Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Proof: My DC home away from home

I was in DC for work a couple of weeks ago, and having fond memories of Proof from my last visit, I decided to head back. I'll say up front: Proof was even better this time around, so good that I ended up there for dinner two out of my three nights in the city.

First off, the atmosphere is almost insanely welcoming. It's artfully lit, with cozy booths and spacious tables; wine bottles line a floor-to-ceiling room divider; there's a bar area in one corner; and the far corner, near the kitchen, houses a quiet little cheese counter, with a cheesemonger (?) methodically portioning enormous wedges of cheese into cheese-plate-sized hunks.

Oh, and the service-- it's spot-on. My waiter the first night came over to welcome me back the second night I was there, even though my table was not in his jurisdiction. Service is solicitous without being overwhelming; it's knowledgeable and friendly but not intrusive.

Proof is a wine bar, so of course there's wine. A decent selection of wines by the glass includes some unusual varietals (great for my Wine Century Club!) and offers three different sizes: half-glass, full glass, and quartino, all at reasonable prices. During my two visits, I tried a Furmint from Hungary and a Zierflander from Austria, both of which were crisp, delicious, and food-friendly.



Ah, the food. Unlike at a lot of wine bars, the food here isn't an afterthought; there's a full menu, with lots of space devoted to charcouterie and cheeses, yes, but also an ample selection of salads, appetizers, and entrees.

On both my visits, I started with the olives. These are meaty, salty, substantial orbs in a delicious brine flecked with citrus zest and a touch of crushed red pepper. Since the olives are so large, one order is actually a decently-filling appetizer.

Very carefully plated

There's also a bread course of sorts, which is admittedly not Proof's strong point. While the dip-- Greek yogurt with mint, chives, and olive oil-- is addictive and spoon-worthy, the bread is flat, hard, unsalted, and largely flavorless. I understand why this might make a logical bland cracker for a pungent cheese course, but as a stand-alone bread it just doesn't quite work.

Quantity, not quality

But back to the good stuff. I tried two salads during my visit. First: maple-roasted delicata squash with arugula, pecorino, pumpkin seeds, and cider vinaigrette. This was a tasty and pretty hearty salad, with tender squash and some good crunch from the pumpkin seeds. I wished the pecorino had been portioned a bit thicker; as it was, it was so paper-thin it almost melted into the squash and didn't quite get a chance to assert its salty flavor. But overall, this was a good expression of fall on a plate.

Not too sweet

The second night I chose the roasted beets with pea shoots, kaleidoscope carrots, aged goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and sherry mustard vinaigrette (which I'd gotten before). This salad was a really ample portion-- I was unable to finish both this and a full order of olives. The beets were sweet rubies, contrasting nicely with the peppery bite of the pea shoots. I had only two half-carrots in this salad, which was fine with me, since despite being "kaleidoscope" they tasted like normal carrots. The healthy scattering of hazelnuts lent welcome crunch to the mix, and the three small hemispheres of aged goat cheese provided a surprisingly pungent cheesy funk to the mixture. This is a good salad, but it's strong-- the flavors are all assertive, so if you're looking for a mild start to your meal, consider yourself warned.

Buried beets

One of the two evenings, I stayed for dessert. They have some interesting dessert options, including a sticky toffee pudding (which you don't see all that often), but I was looking for something light. One special request later (kindly obliged by both my waiter and the kitchen), and I had a trio of their specialty ice creams. A scoop of gianduja gelato was smooth and hazelnutty; a boule of creme fraiche ice cream was surprisingly tangy and bold; and the orb of coconut sorbet had the appealing shatter-y texture of good sorbet, along with a tantalizing tropical flavor. And the nut cookie providing the garnish added some welcome heft to the dish.

Smooth, creamy, and neutral

I love Proof. It's the kind of place that makes me want to own a wine bar someday, someplace that is cozy and welcoming (even to a solo diner), takes pride in its food, and offers a diverse selection of wines that allow people to try something different without laying out too much cash. Last year, Proof earned four Offset Spatulas from me, and this year it effortlessly retains that rating. You can bet that next time I'm in the area, I'll be back.

775 G Street NW

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