Paradise Lost | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Paradise Lost 

Expect no tropical delights from your local Rumbi Island Grill.

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I’m betting that whether you’ve ever set foot inside a Rumbi Island Grill restaurant or not, you still know what it looks like inside. That’s right: It’s as predictable as Rubio’s, Costa Vida, Buca di Beppo, Johnny Rockets, Houlihan’s, Café Rio or any number of similar franchise restaurants sporting an exotic cultural or culinary theme of one sort or another. In the case of Rumbi Island Grill, the theme is faux ’40s Hawaii'or maybe Tahiti with a smidgeon of the Caribbean thrown in for good measure. There are kitschy paintings of surfers, hula gals and assorted other island scenes on the walls as though a banana republic had been dropped into the middle of the ’burbs, which is where most Rumbi Island Grills are located. The staff wears flowery Hawaiian shirts: black for the management and red for the grunts, or maybe it’s the other way around. Did I mention fake palm trees or electric Tiki torches? You get the idea.

nn

To be strictly accurate'and lest you think I just get off on bashing franchises, which I don’t'Rumbi Island Grill restaurants technically are not franchised. They are a regional (Utah, Colorado and Arizona) chain of restaurants owned and operated from right here in Zion: Sandy, to be precise. This is perhaps why I receive oddly enormous piles of press releases and assorted other detritus about the place. Until now, I’ve fought the urge to review Rumbi. And I probably should have fought harder.

nn

By now, you’ve been to Noodles & Co. or Pei Wei or Rubio’s or Fazoli’s or another restaurant with Rumbi’s layout: Walk in, read the poster with instructions on how to order, then proceed to a wall-mounted menu. Follow the corral-like path to the cash register and place your order. Pay, sit and wait for your meal to be delivered to you by a food runner. Eat and leave. No tipping is required, nor any conversation with servers, managers or any of the hoi-polloi that populate typical restaurants. It’s the next best thing to a restaurant drive-thru!

nn

Except it isn’t. There is very little “best” to be found at Rumbi Island Grill. In fact, there’s not even very much “good.” Certainly not the prices, which are high for a fast-food joint. Friendliness is not Rumbi’s strong suit, either. You’d think that in this seaside cabana atmosphere, the service staff (insofar as there is one) would be a happy, carefree bunch. Yet it would seem that everyone who works at Rumbi (and one location doesn’t seem to be any different from the next) walks around in a fog of heavy sedation or disgust. Perhaps it’s that they’ve all been driven loony by having to hear songs like “Day-O” and Hawaiian ukuleles shift after shift after shift. That could put anyone in a hostile mood.

nn

I’ve never been to Rumbi Island Grill when I didn’t have to wait at the cash register for someone either to 1. show up to take my order, or 2. get off the phone to take my order. You’d think there would be an order-taker stationed at the register permanently.

nn

On my first visit I tried the “Luau” pork sandwich ($6.59). It’s reasonably tender and slightly dry pulled barbecue pork on a thick bed of “Asian slaw” engulfed in a Kaiser bun. I’m not sure what’s “Asian” about the Asian slaw; it appeared and tasted to me to be nothing more than plain old mayo-doused coleslaw. Alongside my sandwich came a pile of bland tortilla chips and possibly the worst salsa I’ve ever eaten. It was a thick mass of tomatoes, pineapple, jalapeno slices and green onion with a pasty texture similar to roofing compound. Listen folks: Tossing in a few mushy chunks of canned pineapple doesn’t make your salsa “tropical” or “Asian” or “island.” It actually just makes it taste crappier than if you’d just stuck with the salsa cruda notion in the first place.

nn

And by the way, don’t even think about substitutions or special orders. Just try to get someone behind the Rumbi counter to put greens instead of that yucky slaw on your sandwich. It ain’t gonna happen. Apparently that would require rewriting the Rumbi Rules of Sandwich Construction to teach someone how to reach into the salad bin rather than the slaw bin while building a luau pork sandwich.

nn

I decided to catch the big wave with an “Island” entrée, the “Volcano” mahi-mahi ($8.49). The mahi-mahi was two thin filets of fish atop a mound of white rice (brown rice or noodles are other options) next to a dreadful Caesar salad. Now granted, I don’t go to places like Rumbi Island Grill expecting a fresh Caesar made tableside, but still. My lunch companion called the salad “gritty.” And where was the Romaine? Aside from what tasted suspiciously like bottled Caesar salad dressing and the grated Parmesan topping, there wasn’t anything very Caesar about my Caesar. As for the fish? Well, it might have been mahi-mahi. Or, it might have been haddock, perch, catfish or Styrofoam for all I know. The thin, pan-fried filets tasted pretty much like nothing except the oil they’d been cooked in.

nn

After another visit with a disastrous island rice bowl and a watery, coconut-infused tortilla soup (blecch!), I decided I’d eaten my last meal on Rumbi Island. Gilligan and his crew were better fed.

nn

RUMBI ISLAND GRILL
nVarious locations valleywide
nRumbi.com

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