Restaurant Notes extra: Proximo on fire, at least our first taste of its food proves

The fried egg-topped Crab Chilaquiles tasted like a winner for an appetizer with pieces of crab, housemade tortillas, tomatillo salsa, pickled red onion, sliced radishes, cilantro and queso fresco. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
The views outside the window make for perfect people-watching at Proximo. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Our friend, cilantro-adverse, had the coriander removed from her Crab Coriander Salad and substituted in the mimosa dressing. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Proximo's interior includes striped fabric booths. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
The Salmon Salad had nice citrusy flavor. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
The Black Bean Torta's patatas bravas have heat to them. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
(Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Proximo, 898 S. Harrison St. , has a private dining area. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Kitchen staff get out orders Thursday afternoon at Proximo, 898 S. Harrison St. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Thursday proved a great day for outdoor dining at Proximo, 898 S. Harrison St. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

Our mouth was happily heated about 15 minutes after we took our last bite at Proximo, which opens to the public Monday.

We were invited to try breakfast, lunch or dinner at the soft opening Thursday, so we chose lunch and took a friend, to maximize our taste experience.

In terms of light, the Latin American restaurant has no bad seat. This sunny day bright light poured in from both the Harrison and Wayne street sides. We found a bonus to eating there. It serves as a perfect spot for people watching.

We parked in the attached garage, a major convenience, with a 3-hour limit, which should be plenty of time for even dinner guests. Unlike our trip to Ruth’s Chris Steak House last month, which has a large sign for an entrance inside and is close to the garage’s entrance, we walked to the opposite side and through some Skyline Plaza doors, which still listed the Golden as an occupant.

We gave our name at the desk just outside the dining room’s entrance, now devoid of the Golden’s fish motif. We could hear a large crowd inside made up of the many friends, acquaintances and business associates of the BakerStreet partners, who operate Proximo. The name is Spanish for “next.” The group also owns BakerStreet on North Clinton Street and Hoppy Gnome and Gnometown, both on the bottom floor of the Anthony Wayne Building at 203 E. Berry St.

James Khan, one of the owners, has described the restaurant as filling the need for business meetings, especially at breakfast. The private dining room, where the Find retail shop once operated, now has seating for about 30, with tables that look like they can be expanded, and a flat-screen that likely can be used for presentations.

The few customers we talked to raved about the food during our visit. We kept eyeing the bright yellow drinks in the Tom Collins glasses at another table. As the group left we asked what they had and they told us they were fabulous-tasting Ron Collins, which in Cuba can be made with lemon or lime, white rum, sugar and club soda. “The wine is good too,” a woman said.

Guests who ate at the Golden, a farm-to-fork restaurant that operated in the space until November, will notice the wall for wine that the Golden had remains. However, the choices now include Uruguayan and Spanish varieties. The open kitchen fascinated our friend for its length.

It was 1 p.m. when we arrived and we were a bit jealous that a large group got patio seating. Our friend mentioned the din in the main dining area. It wasn’t until an hour into our lunch, when the room had thinned out, that we realized music was playing, just as it was in the empty private dining room.

Anna arrived amid the black-garbed wait staff with our menus and told us the special of the day. She pointed out if dishes were vegetarian or vegan or spicy. We had some blips with service, but we won’t comment on that. It’s not fair because the kitchen and wait staff haven’t had time to work out their groove yet. Our friend said she normally visits a restaurant about 6 weeks after opening so staff can settle into a routine.

We got our drinks right way, iced tea for us and Pepsi for our friend. They arrived with black plastic straws already perched in them, so those diners bringing metal straws should say something when ordering. We weren’t offered any sweetener and noticed none of the tables had any standard condiments such as that, giving a minimalist look.

We learned while perusing the menu choices that our friend is one of those genetically challenged people for whom cilantro tastes like soap. We LOVE cilantro, so having it sprinkled on the chicken tortilla soup – chicken, housemade fried tortillas, cilantro, queso fresco and sour cream – that we ordered was a bonus.

