Dining out: Rumbi Island Grill

Published: Friday, April 14 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

MURRAY — Rumbi Island Grill opened its first store in 2000 in Salt Lake City, helping to usher in a boomlet in eateries with tropical and Polynesian flavors that continues to this day.

Since then, the chain of Hawaiian- and Caribbean-influenced restaurants has expanded to seven locations in Utah, with others in Arizona and Colorado. Six years on, the menu is still reliable and quick, though you now can find much more authentic — and cheaper — Polynesian fare elsewhere in Utah.

Though there are plenty of "tropical" salads and sandwiches on the menu (the signature "Voodoo" chicken salad, with field greens, jerk chicken, feta, corn strips and spicy vinaigrette springs to mind), the backbone of Rumbi's menu is its rice bowls, which diners customize to their tastes. There's Hawaiian teriyaki, Jamaican jerk and Thai-influenced Bali Island flavors from which to choose, as well as three kinds of rice (or noodles for a little extra), plus several meat or veggie options.

I had a half-bowl of Jamaican jerk steak served over "Rumbi rice," which the menu describes as coconut rice with red beans. Besides strips of marinated steak, the bowl also contained mixed broccoli, peppers, julienned carrots and squash.

I liked it. I did. But the supposedly "sweet, spicy" glaze was just sweet, with not a hint of heat. Even my spice-averse 8-year-old daughter agreed there was no spiciness whatsoever, aside from a certain smokiness that made the sauce similar to the teriyaki sauce in the kids' chicken bowls. I couldn't detect any coconut flavor in the rice, either, though the beans were well-cooked and creamy. The steak was lean and moist but a bit flavor-deficient.

Much better was my husband's selection from the "Island Entrees" menu, the luau pork plate. It featured a juicy-sweet pile of slow-roasted pulled "Kalua" pork that was incredibly tender and delicious. However, the portion of pork was downright stingy, its initial plentiful appearance achieved by piling it on top of some of the accompanying macaroni salad.

I liked that salad, by the way, with its creamy, aromatic dressing and sprinkling of fresh green onions, but not so much the bland Asian slaw on the other side of the plate. Factor in those two sides and the two scoops of white rice (in other words, it's a plate lunch) that also were part of the meal, and you get little more than a taste of the featured meat, plus a whole lotta starch.

In fact, I found Rumbi's portions a bit skimpy all around considering both their cost and what you get for the same money at similar restaurants. My half-bowl wasn't very big at all, and the kids' meals are small, as well. We typically do fine when ordering two kids' meals for the three girls, but that wasn't enough at Rumbi, and they ended up eating our food.

To finish we shared a refreshing mango "Island cooler," billed as a smoothie but more like a slush, and three of Rumbi's big, soft cookies in oatmeal-raisin, peanut butter-chocolate chip and M&M.

Rice bowls $6.29-$7.29, salads $7.29, sandwiches $6.29-$6.59, entrees $7.99-$8.49, sides and extras 99 cents-$2.99, soup $2.59-$4.59, kids' meals $3.29.

Rating: **

Where: 5269 S. State, Murray (other locations in Salt Lake City, Draper, Orem, Layton, West Jordan)

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.;

Sunday 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Payment: Checks, credit cards accepted

Phone: 266-5700

Web: www.rumbi.com


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com