That lovely spot on the corner of Franklin and Tupper, which has been through a few transformations and a few names has finally opened last month as Buffalo Proper. The restaurant is the result of many talented folks combining their efforts to create a proper spot in the heart of Buffalo. Among them, cocktail genius Jon Karel and esteemed chef, Edward Forster and many of the team from a sister spot in Rochester, The Revelry.
It was a sunny late summer evening and some friends & I began our dining experience at Buffalo Proper after being tempted by the menu a week prior (see here). The “proper” cocktails we enjoyed that evening were fantastic and the intriguing menu compelled us to get a date on the calendar to dine, so we made a reservation to come back.
We arrived to a thriving bar crowd and were instantly greeted by our smiling bartender, Donny. He is beloved by many in the proverbial Buffalo bar & restaurant scene and everyone seemed to know him that night. A good bartender will make you feel like you have been friends forever and the gang at BP certainly has this down. The Mr. Mule, BP’s version of a Moscow Mule, is a crisp vodka cocktail made with their strawberry-basil shrub, ginger beer & fresh basil. The fragrant basil garnishing the ice, cold copper mug makes every sip a feast for the senses while the drink is not overly sweet or unbalanced; truly a proper cocktail. I didn’t know what to order but felt like wine, so Donny recommended the French chardonnay. He admitted that it needed to be a bit colder, so once I agreed with the suggestion, the bottle was promptly put on ice for me. I discovered that my wine glass was a little murky, as if it needed a little more jet dry or something. I am a bit of a stickler for this but didn’t notice until the sun hit it.
The beer offerings are an assemblage of some local and regional brews, as well as hand picked brews from around the country. The wine list consists of interesting selections with a fab cab, temparnillo, French chardonnay, txakolina and a dry muscat. The beverage list is very thoughtful and complements the menu, while offering a variety to the diners. The vibe at the main bar downstairs is sophisticated but lively. The bartenders pour up a ton of fun and know how to keep a smile on everyone’s face without the attitude you may find in some watering holes with a similar concept.
Through the bar there is an open view peek at the kitchen and we noticed it was rapidly getting busier. So we moved our party upstairs to sit to dinner. The primary dining space is on the second floor, which is surrounded by cozy brick walls and an open view down to the lower bar. Buffalo Proper has another small bar upstairs, which feels a little like a super secret drinking spot to escape the world and have a cocktail. The wrap around balcony is a perfect place to have a sunset drink or share some small plates before a show. I also think that in the cold months to come, it will be a comfy dining spot to hunker in with some good eats. We sat by a giant window with a gorgeous view of the setting sun and ordered wine from our server, Kristin.
The menu is one page packed full of flavors and it is very hard to choose. Kristin, as well as another server, Jack recommended some plates for us to try. Both were well spoken and knowledgeable about the menu, so we heeded their suggestions and ordered several of them. Our first few plates came together, as we agreed to have the chef send them out, as they were prepared and ready.
We began with one of my favorite dishes of the evening, Elotes Corn Soup. The bowl was presented to us and it resembled an artist’s palette with little carefully placed components of cotija cheese, lemon tapioca, spiced mayonnaise and a huitlacoche flan. Huitlacoche is an ancient Aztec delicacy made from fungus on corn ears and has a pungent earthy mushroom flavor. It is rarely seen anywhere in the US and a personal favorite. The silky, corn potage came separately in a little pichet and was poured over the painterly dollops. We were encouraged to stir it up and let the flavors infuse the soup. It was very tasty and really well done.
Next we had the Vegetables: Shaved, Roasted, Pickled & Cooked, and it could more simply be called “Fiesta.” It was literally a party of vegetables that seemed to be dancing on the plate. The roasted, grilled and pickled vegetables were artfully assembled with a colorful mix of seeds, flowers & herbs, then finished with a verjus yogurt. The unripened grape juice enhanced the natural tartness of the yogurt to add a little more depth to the plate. With so much happening on the plate, the dish as a whole was remarkably clean & bright tasting.
The third dish we tried was the Baby Gem Lettuces salad. “Baby” or “little gem” lettuces are an heirloom lettuce believed to be native to France but currently the rage among foodie establishments these days. The little gem is in the romaine family but it’s own lettuce variety. The lettuce on our salad seemed to be too large to be little gem but could have been an older head. The byrrh dressing (yes, the consistency of the craft cocktail concept shines through in their menu) was really delicious and the ham & cheese breadcrumbs worked well. We all agreed that the salad was very good but two of us thought the dressing application seemed a bit heavy handed. However, it was so good that if I could have, I would have scraped half off the salad and taken it home to enjoy another day.
We followed the salad with Pinot Noir Poached Painted Meadow Egg. There was so much going on in this dish that I thought for sure it would be too much. It was a potato “hash” layered with flavors of oyster mushroom earthiness, red miso, pickled ramps and a pesto from allium tops. I was corrected as we broke into the egg and began to taste it. The poached egg was perfect to top the dish because the yolk cascaded over it like lava and mixed well with the flavors. We all agreed to add a little salt to it but definitely enjoyed the plate.
Our next dish arrived: 5 oz Grilled Wild Sturgeon, yes sturgeon is back and offered on menus again. This one we were told was from the Oregon coast. The fish was nicely grilled and served on a bed of frisee with a puddle of delicious Steampunk vinaigrette. It was garnished with shaved apples, raw shallots and celery. It was fragrant and clean tasting but seemed to be missing something. Maybe the other plates were so flavorful that our palates were too seasoned for its lovely simplicity.
Our last two plates came out and both were presented beautifully. We first tried the Bourbon-Brined Spadgecocked Oles Chicken. The crispy, salty chicken skin was exactly what we were looking for and the hay smoked potatoes added dimension to the plate. The truffled rocket puree and roasted corn were just enough to compliment the half hen and smokey spuds. We lapped up every morsel on this plate and licked our fingers not to miss anything.
We also ordered the 9 oz Hanger Steak to appease me, as I am a huge fan of the hanging tender. I have been looking for it on menus and in butcher shops in this area since I moved back a year ago but rarely find it anywhere. If it is prepared correctly, I think it is better than any filet or rib eye. BP held up its end and served us a perfectly trimmed, deliciously cooked hanger steak. The savory meat was served with some remarkable roasted carrots and a bed of black quinoa.
Lastly, we had a lovely plate of fine Spanish cheeses, apricot preserves and toast points. It was the perfect end to our proper meal with proper service. Add Buffalo Proper to your list, in fact, move it to the top.