Bento-building counter or elegant plant store?

On the corner of Howell and Minor, a new counter-service lunch spot called Bloom faces off with Market House Meats, souvenirs from two very different eras of Seattle.

Market House is a local legend that serves spectacular baklava and reubens beneath a sign that boasts “CORNED BEEF since 1948.” Bloom opened in late April, offering serene vibes and the ability to assemble your own compostable bento box lunch from a lineup of options devoid of gluten, dairy, and red meat—the results virtuous, but also tasty.

Bloom’s interior has no seating, just an elegant cafeteria-line setup that lets you fill a compartmented bento box with your choice of protein, greens or grains, hot and cold side dishes, and a parting spoonful of pickles. Protein choices include subtle turkey meatballs, properly cooked king salmon, and glazed tofu—vegans eat especially well here. The hot and cold sides pack way more allure than most mindful food choices, mostly because they don’t stint on flavor. Roasted beets get a subtle boost of sour cherry; pickled raisins dot the crisp curry cauliflower, and black vinegar brings cold fennel zucchini noodles into balance.

The press release for this place used the term “fast-fine” restaurant, a term more likely to generate a full-body wince than actual lunch plans. But I’d eat here again. Regularly.

Bloom's you-pick-it bentos.

This modular rainbow of nourishment is a good avatar for a lunch movement that pulses near the Amazon campus—right around the Evergreens salad line—and spills into neighborhoods and grocery aisles around the city. Mindful eating is mainstream (even among folks who aren’t recovering from various steak house and xiao long bao benders).

Plenty of omnivores are trying to cool it on the meat and processed carbs, at least some of the time (we still love you, Market House Meats). Processing and prepping vegetables may offer significant health benefits, but requires tons of tedious work; a culinary background is helpful when fashioning the results into something to crave. We’re a city willing to pay for takeout. It makes sense that everyone from Starbucks to startups has tried to get this right. Often the biggest problem health-minded food businesses run into isn’t mediocre food, but overly earnest marketing. Bloom’s understated approach feels like a good fit.

The Denny Triangle location—a few construction sites removed from the Westlake lunch scene and squashed against I-5 onramp awkwardness—seems odd. Until you look up. Founder Christian Chan is also an exec with the Burrard Group, the developer that built the luxury Nexus condominium tower that Bloom calls home. Within a few years, this area will have seven new residential towers. "I wouldn't call us premature," says Chan. "But we're early to the party." By some measures, Denny Triangle will soon be one of the densest urban areas in the country (that also explains the Trader Joe's going in at 1200 Stewart).

Outside of real estate, Chan's affinity for the food and beverage industry includes a coffee shop and market in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood that he and his cousin opened a decade ago. In 2016 he was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and found nutrition more effective in managing it than modern medicine. Today he avoids gluten, dairy, and red meat. Not coincidentally, so does Bloom's menu.

While he conceived of this place pre-Covid (and hopes to expand into other locations), Chan says the past two years have just confirmed the shift toward quick-service dining. And as someone who eats this way every day, he wants to push back on "those who think healthy food is not delicious."

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