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Friday, July 27, 2012

TEST DRIVE: Bloom Wynwood

In trying to find an analogy for a first visit to a new restaurant, the experience of test driving a new car was the one that most seemed to have the most parallels.  You take a car out, go slow and easy and then step on the gas to see what it can do.  You can ascertain only certain characteristics from a test drive, but usually after that first drive you'll know if you're going to go further down the purchase decision path or not.  The downside from a test drive is that it doesn't take into account long term longevity (that will be the context for another set of reviews).

The first restaurant using this test drive context is Bloom, a casual Asian/Latin small plates venue in Wynwood. And in keeping with the Four Courses theme we'll look at four aspects of a restaurant experience: SEE (layout), DRINK (wine list, cocktail list), EAT (self explanatory) and FEEL (service, vibe).


Bloom is on North Miami Ave. in Wynwood, taking over north end of the retro cool Dorissa of Miami building.  Signage is very discreet, if non-existent, but the rustic aesthetic of Bloom separates it from the main building enough to draw attention to it.  Enter a small parking lot from the north side of the building and you're greeted by a Lebo mural which foreshadows the artsy and laid back vibe you'll find once inside.

Bloom's aesthetic is a mix of laid back, artsy and playful.  Banquettes along the walls are made from repurposed, whitewashed wood giving the place a rustic feel.  Along these same walls hang clean, vibrant photographs ranging from flowers to ice cream vendors - a great contrast to the "rusticness" of the clapboard.  The rustic vs. clean contrast runs throughout the restaurant to good effect.


A full liquor license will be a draw as neighbor Jimmy'z Kitchen relegated its offering to a great beer and wine selection.  Bloom's specialty cocktails lean towards the strong and sweet.  La Pacaya, a play on two of the cocktail's main ingredients, papaya and Ron Zacapa 23 year old, fit the strong and sweet mold, unfortunately the papaya, along with the cilantro and bitters were overwhelmed by a honey syrup.  The Golden Buffalo, served in a oversized glass that reminded me of the champagne glasses favored in the 70's that are now relegated to cruise ships for flowing champagne tower shows, was strong from Buffalo Trace bourbon and sweet from maple syrup.  I appreciate Bloom's use of quality ingredients as both of these drinks were made with excellent liquors.  On the flip side, the chosen liquors are at their best when served straight so using them in cocktails may put off some purists.

A great addition worth tackling on another visit, when a stressful day at work doesn't force you to stick to alcohol, are the aguas frescas.  Traditional flavors like tamarind and jamaica (hibiscus) are perfect for Miami summers.  A small wine list focused on the usual suspects and a selection of about five craft beers round out the drink menu.


Cod Kimchee Fritters
What appears to be a smallish menu turns out to be varied enough to ensure that no two visits need be the same. While all plates are meant to be shared, the Chilled, Shaken, Hot and Nibbles sections fall into a appetizer/snack category with the Rice/Noodles, Tamales and Arepas being more substantial.  We ordered cod kimchee fritters to start while we studied the menu.    The fritters fell a little short of the expectations I had, which were if you had a Korean Spanish grandmother and she wanted to make you comfort food, it would be this.  Instead the fritters were heavy and gummy with an exterior that was more spongy than crispy.  It was a bad first showing that would prove to be the exception.  Again, this is a test drive so lapses are expected, but fritters are a pretty easy gimmick for chefs so it was a bit disappointing.

Pork Belly with congee
We moved on with hesitation to the pork belly takuni, the hesitation coming not from the fact the dish was squares of roasted pork belly with a mirasol sauce, but that it contained one of my arch enemies of dining - congee.  There are few foods I despise, and in that esteemed group is congee.  The accompaniment to the pork belly was actually taro root congee but it didn't allay my fears.  The fact that it looked like something between a colorless uni and an alien's kidney didn't help.  But I sucked it up, faced my fear, and dug in.  On their own the components on the dish were a little offputting.  The mirasol sauce was extremely strong and salty while the taro congee had the faintest taste of the root.  Put them together along with the pork belly and it was phenomenal. The flavors and textures played off each other extremely well with the sharp salt and acid from the mirasol sauce cutting the fat from the pork belly while all enveloped by the cloud o'congee. It was very addictive.

Shitake "enchilada"
The opposite could be said about the next dish we tried, the shitake enchilada.  My belief is the term enchilada was misused as it's more of a tamale and is described as such in the dish's description (pumpkin tamale,  nut and natto cheese sauce).  As well as the flavors blended in the pork belly dish, the components of this plate were tough to get through together.  It was too many strong flavors that were battling for supremacy.  The shitakes seemed to have been braised in a strong vinegary sauce - great on their own.  The pumpkin tamale was rather dense and almost too perfect-looking while the taste was strong with pumpkin and spices.  Lastly the nut/natto cheese was actually my favorite component.  Natto, made from fermented soybeans, is tough stuff.  Blended with nuts and then heated it takes on the look and texture of the soft cheese sauces you'd see on enchiladas at El Torito. Flavorwise it packed an umami punch.  Putting these ingredients together was daring, but it was overwhelming.

One of the great categories on the menu is the Shaken dishes. The components are mixed tableside in large plastic bag.  If you were in Bangkok you'd just grab this at a street vendor and eat on the go. At Bloom the bag is placed in a mason-type jar with the lid screwed on, sans inner seal.  The result is a slightly kitschy and easily shareable presentation.  The combinations are either octopus with a yuzu granite and citrus salsa or, as the one we ordered, shrimp with green mango and a spicy soy. The dish hit all the notes of a good Thai snack - sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy plus it was refreshing for an inordinately hot Miami summer evening.  Kitsch aside, this dish is a winner.

We finished off in our usual obscure way, with a raw fish dish (just as refreshing and lighter than most desserts).  The choice was tuna yuke tacos - a tuna tartar served with nori and jicama which you roll into your own taco.  The tuna was well seasoned, a little sweet but could've used a bit more soy or salt.


Bloom's vibe is perfect for the sort of diner that can only make it to Wynwood at night or on weekends.  On the surface it's laid back and casual but the dishes, while fun, are complex.  Service for a newly opened venue is good and we lacked nothing the entire night.  Soundtrack is on the lighter side of the XM Alt Nation spectrum.


Bloom's vibe is similar to already popular places like gigi and Sugarcane so it needs to find its niche quickly in order to fill a fairly big space.  Foodwise, the menu is inventive and eclectic.  I didn't expect to be challenged with innovative and sophisticated textures and flavor profiles at a place like Bloom, but it was a welcome surprise.  After one test drive Bloom has made its way into the rotation. 

Outside bar and patio area

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