I had a feeling that Balloo was going to be a restaurant I would enjoy. Every other chef in Miami was singing its high praises. So I headed down to 19 SE 2nd Avenue (in not the best part of town). This is not a fancy or upscale restaurant, there’s no valet parking and the downtown neighborhood could use an uplift. The restaurant is located in the Ingraham office building, down a long corridor on its main floor. It is located next to a muscle gym and you can hear barbells being dropped.
Don’t let any of this deter you. It all pays off once you try award-winning Chef Timon Balloo’s rich, unique cooking that combines flavours from his diverse background of Indian, Chinese and Trinidadian heritage, as well as that of his wife, Melissa Sosa’s Thai and Colombian roots. So if you get a chance to eat here, this place will be like no other. Every bite is exciting in a different way, and bursting with intense flavours.
The interior is quite adorable, it’s very kitschy, and almost like you were invited into someone’s private home in the islands – it’s that kind of place. The restaurant is probably less than 1,000 square feet. They can seat 31, and that includes in the tiny restaurant, around the bar, or in the hallway. Just be happy you got a reservation. The chairs and booths are uncomfortable, the dishes are mismatched. The tablecloths are a bright vinyl floral motif. The walls are filled with old celebrity photos as well as family pics. The furniture has a hand-me-down, vintage / tropical vibe, the shelves are filled with knick-knacks, jars of pickled vegetables, and books. It is an intimate setting, where you find yourself talking to other patrons seated next to you. It is cozy warm and eclectic.
Chef Balloo is known to many in Miami for his restaurant Sugercane in midtown Miami. He was so successful there he opened branches in Brooklyn and Vegas. He had worked previously for Allen Susser and his mentor was our very own Canadian Chef Michelle Bernstein, who taught him to be self-expressive. Balloo is his most personal restaurant yet, and his most intriguing, showcasing his diverse heritage. He is serving food that he would have at home from his childhood. We were warmly greeted at the door by the chef’s wife. When someone celebrated their birthday on the evening we dined there, the entire staff, including Chef Balloo came out to the dining room to sing, bang kitchen pots and do a dance. If that is not a warm welcome, then I don’t know what is.
The menu is concise and is divided into small, medium, large, sides, and sweets. We tried the jerk beets with curry aioli, the fabulous roasted curry calabaza, a pumpkin squash with labneh and black lime, and an outstanding sticky fish sauce caramel wings, that is transporting and is a must-try. The Jamaican curry goat with roti, is another delicious dish. But for me, the Trini spiced oxtail with pigeon peas and rice, tomato, and avocado salad is a comfort pleasing, fall off the bone delight. The only dish that I thought could fare better were the shrimp curry mei fun noodles with scallions and soy sauce. I found them to be dry and bland tasting.
There was a small curated selection of natural wines and beers as well as some homemade elixirs. There are only two desserts on the menu, a vanilla and peanut butter cookie pudding and a Florida honeycake, with burnt pineapple caramel kulfi. Both were very homey desserts.
Balloo is currently open for dinner nightly except Sundays.
If you come you will be privy to some multi-dimensional flavours, and some of Miami’s most unique cuisine.