Food: Wallflower, located at 609 Rose Ave in Venice, has weathered the ups and downs of the pandemic. Art Gray

As outdoor dining reopens and local restaurants begin the road to recovery the Daily Press is highlighting one excellent eatery a week sharing its history, pandemic struggles, and signature dishes.

This week the spotlight is on Wallflower — a South East Asian gem tucked away on Rose Avenue serving modern Indonesian fusion food alongside killer craft cocktails.

The story behind Wallflower

Wallflower was founded in 2015 as a collaboration between architect and restaurateur Dustin Miles and former head chef Harryson Tobing, who hails from Lake Toba in Northern Sumatra.

Miles sought to combine the ethos and aesthetic of the cozy neighborhood-centric cafes he fell in love with in New York with the soulful aromatic delights of Indonesian food.

While his background is in architecture and design, Miles came from a family of hospitality workers and always dreamed of launching his own restaurant.

“I think my earliest memory is in a restaurant where I was sitting on a barstool waiting for my mom to clean up the bar,” said Miles. “It’s kind of in my blood.”

After moving to Venice, Miles left his architecture firm and launched Wallflower as an unassuming candle-lit gathering place where local creatives can come together over a plate of crispy duck rolls and enjoy handcrafted cocktails.

Miles utilized his design skills to build an alluring ambiance incorporating minimalist lighting and natural materials with soul, texture, and warmth. While working with a limited budget, the team used a lot of reclaimed materials and repurposed furniture to build the interior.

Surviving the pandemic

As was the case for many locally owned businesses, the past year has been a rollercoaster ride for Wallflower. While at times it looked like the small restaurant would be pushed off the edge, the team banded together to stay afloat.

“The memory of the first shut down order is seared into my brain. It was tragic because we had really worked so hard the last five years and had just gotten into a really good place,” said Miles. “It felt like pulling the reins back on a racehorse.”

The team gritted their teeth and tried to make to-go work, but found much more success through outdoor dining during the fall.

“The complete unpredictability of it all was the most painful part, you really felt like you were on a yo-yo going up and down and up and down,” said Miles.

When the second shutdown hit the team decided to take a pause to stop the business from bleeding money through to-go only and give employees a moment to catch their breath.

As of Feb. 1, Wallflower is back open to the public, replicating its indoor environment outdoors with a fireplace, its signature dim lighting, and plenty of flowers and greenery.

Miles credits the restaurant’s survival to the tenacity and sacrifice of its tight-knit team.

“There’s no way on the planet I would have gotten through this with another team. They’re all very dedicated, bright, resilient, and humble,” said Miles. “They just roll up their sleeves and ask what they can do to help.”

What to order right now

Wallflower’s kitchen is currently led by Chef Brian Kim who serves classic Indonesian dishes with a modern twist, using a range of Southeast Asian spices and fruity and citrusy flavors.

Kim recommends first time diners approach the menu with an adventurous attitude and order a handful of dishes to share.

“I’d say start off with the crispy duck lumpia and something off the wok like a nasi goreng. Make sure you try our rendang; it’s a traditional beef dish that’s slow cooked for four to five hours, creating a really rich flavor,” said Kim. “The menu in general has a lot of aromatic elements that are hard to find in other cuisines.”

Other popular dishes include the bakwan shrimp fritters, green papaya salad, and crab rendang dip.

The food is infused with many fragrant Indonesian ingredients like kaffir lime, lemongrass and jasmine that can also be found in the drink menu.

“We developed a really beautiful cocktail program that parallels the flavors and depths of the food on the menu,” said Miles. “We have one drink with scotch, lemongrass and lavender-ginger honey called the Jamu. It’s named after the medicine women of Indonesia who walks around with a basket of herbs creating healing drinks for local people.”

Wallflower (609 Rose Ave.) is open for dinner and drinks Monday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sunday 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Food is also available for pick-up during dining hours by calling 424-744-8136.

Clara@smdp.com