For Dustin Atoigue, executive chef of the Mondrian, home is where the heart is.
Atoigue's heart is in Guam, a small U.S. island territory in the Western Pacific where he was born and raised. Through a partnership with the Mondrian, Atoigue has brought a taste of his island to Miami with the creation of his first pop-up restaurant, Hurao, which is now open in the Mondrian's Sunset Lounge.
"Words really can't describe how it feels to bring this concept to Miami," he says. "I feel like it's bigger than me, like I'm representing my whole island."
Hurao (pronounced as hoo-ro), named after one of the most celebrated Chamorro chiefs in Guam’s history, translates to words such as "emotion," "care," and "attention" — values Atoigue wants to integrate into his restaurant. "I want to show the culture of Guam and the Chamorro people," he says. "I want to translate that through the flavors and presentation of the dishes. During the soft opening, I had a woman who came from Guam and tasted my food and told me that it tastes like home. That’s what I’m going for."
The menu, conceived and curated by Atoigue, highlights classic food found in Guam, known as Chamorro cuisine. Fusing tropical fruits, fresh seafood, and modern twists to traditional staples, plates will still appear familiar even to those unfamiliar with Chamorro flavors, Atoigue says.
"Chamorro food has a lot of Spanish and Japanese influences, so you’re not a stranger to it," he says. "It’s a combination of historical influences and what was available on the island. It’s different but familiar. When you try it, you’re going to love it. No one knows about the cuisine because there are not a lot of chefs in the States who are from Guam."
On the menu, expect dishes such as Pacific-style barbecue chicken served with coconut bread, pickled green papaya, and microcilantro; mini foie gras musubi with mango vanilla chutney; tuna tartare with crisp smashed plantains and truffle soy; and a variety of sushi rolls, such as spicy tuna, dragon, and king crab. Larger plates include whole steamed snapper in a lemon-caper brown-butter sauce; island-style roast pig shank; and a grilled two-pound lobster with mango stuffing.
For first-timers, Atoigue suggests the whole snapper with red rice and peas and sweet plantains, but he says diners can't go wrong with any dish.
"The whole menu is really reflective of Guam," he says. "But for something cool and unique, I’d recommend the forbidden coco loco roll. It's made with forbidden rice, which is really special in Guam. In ancient times, forbidden rice was exclusively reserved for royalty, and any common people eating it could face severe punishment."
On the sweeter side, Hurao features a coconut sundae; pineapple cake with dark rum sauce; and a banana-Nutella lumpia, which is similar to a spring roll but made with banana ice cream, candied hazelnuts, and Nutella chocolate sauce.
"This is the first time I’ve put a whole concept together on my own," he says. "On other projects, I designed a menu based on someone else’s concept. While I had creative freedom, there were also 'staple' dishes. This time, the menu was coming straight from my soul. Every plate I made came from memories. In Guam, you can buy a lot of these things at mom-and-pop stores and at counters. I'm excited to finally get to share it with Miami."
Atoigue says Hurao marks the first Chamorro restaurant on the East Coast. He says friends and family back home are supportive and excited that he's sharing Guam culture on a larger stage.
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"I’m most excited to be the first to do this at an elevated level with food from Guam," he says. "I feel like in a lot of environments, people would look at me like I’m crazy if I said I was doing food from Guam, because it’s not already in the market."
Hurao will be open through June, with the possibility of extension. It offers dinner service daily from 6 to 11 p.m. Valet parking is available. For more information, visit morganshotelgroup.com.