Living in New York City in my 20s, I was sure I had two black thumbs. Though my parents were expert at coaxing sugar cane, carambolas and even grapes from our North Miami yard, I could barely keep a pot of basil alive. Somehow, that changed when I returned to the subtropics, where I have managed to grow a virtual garden of Eden in my pocket-sized plot.
I say this by way of explaining why it gives me such pleasure to see young restaurateurs nurturing their first eatery, which has sprung up like a wildflower in Wynwood.
The aptly named Bloom, on the site of the old Dorissa dress warehouse, is surrounded by a hedge of shiny clusia and accented with plants throughout. A tree grows through the roof of the stone patio, which is anchored by a long bar with a dozen stools surrounded by about as many white tables with white molded chairs. Photos and paintings of flowers and landscapes add anime-like pops of color.
The flavors, too, pop, sparkle and just about dance across the table. That was the idea, according to Guatemala City natives Jose Miguel Sarti and Sebastian Stahl, who hired Nobu veteran chef Ricky Sauri to create their vision of vibrant Asian and Latin American street food.
Friendly, well-trained servers add to the easy vibe, as does a hip soundtrack that veers from Passion Pit to Evan Voytas and occasional live bands.
Best in show goes to the pork belly ramen, a masterpiece even for those, like me, who are weary of the fatty chunks of pig. The rich dashi broth is loaded with tiny sleeves of bok choy, colorful pinwheels of kamaboko (pink fish paste), perfectly poached egg and slippery noodles.
Also in the winners’ circle is a fantastically light arepa sandwiching tender, slow-roasted duck accented with sweet tamarind sauce, avocado, micro greens and a spicy mayonnaise; a Guatemalan-style braised oxtail tamale with rice steeped in coconut milk and, great for sharing, chicken tsukune (sausage meatballs) in a sweetly salty yakitori sauce.
Tiraditos and ceviches are mostly perfect, especially the neon-bright sockeye salmon with toasted Peruvian cancha and a bracing, chile-spiked tomatillo salsa. The octopus however is a bit awkward: Our server struggled with a twist-tied plastic bag that she shook up and down and shoved into an oh-so-trendy mason jar, then tried for more than a red-faced minute to screw on the lid.
A bright nectarine and spinach salad gets extra depth from edamame sprouts and earthy black-bean dressing. Jicama appears here and on (perhaps too) many dishes, shredded into linguine-like strands.
An aggressively seasoned panang curry is a rare treat in a town that shies away from spice. We chose ours with snappy little shrimp that were sweet and lightly cooked. Other nicely spiced dishes include luxurious huancaina sauce over firm chunks of white crab meat.
Few dishes rely on the fryer, and those that do, like a golden sweet and sour shrimp, work well.
Teok boki, spicy little rice cakes the texture of gummy mochi, were surprisingly tasty with a tangy, chile-flecked red sauce, and the bacon cashews are a little too sticky but pack a nice punch.
Tuna seaweed “taco” suffers from a misleading menu description, but is a nice enough dice of raw tuna and sesame flanked by sheets of Korean nori. A pumpkin enchilada sprinkled with shiitake mushrooms and doused in a “cheese” sauce of ground cashews might please vegans, but I found it bland and dense.
A rainbow collection of cocktails by the talented Chris Hudnall include the Eastern Garden made with fresh arugula juice, fennel syrup, Spanish bitters, rosemary and gin. Standard wine and beer options are well-priced and handled.
Desserts are as satisfying as the experience here. Shaved ice bombs and coconut flan are worth sampling, but best is the fat jar of bread pudding floating in warm, cinnamony corn atole with crushed chocolate Whoppers, and vanilla ice cream.
As any gardener knows, it takes endless labor to create a perfect garden, and here it seems to be a labor of love.