Neighborhood favorite Kaldi brews its house-roasted coffee strong, but its selection of La Brea Bakery pastries is limited and uninspiring. Sweets For The Soul brews Intelligentsia and makes fantastic brownies, but it's the size of a matchbook and not a comfortable place to linger. Canelé's canelés may be "metaphorical cakes as much as they are actual pastries," but this is a restaurant and one that doesn't take reservations, making it too formal or too busy (especially during the weekend brunch crush) for a casual cup of coffee.
Proof hits the sweet spot, no pun intended, offering a top-notch selection of baked goods and the strong, complex brews of Cognoscenti Coffee.
The pastry case at Proof is an embarrassment of riches. We've yet to try anything on which we didn't immediately want to double-down. The chive and cheddar biscuits along with the gougères (light and chewy cheese-flecked popovers) could -- but probably shouldn't -- be eaten half-a-dozen at a time.
The standout, however, is the strata, a savory bread pudding made with cubes of brioche and house-baked wheat bread soaked in eggs and jazzed up with spinach, caramelized onions and the tang of parmesan. (Chef Crystal White used to make Proof's strata with only brioche but found it made the eggy delight too rich.) Dense yet fluffy, it's served in tidy 3" x 3" cubes, where it remains decadent without becoming overwhelming.
Moist and pungent, the lemon tea cake doesn't suffer a bit because of its vegan provenance. Even the almond cookie, often bland and dry when made by lesser hands, gets an innovative twist with a chewy interior topped by a layer of sharp lemon icing.
Thankfully, the rotating array of (mostly) seasonal pastries has room for perennials like the chocolate caramel tart topped with sea salt. A dark chocolate lid and a delicate crust of chocolate crumbs somehow encases caramel so creamy, you might be tempted to mainline it.
Owner Na Young Ma has brought in formerly roving Yeekai Lim to handle the coffee. Under the Cognoscenti banner and the watchful eyes of one very stylish owl, he pulls San Francisco's coveted Four Barrel Coffee. Look closely at his eyes (the owl's, not Lim's), and you'll notice his sunglasses are actually espresso cups. Never mind the rose-colored worldview. We'll sooth our souls with the balm of a Cognoscenti espresso.