Review: Rumbi Island Grill - Phoenix
On the northwest corner of 44th Street and Indian School Road in East Phoenix, there is a strip mall with the world's worst parking. It is the worst because it was poorly designed and also because it has a lot of popular places such as Starbucks, Pei Wei, Rubio's, Subway, Walgreens, and a Chevron station. I didn't think a parking lot could get any worse that that.
However, about a year ago, ground was broken immediately to the west of the aforementioned strip mall to house... another strip mall. But this one was going to have an even smaller lot. I was almost ready to write the whole mall off when I saw that it was going to accomodate a Washington Mutual Bank, a Cold Stone Creamery, a nail salon and the other usual things you see in any strip mall in American.
Then, a sign went up and caught my eye and I was waiting to see what would happen.
About a month or so ago, the Rumbi Island Grill opened for business. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it looked very corporate and I was worried it was just another chain. I was almost ready to write that off as well, but wanted to give it a try hoping that I would be surprised.
I went in for an early dinner and was really pleasantly surprised by the interior. Lots of Polynesian murals, foliage and music abound inside and the tables and chairs are a nice cherry wood color. Like Pei Wei and Sauce, you walk along the side of the wall to an ordering station, make your selection, pay your bill and then are given an number you place on your table for someone to identify you for your food.
I had no clue what to order, so I decided to try something traditional and went with Luau Pork Plate ($7.99). I also got a Diet Coke ($1.49). Just before my order was totaled, I decided to start my meal with a bowl of Bahama Mama Tortilla Soup ($2.49 for the medium bowl). I got my glass for use at the soda fountain station, my receipt and my number. I stopped and filled my glass with Diet Coke and grabbed the Soy Sauce.
I got to my table and got things set down and the server was at my table with my soup.
The soup was a mix of chicken broth and coconut milk. It contained diced chicken, carrots, parsley and was topped with tortilla strips, some mozzarella cheese and a lime wedge. I squeezed the lime in, mixed it up and took my first bite. Very good. The temperature could have been hotter, but the soup itself was very tasty. The coconut milk was not overpowering and it all melded together in a very good was to start my meal. I was pleased.
My Luau Pork Plate hit my table when I was just finising my soup. It was a sizable platter and contained a scoop of shredded pork with a sweet glaze, a scoop of macaroni salad, a scoop of cole slaw, two scoops of brown rice, and a small ramekin of a thickened sauce.
The pork was very good. It was moist and not greasy. The glaze was sweet, but not sickeningly so. I was happy with the meat. The cole slaw was okay, but nothing special. It was cold, crisp and was a bit tangy, but could have used with some seasoning. The brown rice was standard. However, it could have been cooked a bit longer. The addition of the sesame seeds on it though, was good. The macaroni salad was really quite a surprise. The pasta was al dente and the mayo-based dressing had been sweetened with just a bit of pineapple juice, which really was quite nice and complimented the whole meal well. The sauce on the side, however, was awful. Overly salty and lacking any real taste other than salt, I quickly set that aside.
All in all, it was a very good dish and I was rather surprised that this corporate entity had offered a good plate dinner and soup at a fairly inexpensive price.
I told my roommate Dave about it and he wanted to try is as well. Dave is a big Polynesian kitsch fan, so anything from the "islands" is something he wants to try. So, about a week later, I headed back to Rumbi, Dave in tow.
We did the same routine as before, but this time I ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Rice Bowl ($7.25) which Dave wanted to have the Hawaiian Teriyaki Rice Bowl ($7.25). I like the soup so much the first time, I got another bowl of it ($2.59). Again, we got our drinks, waited no more than five minutes and my soup was at the table. I didn't even finish this bowl before our meals were there.
My Jerk Chicken Rice Bowl was pretty large. I was happy to see that the vegetables that accompanied the dish were tender crisp and vibrant with color. My chicken was tender and moist and had a nice flavor to it. The red beans and rice that were the foundation for this meal were very good and I was content that the rice was being cooked a bit longer. It did all have a spicy kick to it, but it could have been much more spicy for my taste. Of course, this was a corporate chain, so I know they were toning it down for "traditional American palates."
