We want our guests to feel like this is a second home — somewhere they naturally want to go,” says Michael Martensen of Proof + Pantry, the new restaurant he co-owns with Sal Jafar II in One Arts Plaza. Here, they recreate the comfort of coming home and sitting down in mom’s kitchen, with pantry basics and produce in easy reach (but tucked into crates in lieu of kitchen cabinets). The relaxed atmosphere belies the rather sophisticated dishes on the menu.
You might recognize Martensen and Jafar from Misery Loves Co., the hospitality group they formed less than a year ago when they took over management at Driftwood in Oak Cliff. In keeping with the “Company” part of the name, they have big plans: “Our goal,” Martensen says, “is to create new drinking and eating experiences in Dallas and hopefully, in years to come, other parts of the state and country.”
Martensen (who has been hailed as one of the bartenders who propelled Dallas from mediocre mixed drinks to full-fledged craft cocktails) has a rich background in the city’s mixology scene, hearkening back to his days as barman at The Mansion on Turtle Creek before he opened Cedars Social and Smythe. The word “Proof” comes from the days when pirates traded rum in the Caribbean; they would test a liquor’s proof by lighting it on fire. Martensen and bar manager Josh McEachern divide their drinks menu into three categories. No Proof consists of nonalcoholic beverages, such as celery juice and cucumber dill sodas; Low Proof includes aperitifs and fortified wines, such as Jafar’s favorite, Livin’ in Paradise, with dry curacao and bitter lemon soda. High Proof is where it really gets interesting, with Martensen incorporating his favorite flavors, such as pastis and bitter herbs. And when you belly up to this bar, expect to see familiar faces: Proof already has a devoted following — and that’s management’s goal. “We build relationships with our guests, peers and workers, almost like we all become one big family,” Martensen says.
As for the “Pantry” side of the name … The artful backdrop of One Arts Plaza has inspired executive chef Kyle McClelland to construct a modernized take on classic French foods with Asian influence. Before joining Misery Loves Co., he was executive chef at the Michelin-starred Caviar Russe in NYC and consulted at The Morgan in Brooklyn. He was also executive chef at The Cedars Social. Every step of his culinary background is sprinkled throughout Proof’s menu. “We have a modern rustic style here at Proof — some comfort, some edgy and New Age,” he says. “Over all, I just want to create a memorable experience for our guests.”
The menu — divided “By Soil,” “By Land” and “By Sea” — begins with inventive salads such as butter-dipped baby radishes nestled on crumbled rye bread and puffed amaranth and quinoa. Cauliflower is brilliantly highlighted by roasting rainbow florets, pan-frying stalks, pureeing them with mozzarella and topping with shaved black truffles. Besides the standard charcuterie platter, other standout meat dishes are the bone marrow foie gras with hazelnut Gremolata and the sharable ribeye. Heading off-shore, McClelland’s fondue tart enfolds smoked salmon roe and housemade honey crème fraiche in a puff pastry, topped with American caviar, while fresh mint and Cambodian greens garnish the whole fried red snapper. Finish your meal by indulging in a dark chocolate and passionfruit pavlova — you won’t regret it.
Martensen and Jafar hope that Proof + Pantry will attract not only the arts crowd grabbing a bite before a show but also hipsters who are looking for a proper drink in an inspiring atmosphere. Proof + Pantry, 214.880.9940, proofandpantry.com.