Good Things Come in Mall Packages
Gag me with a spoon.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers -- yes, there is such a thing -- 190 million adults, or about 94 percent of the eighteen-and-over population, visit shopping malls every month. Since 1967, the number of shopping centers -- including hundreds of "super-regional centers," mega-malls larger than 800,000 square feet with multiple department-store anchors -- has grown from 9,000 to nearly 50,000; thirteen more super-regional centers, mostly in Florida and Texas, will open by the end of the year.
Although Colorado ranks just twentieth in "gross leasing area" -- the amount of shopping-center space available for retail -- with its measly 99.9 million square feet (California has the highest GLA, with 694.5 million square feet), last fall we were blessed with another super-regional center, FlatIron Crossing. Only the presidential-election snafus and the imminent arrival of Krispy Kreme came close to matching the local press frenzy over the debut of FlatIrons, giving credence to the ICSC's insistence that "shopping centers have become an integral part of the economic and social fabric of their communities." Like, I'm so sure. Totally.
I hate malls. Like chain restaurants, they're more nails in the coffins of local businesses, places created without any semblance of character and soul -- safe, homogenized experiences that ensure everything you eat and wear will be exactly the same as what everyone else eats and wears. Not surprisingly, it's rare for a shopping center to house any eatery that isn't part of a chain -- much less an exciting, original eatery.
Bloom is the exception that proves the rule: a full-blown, gorgeous restaurant that would stand out anywhere. True, it belongs to a company that owns several restaurants, Fox Restaurant Concepts, out of Scottsdale, Arizona, the brainchild of three barely thirty-somethings. They started with Wildflower and Bistro Zin in Tucson a few years ago, and Fox now plans to open a second Bloom in Scottsdale by the end of next month. All of the company's eateries are New American in focus -- Bistro Zin has a slightly French flair -- but each restaurant's chef has autonomy, and there's no executive chef overseeing all of the properties. As long as a restaurant is successful, corporate headquarters doesn't get involved in such site-specific details as dish selection or recipe changes.
And after nine months, Bloom continues to blossom. It's rooted in a building set off to one side of FlatIrons, rather than attached to the mall like a big cement goiter; you can eat at Bloom without ever stepping inside the center. Instead, you enter directly into a bright, light-filled, breezy, white-dominated space that boasts two stories of dining. An eye-catching mix of clean lines and sexy curves, a spacious bar filled with plush purple chairs, and black tables on a geometrically arresting carpet of more black, slate and sage green give Bloom a modern feel that still manages to be warm. The friendly, friendly staffers expand the comfort zone. Once you're inside -- and especially after dusk, when the floor-to-ceiling draperies are closed in order to block out headlights shining in the parking lot -- you may forget that you're in a mall at all.
Bloom's eclectic fare makes this a veritable garden of eating, with a menu that abounds with unusual, savvy dishes. While many restaurants do some type of ahi tuna appetizer, usually seared and served sashimi-style with a wasabi cream sauce or soy glaze, Bloom paired the almost sugary-sweet tuna flesh with tart rings of vinegar-spiked purple onion, slips of roasted nori (the seaweed used to wrap sushi) and a sweetened version of ponzu, the Japanese dipping sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce, kombu (a salty kelp used for flavoring) and sake. But what made this starter a keeper was top-notch tuna that tasted like sea air and had a velvety, yielding texture. A garnish of kiaware sprouts was a nice touch, too, since the radish has a gentle bite that added yet another taste sensation to the vibrant ones already there.
At Bloom, even well-established standards are done in ways that make them seem fresh. The kitchen treated its smoked salmon sort of like caviar, serving it with blini-style, potato-based galettes -- round, flat cakes that can also be made from puff pastry -- that arrived still warm. An ice-cold, chive-flecked crème frâiche topped the faintly oily, wispy-thin salmon, making for a tangy-sweet combination. A third starter, the beef carpaccio, was matched with the typical baby arugula and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano on a plate drizzled with olive oil; the exquisite difference here lay in the strong flavor of the meat, the fresh crunch of the greens, the razor-sharp aged cheese and the nutty oil. And while we'd have liked more than the two measly Desert Glory tomatoes that came with a Caprese-style mozzarella salad, the fresh cheese and a not-too-sweet, not-too-tart balsamic glaze, as well as the crispy mixed greens, made up for the shortage of sweet-tart red love apples.
Some of the dishes were downright stunning. A bowl of fat, sassy mushroom ravioli tossed with spinach came awash in a mushroom broth so concentrated it possessed a meaty quality; a mellow leek confit offered a breather from the heady mixture. Less rich but even more interesting was a dish of pearl-shaped pasta colored and flavored with saffron, soft and creamy and reminiscent of risotto, ringed by perfectly pan-seared scallops, chunks of nearly melted tomatoes and a lobster sauce made dark and more lobstery with the crustacean's roe. And two lunchtime sandwiches were simply inspired: salty, chewy pretzel bread held in a mountain of shaved pastrami enriched with plenty of melted Swiss and a creamy Dijon concoction; a grilled ahi burger came with a caramelized pineapple chutney, so sweet and tart it was like eating the top off a pineapple upside-down cake, maraschino cherries and all.
In comparison, the dessert choices seemed boring and their $6.50 price tags too high, considering the amazingly low tariff on the rest of the dishes. But each finale had its own considerable charm. The crème brûlée was sweetened with mango; the chocolate-dense brownie came topped with caramelized bananas, dusted with hazelnuts and sided by mocha ice cream; the cobbler sported a thick, granola-like crust and was packed with first-of-the-season strawberries; the root beer float epitomized the ultimate soda-fountain creation, with coffee and vanilla ice creams foaming over the top of an oversized glass as a mound of freshly whipped cream hung on for dear life.
Yes, Bloom blooms beside a shopping center. But I, like, totally like it.
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