Proof Valentine’s Tasting Menu

Usually when ordering from a tasting menu or when given limited choices, I order according to my omnivore preference: when I’m choosing between meat and a dish without meat, the meat dish gets the vote, generally with only a cursory glance at the vegetarian dish. Usually, this ordering preference serves me well. With meat comes fat, and with fat comes flavor. Like Anthony Bourdain, I find a special, guilty pleasure in savoring fat and guts. Vegetarians and shy eaters really don’t know what their missing.

So when Jay and I sat down in Proof for Valentine’s Day, seated beside a wall of wine bottles in the darkly and romantically lit dining room, I was tempted to order from the main menu instead. Although Jay and I have visited Proof before, it has never been for dinner, only wine, and when I laid eyes on such favorites as seared fois gras and pork belly on the main menu, the tasting menu didn’t look as adventurous. Nevertheless, we had made reservations at Proof for the sole purpose of having the Valentine’s Tasting Menu and wine pairing, and Jay reassured me that we would return soon, so I closed the main menu with difficulty, secretly lusting for a perfectly seared goose liver.

The first few courses of the tasting menu dilineated between a vegetarian and fish choice. Salad with endive? No thanks, I think I’ll have seared scallops instead. Gnocchi with mushrooms? Thanks, but no thanks, I think I’ll go with the tilefish. Third course was easy, beef tenderloin over another fish. With every selection, the waitress assured me that I was making good choices, that they were excellent, and when Jay ordered the other choices (except for the beef), I felt assured that I would get the better dishes of the two of us. Sinking back into my chair, drinking my sparklign blanc de blanc, I smiled a secret smile that my meal would be better.

First course: seared scallops with chile sauce. The scallops were cooked perfectly, with a nice brown sear and good texture, but the rest of the dish was pretty watery, almost a bore, with the chile sauce adding more color than flavor. My wine pairing, furthermore, was the most subtle, nearly tasteless wine I think I’ve ever had. I was a little disappointed. And Jay’s dish of endive and bleu cheese, paired with a sweet reisling? Absolutely delishious. Furthermore, his wine pairing was more playful, with the reisling singing after a rich and creamy bite of the bleu cheese.

Second course: tilefish, over what looked to be some kind of vegetable stew. This, again, was a little disappointing, and I found myself adding salt an pepper to the dish after a few bites, something I don’t remember ever doing at a restaurant before. Jay’s dish of gnocchi again outmatched mine. The gnocchi was so pillowy and creamy, almost etherial, that I decided the cook had made a deal with the devil. The one good thing about my dish was the wine pairing, a pinot noir from the Russian River Valley that thankfully was not too sour like most pinots I’ve had recently.

Third dish I finally landed a good choice, with the first truely rare stead I’ve had in a long time. The sides of spinach and mashed potatoes were wonderful, and I was a little sad the the steak was as small as it was.

For dessert I chose a trio of sorbets, pineapple, coconut, and strawberry. I was a little apprehensive when the waitress told me about the tropical flavors, but each was exquisite, and the slightly bubbly wine pairing was an exceptional match to the sorbets. Jay got the cheese plate, again a trio, a blue cheese, manchego, and another creamy cheese, accompanied with dates, homemade apple sauce, and the best honey I have ever tasted. Jay and I each shared our desserts, and it was a lovely way to finish off the meal. We loved the cheese so much that we decided that the next time we come to proof, we will each get an appetizer and share a cheese and charcuterie plate. No watery or boring dishes.

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