In the past five years, the Wynwood Arts District has transformed from an area of warehouses and thrift shops to a mecca of art-centric lounges, bars, and restaurants. Crowds of creative folks and Magic City hipsters now strut around gallery events in vintage-meets-American Apparel — with an added touch of scuffed designer boots and too-skinny-for-this-heat jeans.
See also: Slide show: "Closer Look: Bloom."
The latest addition to the district's expanding culinary scene is Bloom, which Guatemalan partners Jose Miguel Sarti and Sebastian Stahl launched this past July. Like two aspiring artists, they hope to succeed in Miami's hottest up-and-coming neighborhood.
The kitchen is led by executive chef Ricky Sauri, previously executive chef at Nobu in the Bahamas and chef de cuisine at Nobu in Miami Beach. He aims to fuse Asian and Latin American street fare in an upscale, creative context. The décor dabbles in artistic expression.
These days Bloom is like a sketch that suggests a masterpiece might ensue. In the 135-seat dining room, rustic white distressed wood meets eggplant-colored walls and monochromatic ivory plastic tables and chairs. The welcoming patio boasts a barrier of greenery, which separates the courtyard from the bustling traffic on North Miami Avenue. An oversize panoramic shot of Volcán de Agua in Guatemala hangs next to the large exterior bar and lounge area. All of the scenic photographs lining the eatery's walls were shot by Sarti.
White fabric napkins are rolled up and inconveniently bound with rubber bands. The music ranges from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to electric indie-pop tunes such as Passion Pit's "Folds in Your Hands." The former is the sort of soundtrack that aggravates hipsters and nonhipsters alike.
A sip of the creative cocktails by Chris Hudnall, though, makes these diverse melodies more tolerable. He was previously head mixologist at Soho Beach House and is a substantial talent. One of his drinks is Tequila Beets, which combines Alacrán tequila, roasted beet juice, lime, chamomile syrup, and whiskey-barrel-aged bitters; it's garnished with a single sprig of rosemary. The drink's hue matches the vibrant tone of the restaurant's purplish-red square cushions. Ring of Fire, another libation, balances a delectable mix of sweet and spicy: Ketel One vodka, lychees, and honey syrup with three floating slices of Fresno chili peppers.
The menu is similarly fetching, at least in concept. It begins with a selection of chilled dishes: Florida fluke tiradito with rocoto sauce, tuna seaweed "tacos," grouper ceviche, and a nectarine spinach salad. The salad option features baby spinach leaves topped with an overwhelmingly bitter fermented black-bean dressing, edamame, soggy fried tofu, jícama bits, and underripe nectarines. That's just one too many misses for a $10 pile of greens.
The dining experience at Bloom also includes a performance piece, haphazardly executed by seemingly disgruntled waiters, who unenthusiastically approach tables with a plastic baggie full of shrimp, green mango, and pepitas in a sweet citrus soy sauce — a traditional flavor mix from Central America. The servers jiggle the small bag and cram the contents into a tight-mouthed jar, which diners are expected to clumsily use as a kind of bowl. The shrimp's bland flavors don't merit all the theatrics — though it's a good thing the $12 price also includes a show.
Some other dishes overwhelm with a unidimensional cloying sweetness. Paired with a banal apple jícama salad, syrupy sweet-and-sour shrimp lacked any of the necessary vibrancy and tartness. Roasted nasu, a small dish from the snack portion of the menu, featured excessively soft eggplant smothered in a sugared cinnamon-soy glaze and topped with crushed peanuts. The nasu could easily be relegated to the dessert menu, where the nightshade would hardly stand out among the rest of the sweets.
Pad thai followed a similar pattern, with slivered red peppers, egg, edamame, mushrooms, peanuts, and bok choy covered in a saccharine sauce. A selection of protein is available for this platter — chicken, shrimp, or tofu.
Overwhelming spiciness was another recurring theme in Bloom's oeuvre. Snack potato chips benefited from pleasing crumbles of cotija cheese but were hindered by peppery additions of Cobán salt, a house-made salt mix with Guatemalan peppers. Chilled soba noodles ($15), served alongside sliced pear, duck confit, and diced cucumber, were not advertised as spicy, even though the sweet chili sauce flooded the dish with excess piquancy.
Arepas and tamales are two menu items that nod to Latin American street food. One of the greasy arepas is a crab rendition, dressed in traditional Peruvian yellow-pepper cheese sauce — huancaína — as well as eel sauce, nori, and scallions ($8). Most memorable was the unpleasant aroma of the less-than-fresh crustacean.
Reina pepiada — the success among the arepa offerings — replaces the traditional selection of chicken with juicy shredded duck and pairs the stuffing with avocado, delicately sweet tamarind sauce, and Japanese mayonnaise. With good areperias popping up across Miami, though, paying $8 for three-bite renditions is daunting.
Tamales include a vegan option, with a "shiitake enchilada" ($9) comprising a pasty pumpkin tamale, natto, and a dense nut-based cheese sauce, topped with chewy shiitake mushrooms. Another vegan choice is fried rice ($10), with — again — soggy tofu, celery, slivered mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and nori. The platter is adorned with thick-cut, pickled slices of lotus root, brightly tinted in a pinkish hue.
At our waiter's enthusiastic recommendation, we tried the bibimbap, a signature Korean mixed-rice dish. Offered with duck, chicken, or beef advertised as Kobe, the dolsot bibimbap arrives in the traditional sizzling-hot stone bowl, topped with a quail egg, sliced nori, vegetables, and gochujang — a sauce made with red chili, fermented soybeans, rice, and salt. Sesame oil in the heated stone vessel allows the rice to crisp around the edges. On our visits, bowls graced many tables at Bloom, and the dish's bright flavors merit the popularity.
Desserts feature an ordinary brazo gitano ($8), a tender cake roll stuffed with strawberry jam and an indistinguishable addition of adzuki beans. It comes topped with a tart lime cheese foam. Another offering is malted bread pudding, composed of corn-based atole sauce and vanilla ice cream. Served in a petite jar, the "crushed malted whoppers" actually arrived whole. The blunder tainted the smooth texture of the custard-based dessert and made each spoonful of the $10 offering all the more disappointing. Other sweets include shaved ice bombs with syrups and preserves, and a coconut majarete — Caribbean corn pudding.
Much like an emerging artist's work, Bloom's cuisine still has plenty of room to grow. The kitchen should focus more on flavors and less on the fusion of two distinct concepts. We hope the eatery will get it together before December's Art Basel, when Wynwood isn't simply a neighborhood with great potential; it's a full-fledged, completely blossomed, artful beauty.
See also: Slide show: "Closer Look: Bloom."