Craft cocktails are like foie gras or caviar in that they inevitably make us feel fancier than we actually are. Every time you order that top-shelf gin or that herb-infused vodka, you're essentially making a statement that you, unlike the plebes who swill well spirits and cheap beer, actually know what good booze is, and can afford it. Whether or not you're actually part of the one percent, ordering cocktails at a place like Proof + Pantry will sure make you feel that way.
To sit at the bar at this One Arts Plaza restaurant is to learn about cocktails via osmosis. Each of the drink-slingers behind the bar are equally knowledgeable, dropping facts on you about the small-batch gin in your gimlet or the artisan bitters that were delicately misted over your glass. These are not discussions that one has in a dimly-lit dive over a bucket of Miller High Life.
The bar staff here also has an uncanny ability to make you forget that you are actually poor, maybe even to your detriment. Even if you're sipping water from those Riedel glasses in shoes that cost less than the menu's most expensive cocktail, you still feel like you actually belong in a restaurant that can get away with charging nearly fifty bucks for a chicken. Or $15 for a drink, for that matter.
The cocktail menu at Proof + Pantry is diverse, but the best entry is a Michael Martensen-crafted daiquiri, the I'm Rich. When the drink initially arrived, in its girly serving glass and wee sidecar, I was confused. To my knowledge, a daiquiri is something that is served in a 32-ounce Styrofoam cup out of a drive-thru window, not a frilly little pink cocktail. And it certainly, most definitely, doesn't have anything called "lime curd" in it.
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I was wrong, as usual. A real daiquiri is much more interesting than those artificially-flavored Technicolor slushies that come from a machine, largely because it's actually made with quality components. The rum used in the I'm Rich is a fancy white rum made by Bacardi, and it's impossibly smooth. After swearing off rum back in college, even the white stuff, this is the kind of cocktail that could make me rethink that policy.
The lime curd, though, is the drink's real star. Made in the restaurant's kitchen, it is both buttery and tangy and adds a silky, rich mouthfeel to the cocktail. After the first sip, I asked the bartender to pour a taste of just the curd, and I could have then proceeded to eat the entire bottle with a spoon. I have more than once contemplated swiping a squeeze bottle of the sweet stuff off the bar, but it's just too bulky to conveniently fit into my purse. I would also, of course, hate to join the restaurant's list of enemies, exclusive as it may be.
The cocktail is finished with a squeeze of housemade grenadine, which adds a lovely pink hue and will immediately make you feel like tipping up your pinky. Freshly-squeezed lime juice drives home the citrusy punch, and depending on the day can certainly result in some pucker. By the end, though, you'll be furiously checking your bank-account balance to make sure you have enough cash to cover another of these $11 cocktails. You also may or may not feel a sudden urge to swing through Neiman Marcus or ship some jobs overseas.
Mostly, though, you will feel fancy and bourgie. Which is exactly the point.