South Beach will never cease to attract South Florida’s artistas, fashionistas, film buffs, and foodies, but it’s nice to see that Miami is growing up and offering a variety of neighborhoods for those who seek out culture…and great food. These days Americans and Miamians are thinking about about food in ways previously unimagined, and any new ‘hood or district that plans on attracting Miami’s culture-seekers are almost compelled to offer good places to eat. Wynwood Arts District has already been drawing in locals and tourists, alike, for years with its rows of contemporary art galleries amid a gritty grid of warehouses that manages to retain a somewhat edgy, young, and pre-gentrified vibe. Previously devoid of even a place to grab a cup of coffee, Wynwood now offers two independent (and very good) coffee bars, several watering holes, and a handful of good eateries like Wynwood Kitchen & Bar.
Having debuted during Art Basel 2010, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar quickly became the place to dine while visiting the galleries in Miami’s arts district. The restaurant’s doors are located right next to the famous Wynwood Walls – a collection of murals and courtyards that is better experienced than explained – and the restaurant’s exteriors, including its al fresco dining, seem to be halfway incorporated into the art installation. Even graffiti artist Shepard Fairey’s politically-charged black, red, and white murals that occupy a full “Wynwood wall” are reiterated inside the restaurant’s bar, which is plastered with the artist’s signature posters. Wynwood Kitchen & Bar feels as if it is part of Wynwood and was born out of the creative energy that hums throughout the entire district, rather than being a restaurant that was just plopped into a row of art galleries.
Executive Chef Miguel Aguilar’s cuisine also feels like something that would just come organically out of Miami – a sophisticated menu with an emphasis on small plates that is heavily influenced by Miami’s very Latin culture. Dishes like ropa vieja empanadas, queso frito, and black bean soup ring familiar with many Miami natives, and ingredients like Manchego cheese, piquillo peppers, tomatillo, and ají amarillo demonstrate that Chef Aguilar has taken on a pan-Latino approach to his cuisine utilizing ingredients from throughout the Spanish speaking world. The restaurant has recently introduced several new additions to the menu that continue with the global Latino trend, as well as a cocktail list inspired by the many artists whose work graces the walls of Wynwood Kitchen & Bar.
For those who are always on the lookout for interesting cocktails, the artist-inspired cocktail menu offers a selection of libations that are each more intriguing than the other. The Shepard Fairey, a perfectly refreshing choice for the Pisco lover, consists of Pisco Porton, St. Germain, simple syrup, pineapple, and lime mint (a citrusy variety of the herb). The Nunca offers a bit more of a bite from the inclusion of grapefruit juice and Campari to a concoction of Absolut Ruby Red vodka and yuzu. Perhaps the most interesting cocktail that I sampled from Wynwood Kitchen & Bar’s menu is the Barry McGee, containing Bluecoat gin, hibiscus syrup, basil, lemon juice, and soda. The juniper quality of the gin plays very well with the anisette-like basil and tart, floral notes of the hibiscus, while the splash of soda water makes the whole cocktail positively refreshing and ideal for a summer evening.
Chef Aguilar’s new menu items include dishes that offer innovative little spins on classics, which can be most noticed in his Latin Caesar salad consisting of romaine hearts tossed in a chipotle spiked Caesar dressing just hot enough to tickle the back of one’s throat and topped with what appear to be conventional croutons but are, in fact, crispy fried cubes of polenta. A hamachi ceviche, more similar in form to a tiradito, is meltingly tender and comes dressed with an ají amarillo and mango sauce dotted with red and green jalapeño, red onion and cilantro. Lacking in the acidity of a traditional ceviche or tiradito, the sweetness of the mango purée dominates and brings out the subtle flavors of the fish. Choosing to go for a Mexican presentation rather than a Peruvian, Chef Aguilar accompanies his ceviche with house-made tortilla chips, which offer a delightful textural contrast to the softness of the fish. A simpler dish of fried oysters with avocado purée shows the chef’s masterful execution of frying shellfish – the oysters are just cooked through and still silky and tender. The avocado purée, probably inspired by Venezuelan guasacaca, is a perfect dipping sauce, and its creaminess and slight tang beautifully contrast and accentuate the flavors and textures of the oysters.
Thin strips of pork belly rubbed with adobo offer crispy exteriors that give way to a melt-in-your-mouth combination of tender pork and creamy fat – a combination that any pork lover daydreams about. The accompanying lightly seasoned black lentil and diced sweet potato salad provides a bit of starch to soak up the richness, as well as a contrasting coolness and a pleasant mélange of earthy and sweet flavors. A dish of Pork rillettes on the menu can be misleading, although one can see it as a Latino interpretation of a French classic. Diners expecting traditional rillettes will experience a brief moment of disappointment before becoming immediately delighted by this Latin-inspired variation that more closely resembles Cuban lechon asado (tender roast suckling pig). A veritable brick of pulled pork arrives at the table encased in a crispy crust that breaks away easily and is floating in a slightly sweet and smoky roasted tomatillo sauce drizzled with chili oil. It is simply addicting and perhaps the best dish on Chef Aguilar’s new menu.
Artichokes al Padron is a vegetarian dish that is probably my second favorite dish at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar. Fresh cooked artichoke hearts are halved with their tender stems attached and topped with a julienne of roasted mild shishito and piquillo peppers, a creamy aioli, and cotija cheese. The dish very much conveys a Spanish taste and mouthfeel while utilizing ingredients from Asia, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. Another vegetarian dish of Bok Choy Salteado makes for an excellent side dish or can stand alone as an entrée; it offers definite Asian flavors with the addition of julienned carrots, chopped peanuts, cilantro, and Vietnamese nuoc cham.
New desserts at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar can be quite decadent, such as a molten chocolate cake served inside a ramekin and intensely flavored with ancho chile and Mexican cinnamon with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to cut the richness. However, a Latin variation on a tiramisù, aptly called a Latin Misu, is surprisingly light in spite of how heavy it sounds: tres leches, espresso-soaked lady fingers, and lightly torched Italian meringue topping. A white chocolate bread pudding offers a perfect balance between firm and custardy, has a great variation of texture from soft to slightly chewy, and is topped with a lightly tangy guava sauce that pairs so wonderfully with the rest of the dessert.
In our new foodie-driven culture, it’s evident that any great neighborhood needs great places to eat, and Wynwood is no exception. With restaurants like Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, as well as other new eateries and cafés in the area, it’s possible that Miami’s arts district will soon become Miami’s new dining destination.
Wynwood Kitchen & Bar
2550 Northwest 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33127
photo credits: Brustman Carrino PRBe sure to tell them Soul Of Miami sent you!
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