The proof may be in the pudding, but at midtown Miami’s latest indie breakout, it’s in the pasta and pizza.
The staff at Proof is as warm as the smell of just-risen dough while the space is equally inviting. Inside the single-story, gray box adorned with graffiti monsters, the wooden tables and wood-fire smoke spell cozy. Outside, twinkly lights and hibiscus hedges make a perfect setting.
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Well, the metal seats could benefit from some cushions. But this place gives me hope that Miami can sustain a solid, casual spot that has nary a leaf of kale nor square of pork belly on its menu.
Instead, though its name features pizza and pasta, this adorable newcomer also deals in stunningly balanced, non-carby fare served in refreshingly small portions. You will not see patrons leaving with doggy bags.
The refinement is courtesy of chef partners Justin Flit and Matt DePante, both graduates of the French Culinary Institute. These expertly trained but low-key guys have quickly succeeded in what they set out to do: serve local food at reasonable prices in a cozy space.
But first and perhaps most remarkable is that they somehow found some of Miami’s sweetest and most competent waiters, who are at once knowledgeable and thoroughly lacking in attitude.
Our multiple visits found us cheered on by handsome guys who handled the simple paper menu as if they had been trained at Lutèce. Each one offered to bring us tastes of different wines and locally crafted beers, in addition to providing their own confident tasting notes. The abbreviated and moderately priced wine list offers mostly Italian grapes with nearly as many by-the-glass as bottle choices.
Huge sheets of hand-hewn pappardelle are suffused with the earthy flavor of silken porcini mushrooms but lifted with a hint of acidic sherry vinegar in the subtle sheen of a jus-like sauce that is as light as lace. Just-made angel hair lives up to its name with its gossamer texture brought down to earth with crab meat and chile oil and a bright lemon-zest zing.
Farfalle is likewise served in proper Italian proportions with a hearty beef Bolognese that embraces a nice hit of fresh basil and a comforting smear of ricotta.
A farro salad with chewy bits of the ancient grain is balanced with snappy pops of pomegranate seeds and salty nibs of cracked pistachio fruit. A leathery strip of duck prosciutto was the only real misstep of the night.
Gorgeously charred octopus with squid ink on a bed of celery root salad is one of the best I have sampled.
Brussels sprouts are shaved in a stunning mountain of green, peppered with crumbled blue cheese, sour dried cranberries and salty toasted pecans. A peppery salad with infant arugula leaves pops with its cherry tomatoes sliced into quarters, slivers of ricotta salata and the lemony crunch of aggressively seasoned breadcrumbs.
The sourdough-based pizzas, thrown from double-zero Caputo brand Italian flour are scorched to bubbly black in the 900-degree oven that burns cherry and oak logs. The toppings, including fennel sausage and broccoli rabe along with housemade mozzarella cheese, are pristine. The crispy edges could use a bit more salt, and the center of the pies tend toward soggy.
Shredded oxtail pizza with caramelized onions and black garlic — a bestseller, according to our New York-accented waiter — is the stuff cravings are made of. The classic red, green and white Neapolitan Margherita is lovely too.
Grown-up desserts from pastry chef Malcolm Prude are simple and well-composed. A perfect ice cream sandwich of airy, Champagne-flavored macaron enveloping chewy-creamy ice cream is a marvel.
Despite some great food and even better service, the novice Proof team still has a bit of work to do — invest in some cushions, for one, and really dial in the pizza consistency. Still, this is one of my favorite new restaurants of the (past) year.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter: @VictoriaPesceE.