43 Canoe Place Rd., Hampton Bays
I’m not complaining, mind you—this gig has me constantly checking out new restaurants. Another venue, another menu. But it affords little opportunity to return to a favorite place. I discover something outstanding and then move on to the next, perhaps not to return for months or years or ever.
But sometimes you hit the whole shebang; the place with food, service, price and ambiance that’s just perfect for the time of the season and you don’t feel like exploring anywhere else. Rumba in Hampton Bays is hotter than July. Each time I eat here I’m so comfortably satisfied that I just want to go steady with the place and stop playing the field.
This is a Caribbean Island experience, off the beaten path on Shinnecock Bay, open and airy with beautiful vistas from every table, inside or out on the deck. The food, from Chef David Hersh—who found the vacant spot that housed Margarita Island and opened it up with wife Rachel, after moving up from Miami—is all about tropical takes on seafood and other treats. The name Rumba is supposed to evoke the rum bar, which has 45 varieties from 18 countries. Bartenders are serious about their Mojitos too, blending the lime into the mint leaves like ancient pharmacists jamming pestle into mortar, but with surf videos playing overhead. A dozen stools face the water outside near the tiki bar, which doubles as a bandstand. Tables in the shade and inside all have water views. There’s even a beach with chairs overlooking a dock where boats and sometimes even waverunners pull up—the best place to wait for a table on a busy weekend night.
An old restaurant adage is that the better the water view, the worse the food. This is true at many other places in the area. Here, the food more than holds its own—it transcends. The familiar and easy are taken to new levels with sharp attention paid to detail. Jerk Chicken ($18) made with boneless thighs ignites my face like it should, but Coconut Risotto and mango-papaya salsa are sweet and cool extinguishers. The Ahi Tuna Burger ($13), fresh ground with wasabi mayo on the side, is a version to be reckoned with. Onion Straws ($6) are more like long strings, but who’s arguing with these addictive crispy wisps? Grilled Oysters ($12) are breaded and seasoned and wonderful. Scallop and Papaya Salad ($16) with grilled diver scallops, chunks of papaya and avocado under a pile of frisee is right for a steaming day. Rumba Shrimp ($25), grilled head-on monsters in a heady Worchestershire reduction surrounding coconut risotto, speaks of warm tropical breezes. All of the above are heartily recommended, as is David’s Key Lime Pie ($8.)
But something as simple as the Oyster Boat ($13), a hero stuffed with fresh shucked, breaded and fried mollusks with sliced avocado, I could order every time I stop in, washed down with a cold Rum Punch. But I need to eat my way through the rest of the menu just to make sure this is the real thing and not my summer fling.