How weird was it to walk into Rumbi Island Grill with its steel-drum soundtrack and nouveau tropical isle dcor with three-foot piles of blackened snow edging the parking lot?
About as weird as walking into any chain restaurant that tries to transport casual diners to exotic locales. No weirder than going to, say, Macaroni Grill and being bombarded with Italian pop tunes crooned by Dean Martin and giddy waiters chirping, "Ciao!"
My nose, drawn by the scent of steaming coconut rice, led me to the Order Here station, and I thought for a brief moment that I'd get through the Rumbi experience with no further fast-food culture shocks. Then the cashier, a strapping high schooler dressed in a brightly flowered Hawaiian shirt, broke the spell.
"Aloha!" she yelled. "May I take your order?"
I have actually lived in Hawaii, where "aloha" means everything from "hi" to "how's it going?" to "goodbye," and is as ubiquitous as the scent of plumeria blossoms. Hearing it in a Colorado strip mall the day after a blizzard, however, was a jolt.
I ordered the Luau Pork Plate ($7.99) and took my number to a laminated, simulated bamboo tabletop. Sipping a mango tea that was fresh and not over-sweetened, I looked around.
Rumbi Island Grill is a chain with locations in Utah and Colorado. The restaurant appears popular with parents of young children, possibly for their Little Kahunas, kids meals of teriyaki over noodles or rice, a relatively healthy, quick dinner for less than four bucks. Founder Dave Duffin first started smoothie purveyor Zuka Juice, then sold to Jamba Juice and turned his profits into this island hybrid, featuring salads and rice bowls, teriyaki and jerk flavors and cheerful environs.
The Luau Pork arrived moist, pulled and defatted, an excellent rendition of a Hawaiian fast-food standard, accompanied by a pile of macaroni salad on one side and a seasoned Asian coleslaw on the other. The macaroni salad, creamy and innocuous, sent me right back to Honolulu's old-fashioned saimin noodle stands, and the sesame-scented slaw provided a nice, crisp contrast.
Rumbi's rice bowls are a filling good deal ($6.29 for a small size, $7.29 for a full) and come with your choice of white, brown or Rumbi Rice, which is coconut-infused and speckled with red beans. To the rice, add either chicken, steak, veggies, organic tofu or shrimp, prepared Hawaiian teriyaki style, Jamaican Jerk style or Bali Island style (with peanut sauce and a crushed peanut garnish). The flavors are mild, even those that promise spice. Don't expect the Jamaican Jerk to stir up a sweat.
The South Seas Chicken Salad ($7.29) proved to be meal-size, crisp and tasty, a romaine mix with julienne carrots, chicken breast chunks, mandarin oranges, scallions, cilantro and slivered almonds, tossed with cold teriyaki noodles and topped with fried wonton strips and a brightly flavored sesame ginger dressing.
Leaving Rumbi Island, I was mortified to find my feet encased in slush, but blown away by what looked like a Hawaiian sunset over the Colorado mountains. Mango, orange and raspberry sherbet clouds stretched across the bluest of skies, completing the pseudo-island experience.
Rumbi Island Grill
7395 N. Academy Blvd., 531-7960
Open Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.