Fresh take on Latin fare done to perfection

November 25, 2018

Maybe there is just something about the space.

Proximo sure didn’t look much different from its predecessor, The Golden, in Skyline Plaza, and my love of the unique food there was also strikingly similar.

But Proximo’s fare was even more novel than The Golden’s. The joint venture of Baker Street Steakhouse and The Hoppy Gnome is serving Latin fare in a way nobody else is right now in the Summit City.

Nothing represented this better than the Shrimp Sope appetizer.

Proximo’s version of one of my favorite taqueria treats beautifully represented their simplicity, but also was meticulously made to raise it up to upscale standards.

It had a soft, sweet corn base that was oozing with melted white cheese and was topped with a bevy of sweet, plump shrimp, sautéed onions and green peppers, diced tomatoes, a little salsa verde and queso fresco.

The shrimp were cooked to perfection and the arbol chile sauce covering the plate was magical. It was the spicy key to the dish with bits of Spanish chorizo throughout that added even more heat as the smoky sausage woke up a bit when heated. I wanted to lick the plate clean of that warm sauce and nearly did.

The Ecuadorian Ceviche was the perfect cold counterpart, and it was very mild in terms of spice. It was a more straightforward approach with the petite bay scallops swimming in a tomato and orange juice marinade with pico de gallo and cilantro. It was tasty and refreshing and the only flaw was that the cumin-spiced tortilla crisps, though perfect in texture, needed a little salt to help round out each bite.

The best entrée came via a strong suggestion from my server who lauded the proper slow-cooked sauce in the Pato Con Mole : seared duck breast and braised duck enchiladas along with grilled squash.

The deep, dark sauce had all of the complexity I wanted from a mole : hints of chocolate and roasted chiles : and I loved dragging each rare slice of the duck with its crispy, rendered fat cap through it. A drizzle of lime crema lightened it up just enough and the combination of duck and sauce worked so well I nearly scrapped the white corn tortillas wrapped around the shredded meat in those enchiladas.

As if that wasn’t enough, the squash was spot on : seasoned well with just enough char to stand out. It was a flawless plate of food.

The chicken tortilla soup that preceded that dish was much like the squash. I wasn’t expecting much and planned to just have a few bites to taste it and then move on.

It had the standard corn, peppers, onions and diced chicken in its red broth, and there were plenty of crispy tortilla strips so I had crunch in every bite to the bottom of the cup. And as I reached the bottom of the cup, because it was so good, I could not stop eating it.

It blew away the mixed greens salad, which had a nice selection of greens and plenty of Parmesan shavings on top, but it was badly overdressed.

I ordered it with the Seafood Paella, which was a great version. Its rice : the key to a good paella : really popped with saffron flavor, and the seafood : shrimp, scallops, clams and half a lobster tail : was nicely prepared. The lobster was the star as it was grilled to give it an extra level of flavor the other items did not have.

I also visited Proximo for lunch, or, well, breakfast as that was the only menu I was given even though there is a different lunch menu and it was 11:30. The shining star from breakfast reinforced to me that Baker Street was involved.

The 6-ounce rib-eye featured in the Steak & Eggs entrée was exemplary. It was fork-tender, its temperature was just the way I asked and the chipotle demiglace atop it had the perfect mix of beefy umami flavor and spice. My eggs were runny and the wilted arugula underneath added a nice peppery element.

I liked the patatas bravas (fried potatoes) that also came with it, but wished they were cut a bit smaller as they were more like steak fries. A finer cut would have given them more surface area to get crispy, which would have been better. Of course I often ask for all of my breakfast potatoes to be done extra crispy, so this was really more about preference than flawed execution.

I thought I would like the Carnita Benedict more than I did. It was fine, but just less exciting than some of the other offerings at Proximo. The restaurant’s yummy, crisped cornbread was topped with braised pork, that same arugula, poached eggs and hollandaise. All of it was made well, but nothing stood out in terms of flavor.

But it was way better than the Breakfast Tacos and Dulce de Leche French Toast.

The tacos were pedestrian. There were three in an order and five meats to choose from. I liked the bacon one the best because it had the most texture. All of the tacos had scrambled eggs, Oaxaca-jack cheese and a robust tomato pasilla (dried pepper) salsa, and there was a little container of pico de gallo in the center of the plate to add to your liking.

But they lacked the fresh raw onions and cilantro that are a staple of street tacos and the pico was too macerated to add the texture raw onions can. So when it came to the chorizo and breakfast sausage tacos, there was no textural contrast.

The French toast sounded yummy with berries, caramel and toasted pecans, but there was not enough caramel and that caramel was too stiff to soak the toast, so it came off as very dry.

When it came to sweet stuff, Proximo fell a little flat at dinner, too.

The Hibiscus and Lemon Tart was more of an upside-down crisp than a tart as it was served in a crock with a graham cracker base and, therefore, did not have a baked crust that one thinks of when it comes to a tart. It was, however, quite tart in flavor from the flowers and lemon, so maybe this was a playful name to describe that flavor.

The Quatro Leches Cake caught my attention because I love traditional Mexican three-milk cake. The fourth milk in this dessert was coconut milk, but I struggled to detect it or enough milk at all because a good portion of the cake was dry. A leches cake should be soaked through.

Two areas Proximo excelled in were in making cocktails and in service. Both came into play when I was looking for something to enjoy at the end of breakfast. Though nothing stood out on the drink menu, my server, whose performance was immaculate in every way as was the server I had at dinner, suggested an espresso martini.

I don’t often choose something like that because they are often very sweet, but he assured me I would like this one. And he was right. This dark drink with its foamy top looked like a cappuccino and had just a touch of sweetness to go with the strong coffee flavor. It was the perfect meal-ender.

I also loved the unique and complex Milk Punch made with Agricole rum, citrus vodka, Mandarin vodka, lime juice and orgeat syrup. The milk comes in during an exhaustive process in which heated milk is poured over the liquor, cooled and then run through a cheesecloth to remove the milk solids. The result is a very smooth drink with a hint of citrus and that mouth-coating creaminess dairy creates.

Restaurant: Proximo

Address: 898 S. Harrison St.

Phone: 459-6150

Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Latin

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, with menu

Menu: Tacos (16), Benedict (10), ceviche (12), paella (24), cake (8)

Rating breakdown: Food: ★★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: ★ (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall. 

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