, then, goes beyond a cozy atmosphere and nice views: The entire restaurant is Perez's labor of love. The PROA team even did their own demolition before launching the Tumon location (for the record, Perez says that was not their best idea).

That work ethic continued after the grand opening: "A lot of heart and soul went into the (Tumon) menu," Perez says.

"I don't see myself doing anything else," he says. "I think it was ... the ability to create something that comes from the ground and turn it into something that tastes so good and looks just as good. ... I hope to continue to do this until the day I die."

PROA Tumon is located at 429 Pale San Vitores Rd. in Tumon and is open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

To make a reservation call 646-7762.

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