Did you lunch at 40 Carrots with your grandma? I have fond memories of both that more upscale restaurant and its counter-style companion when I would break up a day of shopping at the White Plains, New York, Bloomingdale’s with mine. Big Brown Bags in hand, we grazed on fruit salad and broiled chicken breasts. Lunch might include a trip to the salad bar, too. And before my great-grandmother shuffled off this mortal coil, she always focused on the brownie sundae.
Fast-forward a few decades, and, while there are still 40 Carrots restaurants at Bloomingdale’s, foodie culture has progressed beyond a salad bar of crunchy fried lo mein on top of iceberg lettuce. In fact, when Bloomie’s, the boutique-style store in Mosaic District, was in its planning phases, executives reached out to a local food name about setting up shop inside. That name is Daniella Senior, founder of the small Colada Shop chain. “They had heard of us, and they wanted to partner with a local café that ultimately was attracting the same demographic that they’re doing,” Senior told me ahead of opening at the end of August. “It’s a little bit younger than Bloomingdale’s. They wanted a concept to match.”
The result is a quick-service café with a bill of fare abbreviated slightly from other Colada Shop locations. Diners use a QR-code menu to order and pay on their phones. Staffers prepare the food and speedily deliver it to the table. When it comes to drinks, guests are invited to sip while they peruse the aisles. I didn’t dare tempt fate with my clumsiness, but I can report that the Bloomie’s Colada is minty, sweet, and just a bit bitter with its fernet float. On another visit, when I ordered the shaken mint limeade, it was served without the simple syrup listed on the menu and presented as forbiddingly sour. Fortunately, there is a bottle of simple syrup waiting next to the water dispenser near the counter.
That same meal, my first at Colada Shop, I was excited to try the Cubano about which I’ve heard so much from locals. (After all, many readers remember the now-shuttered Sterling Colada Shop location fondly.) The bread crunches with a flinty crispness that augurs good things. And then comes the deluge. My sandwich dripped a milky combination of pork fat and pickle juice all over its plate at first bite. Not particularly ladylike, but we ladies can overlook certain things when the flavor is favorable. And the Cuban sandwich is a textural delight with its crunchy pickles, layers of fleshy roasted pork and ham, and stretchy Swiss cheese. But despite all that, I didn’t feel compelled to eat the second half of the sandwich.
Perhaps it’s the distraction of its surroundings, but I found it easier to control my portions here than I often do. The food often seems to favor form over function, like a chic coat that just isn’t quite warm enough. Another example is the Havana Chicken Caesar, one of the salads added to the menu just for Bloomie’s. “It has very, very flavorful mojo-marinated chicken paillard,” Senior told me back in August. What I tasted was nicely seasoned, but relatively plain chicken. The greens are well-coated in the house Caesar dressing and a flurry of grated manchego. A colorful salsa adds more of a visual aspect than flavor, too. It’s a perfectly acceptable department-store salad, but not the culinary innovation I was hoping for.
But some flavors are as big as the colors promise. Pastelitos, puff pastry pockets, are filled with a whole range of stuffings, including ground beef. My favorite fuses two others–sweet cream cheese and guava paste for a tangy, sugary, and ultimately mouthwatering snack. Plantain chips, which appear as an appetizer, a side dish, or on the Havana Ooh La La sampler (it also includes everything from bechamel-filled croquetas to chewy brownies), are crisp, not oily, and an all-around fun bite. This owes in large part to a pair of dips: a thick black bean spread and chunky, garlicky mojo.
Besides mere convenience during a shopping trip, the very best reason to eat at Bloomie’s Colada Shop is the huevos a la Cubana. Pictured at the top of this page, there’s no arguing it’s a stunner. Basically, it’s Cuban shakshuka. A pair of poached eggs repose in a tangy, garlicky tomato sofrito. Queso fresco forms a browned blanket on top that’s every bit as satisfying as the eggs. There’s far more sauce than there is protein, but this is actually a good thing. It allows the diner to focus on the summery flavors of the sofrito while dipping grilled wands of Cuban bread into it. It’s a breakfast dish that’s worth making room for any time of day.
Though the looming fashions don’t exactly encourage dessert, my heritage does. My great-grandmother would have been disappointed in me if I didn’t try the brownie sundae. That dessert, it turns out, is a bit too sweet for my palate with its dulce de leche drizzle, despite the influence of the less sugary but dark and fudgy brownies. Instead, I recommend splurging on a jar of tres leches cake. The vanilla sponge is airy enough to eat on its own, but despite its soaking in cream, condensed milk, and evaporated milk, it’s not drenched in dairy. I’m not a fan of renditions of tres leches that result in a puddle of milk. This doesn’t. Better still is its frothy topping of bruléed meringue. It’s almost worth going up a size in the jeans section.
Bloomie’s is a gem of a store that’s full of quirky finds. This holiday season, its very first location is sure to be bombarded with shoppers in search of something extra special. If they can make time for a caldero of eggs and some cake, they’ll find it right at the end of their forks.
2920 District Ave. #190, Fairfax
See this: The café space itself is far from the only eye candy in the building, but when you’re not browsing the racks, there’s still a bright ambience, complete with a plant-filled wall near where the seating connects to the store.
Eat this: Plantain chips, huevos a la Cubana, tres leches
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