Vegetarian Restaurant Review: Proof
Part of my New Year’s resolution this year is to be more consistent and organized in my writing pursuits, which involves a more consistent approach to the blog. On Fridays, I plan to post quick reviews of restaurants we have recently ventured. These reviews can be useful to my non-vegetarian readers as well, since a chef who considers a vegetarian dish a valuable enterprise will treat all plates with care. Not only will the reviews discuss the quality of a meal and eating experience, but they can help you take your significant other, family member, random out of town guest, who happens to be a vegetarian, to a fantastic meal.
From five star restaurants to neighborhood diner, I find that it is helpful to know whether restaurants offer healthy and tasty vegetarian food. Unlike Anthony Bourdain’s famous breakdown of vegetarian restaurant fair in his book Kitchen Confidential, where he explains that vegetarians shouldn’t exist, I believe that a restaurants approach to vegetarian fare can reveal a chefs true talents. Creating interesting and tasty vegetarian meals means the chef must consider the ingredients, and give care. It is simple to make a meat and then sauce it, however, it is a bigger challenge to take vegetables and create an original meal. Additionally, a chef who considers the vegetarian is wise to a simple fact: the vegetarian eater is the game changer, not just a seat at the table. As Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote Eating Animals, reports, marketing research shows that vegetarians are the determinate vote for eating out. If a vegetarian can’t eat at a restaurant, the group will move on to find a place they can eat, a vegan more so. If my best friend from college, who is vegan, can’t eat at a restaurant, our entire group finds a place she can enjoy a good meal. A small choice to eat more humanely can move a dozen people away from a restaurant, or towards another. The trick is, through making fantastic vegetarian food, the restauranteur can have the group return and loyalty spikes. Vegetarians are incredibly loyal to businesses who support their cause. For this reason, a great website, VegDC tracks vegetarian friendly restaurants in DC, and their favorites place stickers in the door. Voted THE most veg-friendly city in the country by PETA, DC abounds with wonderful opportunities for the vegetarian to cast their own eating vote.
In the last ten years, restaurants in DC have also dramatically changed. Formerly, a place of steakhouses and a favorite place for the New York Times to slam (don’t get me started on a more recent review where the writer clearly only tried a few greasy lunch places next to the capitol, didn’t even try food in the real city, and claimed that it was representative), DC is now booming with diverse and delicious eats. Additionally, because the international population, as well as a large Vietnamese/Korean/Ethiopian/Middle Eastern immigrant base, influences the city, the city abounds with unique restaurants. For many reasons, the city is a dramatically different place from when my mother moved here from New York, when my grandparents thought it was a sleepy backward town, full of blue laws and segregation. Now, it is diverse, young, and flooding with people who see the city as a destination in itself, not a mode to politics. For this reason, along with a stable job and housing markets, wonderful restaurants pop up every week.
AAM and I really enjoy a good meal at a nice restaurant, and we loyally support our city’s new efforts in cuisine. Generally starting with the rule “If Maureen can make it, we don’t eat there”, we built our own relationship trying wonderful restaurants in the city, and food is a big focus in our travels. However, it is hard to know what restaurants serve vegetarians well. On a recent trip, one local restaurant, to be reviewed later, claimed to make wonderful vegetarian food, and served me 4 gnochi as a meal- the only item on the menu. We starting using Yelp to help us decide, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand which restaurants are truly vegetarian friendly, and which offer one pasta dish. I find that even places supported by VEG DC offer lackluster vegetarian options. If we are going to pay a babysitter, make the effort to put on something better than yoga pants, drive into the city, find parking, and pay good money for a dish, I would like it to be better than something I could make. Just a small request, since soggy pasta is not worth getting out of yoga pants. For this reason, my quest is to find places that are not just vegetarian friendly, but treat the vegetarian dish as equal to meat dishes.
We went to Proof after a Georgetown basketball game, and not quite dressed to eat at such a nice place. However, the staff remained gracious and quickly seated us. Looking at the menu, the seven appetizers were all fantastic choices, and could easily serve as main courses. I ordered the vegetarian main- Napoleon of Tofu, Wild Mushrooms, and Autumn Vegetables. One of the most beautiful plates I have ever been served, the meal was as delicious as it looked. Tofu is a real test of a chef. It can be served soggy and over marinated, an after thought. However, at Proof the tofu was the star. A sweet chili-garlic sauce added tremendous flavor to the perfectly cooked tofu, which pan fried had delicious texture. I am not confident that I could ever repeat such a fantastic balance in my own cooking. This should not be a surprise to me, as the executive chef, Haidar Karoum, worked at the famed Restaurant Nora, which was a leader in the organic movement. Karoum takes care with his ingredients, and each vegetable tasted fresh and scrumptious. The meal remained one of the most delicious meals I have enjoyed in a long time. With an endless wine list, including multiple $10,000 bottles–which we kept joking with the waiter about buying, the meal was a perfect special occasion.