Dave's Hawaiian Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl looked almost identical to mine except his had a sweetness to it and included pineapple. Like my rice bowl, his veggies were spared from being cooked to mush and his chicken was tasty. He liked his rice bowl, but commented that he could have used 1) more pineapple and 2) more spice.
We finished up our meals and headed to the car. It had gotten dark and the outside of the building was aglow from the lights inside of Rumbi. We chatted about our meal and while Rumbi is not going to be at the top of any list, it was a decent place to grab a meal. We both agreed that we would return for another meal.
The question on my mind was how crazy the parking would be once everything opened in this strip mall. Additionally, would that keep me from coming back to Rumbi?
I liked Rumbi and think I would brave the lot for some more soup and another meal.
Rumbi Island Grill
4280 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Hawaiian Shirts
Notes: Other locations in Scottsdale, Mesa (coming soon), greater Denver and greater Salt Lake City.
One of these just opened in Chandler in the same plaza as Fleming's and World Market. My husband, having spent a great deal of his youth on Maui, wanted to try it. We hadn't read these reviews and assumed by the name it would be mostly focused on Hawaiian plate lunch type items...which in a way it is with items like jerk chicken thrown in for a more all around island influence.
He had the same Kalua Pork plate mentioned here an I had the Teriyaki Chicken half size bowl. Both with brown rice.
The food wasn't bad but isn't great either. We won't go out of our way to return. The pork was tender and moist, the chicken diced breast. The vegetables weren't overcooked. The teriyaki sauce was too salty for our taste. Husband was disappoinetd in the macaroni salad and deemed it "not the real thing, needs more pineapple juice." They give you a copious amount of rice(about 2 cups for the half size bowl) making the portion seem huge but for the price there was very little actual chicken or pork on there.
The bill for the two dinners with two iced teas was $18. All in all not offensively bad but there are better options on this side of town(Aloha Kitchen, Ohana, and even the Guamanian place Island Roots) if you're looking for something along the lines of a plate lunch.
The Star-Bulletin link is 404, the period at the end of the sentence snuck on to the tail of the link.
I'm amused by the person who criticized that they'd serve more authentic foods. I dare you to try and serve poi to mainlanders. The reason they do the Polynesian high priest blessing the place is simple- marketing. More people are going to be interested in that than a simple ribbon cutting. If you look through Rumbi's website you'll notice that they don't mention actually *being* Hawaiian food, simply the fuzzier "island" fare, ranging from the Caribbean to Polynesia. The simple reasoning behind using Hawaiian words is that Americans are more likely to understand "Aloha" than the Tahitian "Ia ora na" or any other more exotic language.
Then why, oh why, do they position themselves that way with Polynesian a high priest chanting and blessing new premises? If they don't want that kind of image, I submit that a simple ribbon cutting would do just fine. Click on that Star-Bulletin link, and read what a Hawaiian reporter's observation is.
Rumbi Island Grill is based in Salt Lake City. I reviewed it on my food blog when one opened in Boulder, CO -- and I was underwhelmed, to put it kindly. See http://culinary-colorado.blogspot.com/2006/10/rumbi-vs-rhumba.html. When another one opened down the pike in Westminster, CO, the restaurant writer for the 'Honolulu Star-Bulletin' wrote about the chain too -- and took them to task on a number of fronts. Read her "Hawaiian, Schmawaiian" column at http://starbulletin.com/2007/01/25/bu.... People might find the food to be OK and reasonably priced, but Polynesian/Hawaiian it's not.
In fairness to Rumbi, I don't think they are trying strictly to be a Polynesian/Hawaiian restaurant. Their menu contains more than a handful of Caribbean themed items.
When I went there, it struck me as they were going more for a tropical feel than just Hawaiian. As I said in my review, some of the items were very good and some missed the mark, but overall, I thought it was a decent place to find a quick lunch or dinner.
I went to Rumbi for lunch, yesterday. I got the Mahi-Mahi, and I have to say that it was surprisingly good for a counter service / chain type of place. With a fountain drink, it costs a little over $10. I have a secret parking space - the rest of you will have to walk!