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Food Dude

May 10, 2012
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Proof’s in the kitchen

By Jim Duncan

Deconstructed beet salad at Proof, 1301 Locust St., 244-0655. Hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Spring brought renewal to the local food industry this year. Some of it was obvious like Eastern Buffet replacing Joseph’s Steak House and Host following Flour, both after considerable remodeling. Other things bloomed subtly, like Proof changing hands without missing a single meal.

Carly Groben built a considerable reputation there the last three years, including a nod from the James Beard Foundation as one of the top young 20 chefs in America. She plans to travel in Central America now and sold both Flour and Proof, the latter to Sean Wilson and Zach Mannheimer. Carolinian Wilson is a chef of considerable skills, having worked in the kitchens of renowned chefs in New York and Seattle before running Azalea, Kirkwood Lounge and Cuatro in Des Moines. New Yorker Mannheimer served as maitre d’ and sommelier at Embassy Club before organizing the Des Moines Social Club. They hired Hal Jasa, well known here as the Underground Chef and owner of Zingaro.

They bring camaraderie to this 64-seat café. Wilson and Jasa founded Boucherie, a two-year-old, weekend-long celebration of whole animal cooking. Mannheimer worked for Jasa at Zingaro and Jasa for Mannheimer at DMSC. Most impressively, they’ve restrained themselves from making big changes to a popular menu that was heavily influenced by Groben’s earlier travels in North Africa.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” explained Jasa.

Their lunch menu looked much as it did before, with three salads, five sandwiches (served ironically on unproofed breads) and five grain dishes. What did change was the method of preparation — all lunch dishes are made “à la minute” (prepared to order, rather than being prepped in advance and held for service). Flatbreads changed, too, to resist breaking apart in ones hands.

I particularly appreciated the “à la minute” approach with a Moroccan chicken sandwich, something I rarely order because prepped chicken is almost always overcooked. Proof delivered a juicy breast, heavily spiced and served with a sauce of caramelized onions, tomatoes, arugula and raisins. A bowl of tomato soup was filled with black cous cous and sausage. A merguez (lamb) sandwich delivered scratch made sausage.

The new crew is expanding Proof’s dinner service, to both Friday and Saturday nights for now, perhaps a third night soon. The menu changes weekly to keep the chefs interested. All dinners are fixed price, three course meals ($35, $50 with wine pairings). Stand out first courses recently featured rghaif, a popular North African street food. Fried semolina dumplings were stuffed with lamb and accompanied by ratatouille and freshly minted yogurt. A gorgeous, deconstructed beet salad presented various colored beets, beet puree, balsamic marshmallows, fresh micro greens, chevre and pistachios. An equally lovely pâté plate was served with mustard, puree of asparagus, micro greens and a quail egg yolk. A galantine of roasted chicken delivered seared and boned chicken coated with vadouvan (curry) spices on a bed of quinoa, with carrot puree and baby carrots of many colors. An outstanding dessert presented a hazelnut dacquoise with burnt honey ice cream, fresh poached pears and freshly whipped cream. Cheese flights were served in three sizes for an extra charge.

Side Dishes

Glenda Reiling won the Food Feud for a Cause challenge with a theatrical sweet potato mousse in a spun sugar nest with candied corn and chocolate ganache. She spun her sugar on a ladder to create “angel tears” and much applause. The event was held at Lotus Moments Events Center, a unique facility that does not charge additional fees to cater your own event, or for using a “non-preferred cater.” CV

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