I had once written an article for my college newspaper about how dim sum would replace sushi as the new trendy Asian thing to eat, and how sushi had become so played out that it has become pedestrian and unexciting. While dim sum has become increasingly popular and better known than it was nearly a decade ago, it has yet to catch up with sushi in the trendy department, which is why we have yet to see “dim sum bars” dotting every block of South Beach. Dim sum is delicious and sophisticated in its own right, but whereas sushi seems to be in a constant state of innovative reinvention, dim sum selections manage to remain pretty consistent to what they have been for decades...if not centuries. Furthermore, some of the best places to enjoy this Cantonese breakfast/brunch tradition can offer very little in terms of ambiance, and even the nicer ones are not what one would consider to be “design forward”. Such factors have never been deterrents for serious foodies, but a recent dim sum brunch at BLOOM in Wynwood is showing that dim sum is starting to break the mold in Miami, becoming sleek, modern, and quite cosmopolitan.
So, what exactly is dim sum? In Cantonese, the term roughly means “to warm the heart”, and the cute little steamed dumplings and small plates of noodles, parcels of rice, and crispy fritters really are quite adorable, but the flavors of the food are what are most “heart-warming” in that this is essentially Cantonese AM comfort food - pancakes, grits, bacon, and eggs for the Southern Chinese palate. What dim sum consists of is a parade of steamed and fried dumplings along with small plates and larger dishes of noodles, rice, porridges, pastries, and other items. Being that it can be a very involved meal, dim sum is typically enjoyed on weekends, kind of like a Sunday brunch. There are two schools of dim sum service: the carts and the checklist. In the former, servers push carts loaded with steamer baskets of dumplings, plates of food, and cauldrons of porridge throughout the restaurant making stops at each table, and guests choose which dishes they want. The latter form of dim sum service involves marking the quantities of each dish that you want on a checklist provided for the table, and then waiting for the orders to start arriving. This is the preferred method of service at BLOOM, but similarities between dim sum here and at traditional venues end right there.
For one, BLOOM has a very modern ambiance that is at the same time airy and intimate. The outdoor patio is semi secluded and looks onto North Miami Avenue in the heart of the Wynwood Arts District. The interior dining room has an industrial vibe with a touch of rusticity, combining stark white tables and chairs with rough wood banquettes piled with throw pillows. The table setting instantly spoke “dim sum” with a jar filled with bamboo chopsticks, a clipboard with a checklist of menu items, and small container of pencils, while the rubber band napkin rings were particularly amusing and hinted at the restaurant’s playful side. My chamomile citron tea and my dining partner’s ginger tea were delicious, but I did miss the pot of oolong that is ubiquitous at any dim sum establishment. Nevertheless, BLOOM doesn’t seem to be setting out to emulate authenticity but to bring about innovation, and one look at their dim sum menu is all it takes to realize that innovation is the key word at BLOOM.
BLOOM, while still offering more traditional Cantonese dim sum items, takes more of a pan Asian approach with many Japanese selections, as well as few Korean items. We started with a vegan inari sushi consisting of the traditional Japanese fried tofu skin simmered in sweet broth and stuffed with seasoned rice that hid a mélange of vegetables including chestnut and shitake. They arrived topped with furikake and a small dollop of “truffle caviar” that seemed a bit superfluous. The selections of dumplings at BLOOM are completely made in house, down to the wrappers, and maintain traditional aesthetics while adding a bit of the unexpected. A chai kuih vegetarian dumpling with a verdant wrapper was filled with a vibrant mix of chopped vegetables and crumbled tofu that was actually an improvement on the sometimes muddy-tasting vegetable dumplings found at traditional Chinese restaurants. The pork belly gyoza had satisfyingly chewy skins with toasty bottoms encasing an intensely flavored paste of slow cooked pork belly that gave me the effect of eating the best croqueta ever stuffed inside a dumpling.
Char sui bao are a favorite among dim sum connoisseurs, and I was excited to see it on the menu. Commonly referred to as barbecue pork buns, BLOOM’s version lacked the fluffy white exterior that is common in traditional dim sum, but can oftentimes be overwhelmingly bready. Instead, the buns were somewhere in between a traditional steamed bun and a thick dumpling wrapper, which I found to be a nice variation. The filling, assertively seasoned with five spice, along with the texture of the bun made for one of the more memorable items at BLOOM. Chicken tsukune, another Japanese item, was also memorable and cohesive with the dim sum theme, despite it not being Cantonese. The tender, springy balls of seasoned ground chicken were glazed in a sweet soy concoction and arrived with a little haystack of simply dressed julienned celery.
The short rib and kimchi egg roll, while not bad, was one of the weaker items on the menu, and for a lover of kimchi, it didn’t seem to offer much of that assertive flavor. I laud BLOOM on trying to include non-traditional options on their menu, but okonomiyaki, referred to as a “Japanese pizza”, just seemed to jar with the rest of the dim sum concept. The pancake made with cabbage, soba noodles, mushrooms, Chinese sausage and carrots and topped with mayonnaise, nori, katsuobushi, pickled ginger, furikake, and sweet soy sauce is like the Japanese equivalent of the Colombian hot dog and seems better suited for a late night, inebriated binge than an elegant Sunday brunch. Skip it in favor of a white truffle flavored congee with Szechuan brisket or more of the dumplings.
Traditional dim sum actually includes a selection of sweet little “heart-warmers” that include custard filled buns and tarts, as well as tropical fruit flavored gelatins. The sweet dim sum offerings at BLOOM retain the traditional small plate aesthetic with a few innovative twists. Adzuki and strawberry cake was very Japanese in presentation with a mild flavored sponge cake roll surrounding a strawberry filling and drizzled with a red bean sauce and lime-scented whipped cream. The ice cream sushi didn’t quite resemble the maki sushi I was expecting, but the two ice cream sandwiches with thick short bread were cute and and fun to eat. A line of crushed pistachio nuts resembled the wasabi, there was a bowl of chocolate dipping sauce to represent the soy sauce, and a little mound of braised pears was made to look like the pickled ginger that usually accompanies sushi.
Having only started their dim sum brunch this month, it’s understandable that there would be a few kinks to work out, especially considering that Chef Ricky Sauri is breaking from dim sum tradition and bringing Miami something totally new. Nevertheless, a passion for innovation, as well as an understanding and respect for traditional Asian culinary techniques more than shows at BLOOM, and I’m very excited about what Chef Sauri has done for dim sum. I am hoping that BLOOM has paved the way for other innovators, and that maybe 2013 will be the year in which dim sum finally comes into its own.
Dim sum is served at BLOOM every Sunday from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
2751 North Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33137