However, the Proximo staff was super accommodating for our friend, who decided to go with the crab coriander salad – lump crab, avocado, corn nuts, baby kale, watercress, savoy cabbage, sliced radish and corn – for her entree by substituting the coriander dressing for mimosa dressing, which comes on the chicken avocado salad. Other salads have jalapeno, orange and cilantro Caesar dressings, all of which sounded delicious.

“Where do you find corn nuts?” our friend asked when her salad arrived. “I’ve been looking for some.”

We realized we used to snack on those quite a bit. Was there a corn nut shortage?

We chose the salmon salad – salmon, artisan mixed greens, cucumber, yellow and red pepper, red onion and grilled pineapple – because the guava vinaigrette sounded really good. It proved a great choice. We both felt at the end of the lunch that the salads were the best part. The moist seared salad proved filling, and its taste was played up by the citrusy notes from the pineapple and dressing. We like any salad that eschews iceberg lettuce.

Our crab chilaquiles appetizer – fresh crabmeat, housemade corn tortillas, tomatillo salsa, pickled red onion, sliced radishes, cilantro, queso fresco and avocado topped with a fried egg – could have been a little meal by itself. We used our forks to pick up the fried tortillas and top them. The tortillas seemed like snowflakes to our friend, who guessed they were housemade and said, “I like them. No two are the same.”

“Mmm,” our friend responded after her first bite.

We discovered what she meant. The crispy tortillas’ sharp corn flavor was mellowed with the vinegary red onion. We dipped a few in the egg yolk and rolled it around in the bowl to pick up the crab, cilantro, avocado and cheese.

Our friend described her soup, sans cilantro: “It has some spice. It doesn’t burn your tongue (but) it’s back there.”

When ours arrived, we figured out what she went. The mellow heat surrounded our mouth.

“It sneaks up on you,” our friend said.

She liked the soup, but was jealous of the amount of chicken in ours. We felt the chicken pieces were too big and we’re not a fan of chunks of tomato. The soup was not bad. However, it’s sweet taste just was odd because we’re used to a strong chicken stock flavor coming through.

The black bean torta – black bean patty, arbol crema, fried tortillas, bell peppers, red onion, romaine, cilantro, carmelized Oaxaca/Jack cheese and guacamole – came with patatas bravas, which Anna warned us had a bit of kick. And she was right. The moist patty and the crusty cheese made the torta extremely delicious.

We were seated at a table by the windows, a bit of a stretch for the leg-length-challenged, while across from us were tables wrapped around by multi-colored-striped booths. A frosted divider separated them from a row of booths on the other side with more tables near the bar and entrance.

At the end of the meal it felt like dessert was traditional, but none is on the menu. We looked through the breakast and dinner menus. The breakfast tacos ($10) and chorizo bowl with grits ($9) looked enticing and the seafood paella ($33) and flank steak salad ($16) entrees seemed intriguing. The dinner entrees run $18-$36 and grab-and-go breakfast items are available for $4 and $6.

Our meal totaled $80.46 with tax, but was free, and we provided feedback and left a tip. Our meal lasted a little over 1 hour.

Here’s what our meal would have cost:

Iced tea $2.75 (free refill)

Pepsi $2.75 (free refill)

Crab Chilaquiles $13.00

Chicken Tortilla Soup $12.00 ($6 each)

Salmon Salad $16.00

Crab Coriander Salad $16.00

Black Bean Torta $12.00

Total: $80.46 ($74.50 before tax)

Parking: $2.00

We believe it’s the price you pay for freshly made food. The entree salads would make a full meal and are offered for lunch and dinner. The breakfast options looks like they will be a great value.

Have restaurant news? Call Lisa M. Esquivel Long at 260-461-8354, send email to lesquivel@news-sentinel.com or a fax to 260-461-8817 or write Restaurant Notes, C/O The News-Sentinel, PO Box 102, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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