I had a hunch it would be good. Proof’s new co- owners, sommelier Zachary Mannheimer and chef Sean Wilson, have made a name for themselves as two of the city’s creative culinary and cultural entrepreneurs, so it was safe to assume the restaurant’s new bar and added menu would offer up some surprise and delight.
The scene: Buzzing. My husband and I grabbed the last two of eight seats at the polished concrete bar on a busy Friday night — just its second weekend in operation. Mannheimer and his team greeted us immediately, providing water, asking what we usually like to drink, and describing the exotic ingredients that make up their craft cocktails.
What we drank: My husband went with Mannheimer’s favorite, the Harrison tonic ($8), and my stolen sip became an obsession until I could finish the drink I’d ordered and get my hands on one of my own. Crafted with house-made celery syrup, lemon juice and bourbon, this julep makes its introduction with a bright and pleasantly grassy flavor that lingers as the bourbon throws down its distinctive caramel bite in a delicious challenge for big-dog status.
My pick, the Bramble ($8), featured house-made wild- berry-infused gin, lemon juice and honey syrup. Dark and mysterious, sweet and tangy, it took me miles from my usual gin and tonic and offered a tasty surprise in its ice-packed Mason jar: Three house-brandied cherries.
My husband’s next choice, the Moroccan bootlegger ($7), was another showstopper, with its exotic, earthy-fresh mix of herb-infused Campari, silver rum, spicy velvet falernum (lime, almonds, cloves), rose vermouth (citrus, vanilla), and lemon juice.
What we ate: The duo made Proof’s menu 100 percent à la carte, and it’s available to anyone at the bar. We focused on appetizers and the new $hits and Giggles menu, which offered four affordable options at $5-$7.
I started with roasted bone marrow ($10). Three cut bones arranged artfully on a narrow white plate, the marrow stayed piping hot as we scooped it out and spread it on flatbread with its tasty accoutrements: red onion marmalade and a parsley/preserved lemon salad. My husband’s pick, Angus sliders ($5), took the rich little burgers into new culinary territory with tangy Mediterranean Mahon cheese and a sweet and zesty combination of pickled relish and spiced ketchup.
P.E.I. mussels ($8) won our vote as the night’s best. They’re served in a rich broth spiced with harissa, an African hot chili sauce, as well as spicy Spanish chorizo, preserved lemon, cilantro and rich and garlicky aioli. Wilson stopped by to see how we liked it, describing its heat level as “Des Moines sensibility.” We also sampled the house-marinated olives ($6), served with salted Marcona almonds and quince jam.
And then there was the Harissa caramel popcorn ($5), a spicy-sweet munchable that has ruined kettle corn for me .
Cocktail napkin review: Urbane and inspired, Proof’s new bar has it all: sparkling downtown views, a big-city range of creative cocktails, artful small plates, attentive service. I’m telling everyone I know — with one reservation: As word spreads, I’ll be forced to share its culinary magic carpet ride.
Find it: 1301 Locust St., 244-0655
When: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner menu 5-10 p.m., $hits and Giggles menu available until close Wednesday through Saturday.
Proof on a Dime
To get the most mileage for your money at Proof, take advantage of Craft Happy Hour (5-7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday), when craft cocktails are $5 and selected bar snacks are free. Happy hour prices:
P.E.I. mussels… $8
Angus Sliders… $5
Harissa caramel popcorn… Free