Well, I am definitely late to this party. Chef Carly Groben’s Proof is an interesting restaurant to write about. I say it is interesting because it is hard to review a restaurant that has been thoroughly reviewed by others who are far more knowledgeable and esteemed than I. In the event that a reader has managed to miss all of the hoopla (2010 James Beard Foundation “Rising Star Chef of the Year”, Food & Wine Magazine’s “The People’s Best new Chef Runner-Up”), I will follow the well-blazed trail and offer up my own thoughts, even if those thoughts do not rise to the level of a “review.”
Before I dive in, I will mention that a thought I have about all of this publicity is that it is proof that other places are taking the chef-owned restaurant scene in Des Moines very seriously, maybe more seriously than the natives take it. It also starts a mostly healthy debate about what makes a great restaurant, who is the best chef, who has the best pizza, or even who has the best variety of food offerings. Whatever the debate here in Des Moines, it is clear that Carly Groben’s Proof is hitting all of the right notes among the food industry elite.
I had not been to Proof since shortly after it opened (to quite a bit of buzz even then as I recall). I remember being interested in the place not so much for the food as I wanted to see what the owner of the Arlington Apartments had done with the building. I had (and still have) a continued disbelief that despite the determined and forceful efforts of many, the City of Des Moines had failed to get the Arlington Apartments building torn down as part of the Western Gateway build-out. In retrospect, it was a good thing that both the Arlington Apartments and the Temple for the Performing Arts escaped the wrecking ball. The look of the Temple continues to grow on me, though I have to say that the Arlington Apartments building still looks out of place. There is a peculiar emptiness all around it – like a single picket in a picket fence.
By now you are probably wondering when I’ll ever get around to writing about the food. OK, here it is. As I mentioned, I had visited Proof not long after it first opened. I don’t recall what I ordered, but I left with that continued hunger that certain classy restaurants leave me with due to their petite portions. I also recall that the food was arranged in some artsy way (not that this is bad), so my initial impression was that this was a good place for the Red Hat Society crowd. After my second visit, I can safely report that this initial impression no longer applies.
We ordered two lunch dishes, both off the $10 flatbread list. The vegetable felafel was very tasty and hit the spot despite not having any meat. The dish does fit neatly within the Mediterranean concept for its cuisine without being heavy and overly spicy.
I ordered the lamb burgers. The meal was reminiscent of a gyro, but better. The center of the lamb burger seemed to ooze with a cucumber yogurt and the Bulgar wheat was a good counterpoint. The topping looked like thousand island, but it was not. It was a more of a sour cream base. The color might have been some sort of spice. Both meals were served with a cranberry and curried almond salad.
The decor of the place is tidy and spare. It lends a very clean look to the place. I don’t think an ant could find a place to hide in the dining room. Service was brisk and highly efficient and reflects the nature of the place. The decor stands as a counterpoint to the highly flavored and rich food which I might usually expect to be served in a darker restaurant complete with middle-eastern decorations (like Open Sesame in the East Village).
I guess I can see how the restaurant won some awards as it is a fairly unique interpretation of Mediterranean food, which has too often gotten smothered in same-tasting bowls of chopped up lamb meat. Couple that interpretation of an ethnic cuisine with the fact that this is Des Moines, which to uninformed outsiders might be associated with mashed potatoes and corn-fed steak and, to top it off, served in space that looks to be more at home serving Danish food (whatever that is). OK, I can see it. And the food is very good. I’m still puzzled how the place got as many national raves as it did. Could it be the proximity to the lunchtime crowd from a certain downtown major print publisher? I can see that. In the end, it does not matter what other people think (or what I think), you have to try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Open for lunch Monday thru Friday 11-2
and for dinner on Fridays 5-10 p.m.