THE WEEKLY DISHTOM SIETSEMA
Washington Post: Wednesday, November 15, 2006; Page F02
GRAPE EXPECTATIONS: Washington tax lawyer Mark Kuller claims to have hundreds of names in his little black book, but the one that dominates his thoughts these days is Proof. That's the title, plucked from pages of potentials, that the self-described "food freak" plans to put on the 100-or-so-seat restaurant and wine bar he hopes to launch by late March at 701 Eighth St. NW in Penn Quarter.
Proof is "accessible, easy to spell," Kuller explains, and the openness of the name lets him "serve almost anything." Proof also links itself to a major neighborhood attraction: the National Portrait Gallery, whose vast collection of images will be displayed on monitors above the bar.
A frequent flyer and inveterate diner, Kuller plucked design and menu ideas for Proof from such intimate, grape-focused foodie haunts as AOC in Los Angeles, Avec in Chicago and Craft in New York. To staff his project, he looked no further than some of his favorite local dining rooms. Haidar Karoum, the 32-year-old chef at Asia Nora, will head the kitchen. Michael James, the veteran general manager at Teatro Goldoni, will fill that role at Proof. And when Sebastian Zutant returns from California's Russian River Valley, where he has spent three months interning at wineries, the former sommelier at Rasika will be sifting through Kuller's personal wine collection of 7,000 or so bottles, tasting alongside his boss and helping select the labels that Kuller intends to offer at Proof. (We're saving up for the opportunity to sip a vintage or two from Screaming Eagle, the cult California winery, and the owner's '61 Chateau Latour.) Kuller has purchased an Enomatic, from which more than 30 wines by the glass can be measured and poured at the push of a button.
Small plates of mostly Mediterranean flavors, a handful of entrees and a "raw section" of carpaccio, tartare and crudo will make up the menu.
Psst: Fans of Karoum's food at Asia Nora have until New Year's Eve to get their fill.