In Bloom is on the right track to keep diners coming back

Chef Cyrus Keefer's career has had more moves than a quick-paced chess game. But he may have finally found a long-running match.

I hope so. I have been eating his creative food for several years, and every time I thought he found a niche, he was on the move again.


Recently, Keefer — who worked at Birroteca and Fork & Wrench, among other places — joined forces with chef Kevin Perry, who operated Liv2Eat in South Baltimore for five years. The partners came up with a rebranding plan for the restaurant, changing the name to In Bloom.

It closed for two weeks for cosmetic repairs, re-opening in late August with new paint, stained woodwork and other updates. The middle room still has a play station for kids, and the back patio is a verdant hideaway.

Chef Cyrus Keefer has made another move — away from the traditional restaurant kitchen and into a nonprofit group.

The chefs work together in the bustling, open kitchen in the front, creating seasonal dishes, several of which offer a spin on international street foods like steamed buns and dumplings.

Their goal is to attract repeat customers.

"We want to play this smart," Keefer said. "We want to build a menu that keeps people coming back."

From the looks of the most recent one, the chefs are on the right track. The menu (there's a children's version, too) was updated a week after we were there, but during our visit, we tried several of the specials, which are now official offerings.


That doesn't mean the dishes are static. The chefs like to change up ingredients, like swapping pine nuts (which we had) for cashews in the stellar flash-seared calamari.

Our server was a laidback ambassador, knowledgeably describing the food in a chummy manner and keeping us apprised of any kitchen changes, like the chicken steamed bun that replaced an entree in one instance.

But we weren't sure how to handle his habit of starting to tell us about a dish and then saying, "But you know that." Actually, we didn't in some cases.

We got off to an uneven start with our wine order. Two of the glasses came at once, followed by another one after a lapse of time, while the fourth glass took even longer since our waiter had to get a bottle from the basement.

We appreciated our server's heads-up that our starters would be served as they were ready. The timing didn't matter to us since we were sharing them.

When our appetizers were all delivered to the table, we commented to each other about the quality of the ingredients and preparations — the tender gem lettuce in the Caesar salad, the lemon-chive creme fraiche with the risotto fritters and a gorgeous charcuterie selection that had us salivating appreciatively. Displayed on a sleek, black-slate rectangle, it showcased folds of mortadella and prosciutto di San Daniele, sweet Castelvetrano olives, prized tiger stripe figs, tiny champagne grapes, sultry eggplant dip, grainy mustard and thick toasts.

If you haven't been introduced to the pleasures of bone marrow, get ready. Keefer and Perry use the gelatinous, buttery substance in a couple of dishes.

The torn-pasta lasagna was treated to a thick coating of bone-marrow Bolognese, offering an indulgent interpretation of the Italian classic. The sauce was thick enough to swab an accompanying slab of bronzed bread.

A beef short rib, sliced into a rosy fan, joined forces with roasted bone marrow. Try to get past the fact there is a giant bone filled with golden gook on your plate. It's really good.

If you're looking for an interactive dish, try the whole fried sea bass. You have to delicately scrape the fish off the bone and pile the moist meat onto soft tacos made by local Tortilleria Sinaloa. It's worth the exercise. Top the mound with chimichurri with Thai basil, fruit salsa and pickled cucumbers for a livelier wrap.

The fish of the day was an irresistible crispy-skin salmon. The blushing fillet, reclining on creamy polenta, was flanked by sauteed greens and mushrooms.

I'm usually flagging by the time dessert is offered, though I rally when the offerings merit it, as was the case here.

The buttermilk panna cotta, crowned with tart, golden gooseberries, was a delightful, jiggling custard. And the six freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies and small glasses of milk tricked us into being kids again.

Chefs Keefer and Perry have a lot of culinary tricks up their sleeves. They are giving us many reasons to want to return for an encore meal.

In Bloom restaurant is replacing Liv2Eat in Federal Hill as the owners create a new concept.

In Bloom

Rating: 3 stars

Where: 1444 Light St., South Baltimore

Contact: 443-449-7129, inbloomrestaurant.com

Open: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday brunch

Prices: Snacks, $5-$11; entrees, $19-$28.

Food: New American with international influences

Noise/TVs: We visited on an evening when there was only one other group in the front dining room, so the vibe was low-key; one TV (installed after our visit).

Service: Our easygoing waiter had a casual professionalism, treating us more like friends than customers.

Parking: Street parking, valet on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant offers a $15 credit toward the check when diners present an Uber or Lyft trip (a one-way trip must be $7.50 or more to receive the full credit).

Special diets: Can accommodate.

Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.

Handicap accessible: Yes.

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]