I came very close to booting Proof off the list after a recent bad experience. Allow me to explain. I had just ordered the seared Pennsylvania pork loin with radicchio and caramelized onion risotto and was searching for assistance from sommelier Sebastian Zutant on what to pair with chef Haidar Karoum’s entree. Zutant suggested a Burgundy blend. But when I followed my first peppery bite of pork with the wine, I experienced a sensation not unlike breathing in hot acrid smoke. The back of my tongue felt seared. With each subsequent swallow of Burgundy, I felt as if I were pouring gasoline onto Karoum’s fire, rather than adding a tart hit of fruit to my seared pork loin, the classic combination that Zutant no doubt intended. At first I considered this a breakdown on all fronts—chef, kitchen, sommelier—but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the entire experience could be blamed on a simple problem: too many grinds of a pepper mill. It happens. The thing is, it had never happened before in Karoum’s kitchen, which has been a stellar performer in my experience, turning out inventive dishes that easily cross cultures without crossing up your palate. This is one case in which I felt a pass was both necessary and justified.

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