The wheel spins one more time at One Arts Plaza with Proof + Pantry, an exciting new restaurant taking on the old Commissary spot, with a cool vibe, good food and well-crafted drinks.
This space has seen three tenants come and go since it debuted in 2008: Dali Wine Bar, then John Tesar’s burger restaurant The Commissary, and most recently the ill-fated The Greek, which lasted less than a year.
But the Proof + Pantry team comes with its own dice and, one hopes, following. Co-founders include Sal Jafar II, who’s also behind Driftwood, the seafood restaurant in Oak Cliff, and Michael Martensen, the cocktail wizard previously at Cedars Social and Smyth. Chef is Kyle McClelland, who helped Martensen with the menu at Cedars Social and who also cooked at Driftwood.
If their backgrounds weren’t enough to get them noticed, the restaurant earned an extra shot of publicity in the food blog world after the management refused payment from a reviewer for The Dallas Morning News. (They accepted our payment.)
Controversy aside, we found dinner to be sophisticated and fun, with warm service and whimsical touches from the kitchen.
Like many newer restaurants, the menu at P+P is structured for sharing, with small dishes, plus a few family-size dinners, under a category called “Bulk,” for larger groups. If a whole fish priced at $46 seems expensive, keep in mind that it represents dinner for two.
One night we split a chicken ($44), broken into obvious parts: wing, thigh, drumstick and breast, accompanied by a medley of vegetables tucked under and around the chicken. Finding a stash of tiny mushrooms or a stalk of green asparagus, cut on the diagonal with a sharp, clean edge, became an amusing exploratory game. Every time we thought they were gone, we’d find another pocket with pale white salsify root or a broccoflower floret, cauliflower’s golden-green cousin.
The chicken had a golden, crackling skin, while the texture of the meat was so tender, it was almost creamy.
Smaller plates fall into categories of meat, seafood and vegetables. McClelland is a fan of the “rubble on the plate” look, with food strewn artfully, often in long arrangements that stretch across the plate. There are newly trendy items such as a plate of baby radishes ($10) offset by comforting staples such as a seafood stew ($17) with shrimp, lobster and scallops. A ham tasting ($25) with four kinds of ham seems like a cheeky nod to the bacon tasting served at Knife, the steakhouse by chef and Martensen friend John Tesar.
Sweetbread nuggets ($18) offered tenderness and decadence. The sweetbreads had the faintest crust; though one seemed undercooked and stringy, the rest were soft and mild.
Bone marrow ($19) is a popular new staple, but Proof + Pantry’s version boasted an unduplicated flair. Crisp slices of toast were drizzled with butter, and the marrow itself was as rich and fatty as expected. But a topping of tomato “jam” and chopped hazelnuts added welcome crunch and acidity. There were also dabs of house-made marshmallows, sweet and mellow, flavored with onion and foie gras, and toasted until brown.
After we scraped out all of the marrow, the good-natured server suggested a feature called “the luge.” It entailed his trickling a shot of liqueur — in this case, Fernet, an Italian bitter — down the hollowed-out bone and into the diner’s mouth. This was an amusing trick, for daredevils only; but it surely did clear the palate of any residual fat.
Martensen’s expertise in cocktails is well displayed in drinks such as the pickled cobbler ($11), which tasted exactly as it sounds. With dry sherry, gin, pickling juice (a hot trend) and rhubarb puree, the drink was a revelation: sharp at first, with an aftermath that did taste like cobbler.
The new concept also sports a new interior, and it’s a significant improvement over previous tenants. They’ve shifted the layout on this oddly angular space and improved the flow.
And they’ve nailed the details, with elegant touches like Riedel glassware, not only for wine but for water as well.
Cheers to this team beating the odds.
PROOF + PANTRY
1722 Routh St., Dallas
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday