To understand the marvel that is Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, you have to know that it sits in what used to be a desolate warehouse district you drove through very quickly after dark.
Enter Tony Goldman, the late developer who had a hand in the rebirth of South Beach and New York's SoHo and Philadelphia's Center City. He saw something in these windowless warehouses and started buying them up. By 2009, he owned enough of Wynwood that he asked artists from around the world to turn these blank warehouse canvasses into works of art. Wynwood Walls now comprises more than 40 murals, 176 feet of roll-up storefront gates and several buildings.
Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, which Goldman opened in 2010, sits at the neighborhood's center, just as he envisioned. Goldman died last September.
I had a few meals here early on, but the menu was all over the place. It included everything from grilled-cheese sandwiches to a curious menu category of dishes cooked in clay pots. Two summers ago, chef Miguel Aguilar came on board and transformed the menu into a moderately priced collection of Latin-inspired small plates. There's hardly a bad one among the bunch.
Aguilar's dishes are best enjoyed on the covered patio, where you have a perfect view of the mural by Shepard Fairey, famous for his poster of President Barack Obama.
Aguilar, who was born in Venezuela and grew up in the United States, previously worked at Stephen Starr's El Rey and at Miami chef Douglas Rodriguez's Alma de Cuba, both in Philadelphia. This is Latin food with a chef's discriminating touch, upgraded with elements such as intensely flavored purees and presented in ways this food deserves.
At one meal, we started with bacon-wrapped medjool dates ($11) with almonds, arugula and citrus vinaigrette as we sipped cold glasses of Brooklyn Lager ($7) and Ommegang Abbey Ale ($10).
Pico verde ($8), which so often tastes like an afterthought, is a cool mixture of tomatillo, red onion, cilantro and house-made chips. The Wynwood ($11) begins with top-quality red and yellow beefsteak tomatoes and finishes with manchego cheese, piquillo peppers and a distinctive arugula puree. Roasted beets ($9) get Maytag blue cheese along with a Valencia orange-champagne-honey vinaigrette. Refreshing hamachi ceviche ($15) is sliced and presented elegantly with a touch of mango aji amarillo sauce, jalapeno, red onion, cilantro and tortilla chips.
The restaurant serves four kinds of grilled skewers, including tender skirt steak with chimichurri ($9) and charred baby octopus with oregano puree. Classic vaca frita ($15) is served unconventionally, with four-bean salad and piquillo-pepper puree. The chef mixes fingerling potatoes, chorizo, caramelized onions and celery in a deliciously salty hash ($8). I can't get enough of the flash-fried bok choy ($8) served with soy garlic dressing. Pour all the dressing over the hot greens.
Service is friendly and mostly efficient, but the staffers seems more like neighborhood kids than professionals. Everything gets done. And friendly goes a long way in a town not known for friendly service.
While the walls are illuminated at night, they look best in early evening, when there's still plenty of natural light. It's South Florida's only open-air museum and a spot you ought to put on your list. Not just for the art, but for the artfully prepared food.
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him Twitter at @FloridaEats.
2550 NW Second Ave., Miami
Cuisine: Eclectic Latin
Hours: Lunch, dinner Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full bar
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet or street parking