Annually, Art Basel inadvertently gives birth to new restaurants in the city. Just as Hollywood lines up blockbuster debuts at the onset of Oscar season, opening dates for dining venues are moved up (or pushed back) to coincide with the start of the nation's largest art fair. One of this year's Basel babies is Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, the latest dining installation of Tony Goldman and his daughter Jessica Goldman Srebnick. It is even located adjacent to Joey's, another family production, and surrounded by Goldman's Wynwood Walls art park.
Everything about Wynwood Kitchen & Bar shouts artistic aspiration. A leather-topped bar is backed by bold red and black collage murals by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey — best known for his Smithsonian-enshrined Obama Hope poster. The front bar and lounge room is papered in his cool, communist-looking street work, while the main dining room is dominated by 20-foot abstract paintings by Christian Awe. An outdoor patio with an abundance of open grassy space offers more seating and art. Wynwood Kitchen is a very cool, stylish, exciting place to eat and drink — although it's not generally a good sign when most of the chatter about a new restaurant centers upon its décor.
While Fairey made his name via Hope, head chef Marco Ferraro earned his local stripes at Wish, in The Hotel of South Beach (another Goldman production). They describe what he's doing here as "innovative American brasserie cuisine," but the compilation of salads, sandwiches, sausages, skewers, burgers, and omelets that makes up the bulk of this bill of fare could just as easily be characterized as glorified coffee shop food. Or maybe glorified is too strong a word when you consider preparation and presentation.
We started with a few slices of baguette and a black, plastic ramekin of hard, cold butter. Seconds later, our Mediterranean appetizer platter arrived, served with warm, partly-blackened triangles of pita. The hummus was fresh and well-lubricated with olive oil, while a smidgeon of baba ghannouj was pulpy if pleasantly infused with cumin. Centering the trio was a mint-dominated tabbouleh salad. You can find better and worse versions of all three, but mostly better.
Roasted beet salad brought hefty hunks of firm red beets and mushy gold ones tossed with arugula leaves, orange segments, and toasted walnuts. The salad was topped with patches of Gruyère foam that folded into it for effective salty contrast, but it sorely lacked the promised shallot mignonette, or any type of acidic snap.
A veal sausage was supposed to come along with the Mediterranean platter. Although our waiter repeated the entire dinner order aloud to ensure he got it right — as well as to train his trailing sidekick — the sausage never arrived. We notified the waiter, and he brought it later on. The long, mild link was crisply grilled and entirely tasty. Creamy horseradish and a bit of sweet and spicy cole slaw were served on the side. The sausage was substantial, but presentation flimsy. It lacked kraut, a slab of pumpernickel bread, a homemade pickle, or anything indicative of a chef-driven, innovative brasserie.
Sausage meat choices ($7 or $9) are pork, beef, pork and beef, turkey, veal, and lamb; each is accompanied by a different sauce or garnish. Skewer options ($8 or $10) are pork, beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, or vegetable (described to us as "cauliflower, zucchini, and squash"), likewise with varied dips. We sampled the lamb skewer, which had nothing to do with a skewer and barely contained lamb. It arrived with three of the smallest chops I've ever seen — each medallion the size of a quarter, and barely thicker. It looked like the amount of meat people generally leave on the bone upon completion. A small cup of olive oil with a cooked garlic clove was served on the side.
Let's jump to what Wynwood Kitchen & Bar does best: beer, burgers, and banana pudding. There are 40 craft brews from around the world — ales, pales, the works — and six more on tap. Some 70 wines are affordably priced. Most bottles cost less than $40, and most glasses go for $8 or less. And, as already implied, there are not many hipper venues to sit and sip.
Like many menu items, burgers are split into two price levels. The $10 choices are turkey; braised, barbecued pork; and a moist, tasty vegetable burger culled from quinoa and mixed vegetables, topped with pickled shallots and a basil leaf. Two extra bucks brings tuna, lamb, or a classic beef hamburger topped with local mushrooms, caramelized onions, and a melted cap of Gruyère cheese. Had the burger been cooked to a proper medium-rare, it would have been a beauty. It came with thin, freshly made fries and another smidgeon of cole slaw. Any other fixin's (mushrooms, bacon, fried egg) cost $2 apiece.
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Banana pudding: a marvelously mushy mess of fresh banana slices, shortbread crust, sumptuous pudding, and a crackly caramelized banana spear. A warm, fresh homemade brownie also impressed. Ice cream on the side had freezer burn.
There are a half-dozen clay pot selections; hopefully the other five are better than the pork clay pot we ordered. It was overcooked, with a reduced sauce that was too sweet, and potatoes sour from age. We stopped eating it as soon as we tasted the spuds; when clearing the table, our waiter removed it without inquiring whether anything was wrong. The wait staff here is young, promising, friendly, fabulously free of pretension, and woefully undertrained (even taking into consideration how new this restaurant is).
Entrées are divided into a quartet each of fish and meats ($18 to $29). Catch of the day, grilled salmon, and fish and chips didn't seem all that inspiring on the sea side, but we were enticed by a delicate-sounding "lemon zest, olive oil, and fresh herb compote" accompanying steamed snapper. The fillet of fish, served skin-side-up, was fresh and moist, but the pedestrian, pesto-like paste atop the snapper was not nearly as zesty as envisioned. Main courses come with a choice of two side dishes. Our picks were potato croquettes and creamed spinach. The former proved delectable — two cleanly fried cylinders of creamy potato. The creamed spinach was creamless, cold, and bland.
Wynwood Kitchen & Bar is brand new, which leaves us optimistic it will grow into a more consistent restaurant. (You gotta have hope.) Right now, it seems to be more about Basel than basil. Stick to the burgers and beers. Save room for banana pudding. And enjoy the art.