Rumba in Hampton Bays

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Guests enjoy food and drinks late into the

Guests enjoy food and drinks late into the evening on the outside deck of Rumba in the Hampton Bays on July 9, 2011. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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The scene at Rumba in Hampton Bays gets going early, even on a weeknight. At 6:15, my car is one of the last to be valet-parked in the crowded lot behind the restaurant.

A sign at the entry declares it's "Island time." I start to unwind as two of us are shown to the patio and the last available seats at a long counter facing out onto the parking lot -- and, beyond, the Shinnecock Canal. The crowd is a happy mix of families and couples. Lots of Hawaiian shirts.

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The sound system pumps out a mix of reggae and Jimmy Buffett. I'm glad my rum punch is both fruity and potent, that the "Dominican" ribs we share are fork-tender, sticky with a chili-ginger-soy glaze, showered with fresh cilantro. Then, there's a fish taco -- sage-breaded mahi mahi topped with a perky slaw and a squiggle of rémoulade -- nestled into a soft corn tortilla. Festive food, for sure.

Now that the parking lot is full, guests are transported from a satellite lot (at the nearby Mariner's Cove Marina) on the restaurant's "Rum Bus."

My guy's jerk chicken (juicy, boneless thighs) comes up smoky and spicy. It's served over a coconut risotto I find achingly sweet. My salad of jumbo local diver scallops with papaya, avocado, tomatoes, corn, frisee and mâche is delicious; the scallops (lots of them) are hidden beneath the greens, to be ferreted out like buried treasure.

The finale is grand: a slice of sweet-tart Key lime pie on a buttery graham crust with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. It's pie that eclipses anything remembered from the Florida Keys.

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