Proof, Verizon Center

When a friend gives you $126 hockey tickets, 10 rows behind the goal, you take them, and then you worry a whole lot less about the cost of parking or dining.

Some valet-parking strategy at Proof: it’s $12 if you dine at the restaurant; it’s $20 for everything else. I told my valet I was going to the hockey game, and then coming back to dine at Proof, and got charged the full $20. If I were to do this over, I wouldn’t have mentioned the hockey game at all.

The first period was everything you could ask for in a hockey game: four goals scored in less than five minutes, three by the caps (Fehr, Johansson, and Laich). Relatively penalty-free playing, but for one rock-em, sock-em brawl that featured Strachen and Neil, pounding the crap out of each other. It was awesome.

Compare and contrast with my 24-ounce can of Miller Lite which, at $11 – yes, $11- was not awesome. Just in case that didn’t sink in, I paid $11 for a can of Miller Lite.

My young dining companion, for whom I set such a fine example, and I ambled back to Proof, and ran into the omnipresent Michael James at the host stand – we beat the crowds and could have gotten a table, but took a high-top at the bar instead. We each ordered two courses: me, an app+entree; him, an app+app.

If Matt’s Sautéed Potato Gnocchi with Autumn Squash & Sage Brown Butter ($15) was a legitimate appetizer portion, then you simply don’t need to get the bigger one at $27. This was right in the middle of app-entree, size-wise, and came with peeled Brussels sprouts, wild Hen of the Woods mushrooms, baby spinach (well-sautéed and coated), and Parmesan. We both agreed that, although it was fabulous gnocchi, it was a touch under salted, so I embarrassed Matt – he’s at that age where I embarrass him just by breathing  - by asking for some coarse salt which was all it needed. This was perhaps a touch more oily than gnocchi I’ve had here in the past, but given this dish’s history of greatness, the bar of comparison is set quite high.

My ample bowl of Gumbo of Shrimp, Oysters, Blue Crab, and Andouille Sausage ($14) was large enough to convince me that the gnocchi was indeed an appetizer portion – these are *large* appetizers, and really priced very gently considering what they are, and where they’re being served. A deep gumbo, with onions, peppers, celery, sassafras, rice, parsley, and scallions – it’s served piping hot – roof-of-the-mouth-goodbye-time hot – and has that deep, long-cooked flavor that gumbo so rarely has in these parts. The three pieces of shrimp were fanned and taut.

The generous portion sizes took a hiatus with the arrival of the Pan Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras ($19) with sweet cherry short cake, pistachio, cocoa nibs, and bing cherry jus. A delicious foie, served atop a silver-dollar sized blini-style pancake, it was accompanied by three bing cherries, and the summation of the cherry bulk was about equal to the size of the foie gras. It was teeny-tiny, and just too precious to drop $19 on – a very good dish that just fell short on the value end of the spectrum.

But this was compensated by my Sautéed Lamb Chops with Ragout of Farro & Lamb Shoulder ($31) – three beautiful chops, presented like the Triplets of Belleville atop pistachios, dried apricots, whipped yogurt (hiding underneath everything), pomegranate, almonds, and sumac. It sounds busy, but this very North African dish utilizes all these components to offset the intensely lamb-y lamb – it’s so refreshing to have lamb that doesn’t taste like beef.

This was a very good showing for Proof which remains the strongest Italic restaurant at Verizon Center (I still haven’t made it to Del Campo, so that’s pending) in the Dining Guide.

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