The Proof is on Main.
Last night Geoff and I took a road trip to Louisville to dine at Proof on Main the restaurant at 21c Hotel. The hotel is located on Main Street between the Lousiville Slugger Museum and the Kentucky Center for the Arts. 21c Hotel is a botique hotel and art museum all in one. The lobby and lower level contain gallery spaces displaying the best in uber contemporary art. All of the art is from the 21st Century, meaning it was created in the last eleven years.
The hotel is famous for these Red Penguins they have that are scattered about in different places.
The hotel is also famous for it’s bathrooms which, in addition to the hotel, have won several awards. Beyond the lobby and downstairs gallery spaces there are also art installations in the hallways, the elevators, and the guest rooms. My favorite piece was an interactive digital display near the main elevators. When you walk in front of the image there are digital letters falling from the sky. When the letters encounter an object, like the viewer, they change their falling pattern. If you walk in front of the image the letters bounce of your head. If you open an umbrella in front of the image, as Geoff did, the letters bounce off the umbrella like rain. Very cool.
After exploring the hotel/museum to the fullest and then going for a slightly soggy walk downtown, we entered the restaurant for an art filled dining experience. The restaurant, like the museum, has both permanent and rotating collections of art. The sitting area is arranged in such a way that if you are sitting facing one piece of art you also are looking in a mirror that allows you to see the art behind you. So cool. One of my favorite pieces is this bedazzled walrus.
Do not be fooled, ladies and gentlemen, Proof on Main is more than just fancy glittering walruses and red penguins. It is a fine dining experience. Be forewarned, if you eat there, Mamas will be slapped. Without a doubt.
Let me walk you through it. Proof was named one of Esquire Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in the country. Chef Michael Paley focusses on a fusion of Italian and American Southern cooking. Believe me when I say the combination plays perfectly. When you sit down you are brought a paper wrapped rustic italian loaf of bread–the kind that audibly crackles when you break into it. Starters include and amazing selection of cheeses and house made charcuterie. They specialize in locally procured meats and veg, which, as farmers, Geoff and I are big fans of. We chose to begin our meal with two items from the first course menu. I had the chickpea and country ham fritters and Geoff had the crudo of trigger fish with blood oranges. My starter exemplified an homage to the food of the American South and Geoff’s was a nod to coastal Italy. Both were amazing. I am a big chickpea fan, and this cake was not a letdown. Imagine the protein richness of the best legume ever worked into the consistency of the best mashed potatoes you’ve ever had, combined with the savory saltiness of diced country ham, molded into a cake, pan fried, and topped with seasonal greens and a tangy vinaigrette. It is warm, it is filing, it is comfort food, and you will slap your Momma. In direct contrast Geoff had the crudo–light, citrus soaked fish topped with zesty herbs and avocado slices. Lots of texture, lots of flavor, but incredibly light.
Proof is also a proud purveyor of 50 of Kentucky’s finest bourbons. Geoff and I took the opportunity to sample three of them. The libations menu offers several bourbon flights allowing you to sample three bourbons at a time that are either linked by commonalities in their flavors or by distilleries. We really enjoyed our flight. My appreciation of bourbon and the care and skill it takes to make it increases every day.
For the main dishes, the choices were diverse and delicious. Geoff got the evening’s special, a locally grown bone-in bison tenderloin. I chose the porcini mushroom and leek risotto. When Geoff bit into his bison I saw a single tear drop slowly from his eye, so great was his joy. Seriously, it was damn good meat. I tasted it. My risotto was DEC-A-DENT. Rich creamy, savory, salty, cheesy, and to top it all off, they nested a perfectly cooked egg yolk in the center. Such a treat was the egg yolk that the waitress got nervous when I did not burst it open right away. She came back just to see me do it. Beyond decadent. We glutted. In fact, I am pretty sure there is a circle of Dante’s hell dedicated just to people who have enjoyed that egg yolk. It was sinful. Speaking of sins, we also ordered a side of their famous grits. Geoff said, and I quote, “Those are the best grits I’ve ever had.” That is the highest compliment a boy from Arkansas can pay to a grit.
After all of this decadent dining we were too full for desert. We tried our best, but we were just too full to do it in spite of the fact that they had sticky toffee pudding, one of my favorite deserts ever. Much to our delight, when we were about to pay our bill our waitress brought out my single favorite confection ever, cotton candy! I took the first bight and asked Geoff, “Hey does that taste like cinnamon to you?” To which he promptly replied, “No Linds, that’s Bourbon.” Bourbon cotton candy! I guess I had tasted enough bourbon throughout the evening that my taste buds got a little confused. It was a very cool end of dinner treat.
We had a fabulous night at Proof. It definitely filled a longing I’ve had to see some fabulous art and eat some carefully prepared, thoughtfully crafted food. If you’ve just finished reading this post and you are now hungry, I encourage you to go out to a restaurant in your community. Support a chef. Support a farmer. Support locally owned and operated businesses.