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Rumba Café and Sushi Taro


DonRocks
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Rumba Café and Sushi Taro are two neighborhood restaurants, Rumba being in the heart of Adams Morgan on the 2400 block of 18th Street, and Taro about a 15-minute walk south on the 1500 block of 17th Street.

Having been to both restaurants twice, I’m eagerly looking forward to my third visit to Rumba Café, but cannot see returning to the terribly overrated Sushi Taro. Both places can serve up things that are pretty bad, but when Rumba Café is bad, it’s bad with a full dose of soul, and when Sushi Taro is bad, it’s just plain gross.

I went to Taro this evening with high hopes, and couldn’t remember exactly why I was so disappointed the last time I went. Then the edamame came out to the table, and I had a flashback: like before, it was a terrible color, with brown hairs growing from it. It was old, soggy and had an odd, salty flavor. I looked at the raw vegetables sitting in a plastic tub behind the sushi bar, to be used for tempura, and noticed how old they looked: the asparagus was more brown than green, and the yellow pepper looked like it was pre-prepped the week before. Nobody at the tables will know just how decrepit these things looked because they were batter dipped and fried. I asked my sushi chef if they had fresh wasabi, and was told that they did. The last time I was there, I asked for the same thing, and twice in a row now, it came out looking disturbingly close to 75% powdered, 25% fresh – ever been to a Holiday Inn and ordered “fresh orange juice” only to get a glass that tastes like it was frozen juice cut with a small percentage of fresh-squeezed?

The sopa del pollo at Rumba is just that: chicken soup. A bowl of broth, with about five things in it: a couple of thick-cut carrot slices, an undercooked slice of potato or two, and a drumstick of chicken. It sounds impossibly simple, and then it shows up on the table and you’re like, jeez, this looks like something my grandmother would have made when she was on her period, and then you taste it and you’re like, how can something this simple be this good!

I often lay awake wondering if uni and umami are derived from the same root in Japanese, because uni is umami distilled to its essence: there is nothing better than a great piece of uni, and yet when it’s bad, uni is the single worst food in the world, with an aftertaste that can stay with you for two days. I stared at my uni reluctantly this evening - because it isn’t obvious from sight or smell whether it’s good or not - and then in a moment of old-fashioned derring-do, I stuck it into my mouth and bit into it with great élan, and immediately started cursing to myself, because right then and there I knew that I was going to be free-basing Altoids for the next 48 hours.

Mofongo fon mariscos is a pestle-full of mashed yellow plantain, dry and cold as paper maché, to be dug out with a fork and dunked into a bowl of tomato sauce with shrimp and scallops in it. It sounds kind of blah, but it’s really quite good, and is a perfect example of tasty food, honest food, that also happens not to be fine food.

The chef’s omakase selection of sushi ($40) featured nineteen pieces, and the sushi chef must have spent between ten-and-fifteen minutes laboring to make them. I believe this gentleman was the head sushi chef (out of seven chefs working behind the sushi bar), and worked diligently putting together the best plate he could. But the sushi rice was poorly made, the fish was inconsistent (with most pieces being painfully ordinary in quality, and only a few being remarkable for their freshness – the ebi, for example, tasted of the sea which is not the way it’s supposed to be), and everything seemed so busy and overblown with all the hamfisted sauces and fancy combinations of things in each piece.

Lomo a la huancaina is a grilled piece of filet mignon covered with a "special Peruvian sauce" made with cheese, peanuts, milk [!] and Peruvian yellow pepper. It's simpler and more mild than the description would have you believe, and is one of several examples of dishes at Rumba that lead me to believe that this restaurant tends to underseason and undersauce, rather than overseason and oversauce, its dishes - no crime in that.

Rumba Café and Sushi Taro are examples of restaurants that would probably “rate” the same number of stars, or points, or whatever else you want to dole out to them, but there’s no question in my mind that Rumba Café is a flawed-but-good place that makes up in character and soul for what it lacks in fine-ness, whereas Sushi Taro is nothing more than a churn-‘em and burn-‘em factory serving haphazard sushi to undiscerning customers.

Edited by DonRocks (log)
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Then the edamame came out to the table, and I had a flashback:  like before, it was a terrible color, with brown hairs growing from it.  It was old, soggy and had an odd, salty flavor.  I looked at the raw vegetables sitting in a plastic tub behind the sushi bar, to be used for tempura, and noticed how old they looked:  the asparagus was more brown than green, and the yellow pepper looked like it was pre-prepped the week before. 

This passage reminds me of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Proofrock" or something;

Seeing things in the right light...

Between this description and the Ten Penh already-been-eaten story, I really have no need for edamame anymore. Is it supposed to make you want to eat?

...

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After the Ten Penh story, I vowed only to eat edamame I prepare myself!!

Thanks for talking about Rumba, Rocks (not that they need more business on the weekend!!). It's one of my favorites - full of flavor, and not just where the food is concerned. The decor is a spectacular mish-mash, featuring all kinds of trinkets, icons from various religions and the art of their favorite local artist of the moment. Oh, and I almost forgot: they have the tiniest bandstand I've ever seen. It's probably six feet by four feet yet somehow I've seen as many as six musicians - and their instruments - happily crammed into the small space.

For cocktails, my friends start with a mojito or a pisco sour; I prefer their caipirinha.

Unlike Rocks, I love the lomo just as it is. We get this dish almost every time we visit. Another carne favorite is the bistec with pounded fried plaintain, fresh salsa and...mayonaise. It just works, ok? We've also enjoyed their different variations on the arepa.

For mains, I have had the puerco many times. At Rumba, it's a pork loin served with fresh pineapple and mojo sauce. I love it. When I have a meat-loving friend with me, we'll often get the mixed grill (parilla criolla)for two which includes flank steak, short ribs, pork sausage and a few other items. It's a little overwhelming in its abundance.

For dessert, we keep it simple: flan. I like Rumba's better than most.

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Anyone ever had a weekend brunch at Rumba Cafe? I keep walking by on my way to Chez Antoine and other points south...

As far as neighborhood/everyday sushi.... I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Sakana (P Street). The same waiters and chefs have worked there for at least a decade. Nothing trendy or ambitious, but solid and affordable nonetheless.

As for another neighborhood joint in Adams Morgan, I submit Santa Rosa Seafood, especially now that the weather is nice and you can sit outside on the porch. Their ceviche mixto with a side of cancha and a chicha morada makes me glad to be alive.

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never been to rhumba cafe....for many good reasons... sad hipster hangout.....would never eat there...before you eat in adams morgan, take a good look down the rat infested alleys..

I gotta defend Sushi Taro...know when to go, be a smart shopper (rolls, rolls and peep the specials ) it's not a high end sushi joint ...but they bring it on a daily basis so don't playa hate

listen to Black Sabbath..often

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Don,

I'm totally confused by this report, as Liam and I went to Sushi Taro (at least I'm 90% sure that's what it's called) last weekend and it was quite good. I've eaten sushi all over the country since I was 7 and have very high standards--best is at Morimoto, I thought Nobu was only ok, Kaz pretty good, and this was more than decent sushi I had last week. Granted, we didn't try too many different things, but the amaebi, unagi, toro, hamachi--all were very fresh and good. The place was packed, the couple next to us had a gorgeous huge sashimi sampler they loved, I saw the edamame--which wasn't brown at all...I suppose everywhere has an off night once in awhile, and with sushi that's particularly intolerable...but I'm surprised at your experience.

Mark- I understand your take on things, but if those of us not in the biz only ate at places where people 'knew' us, well, we'd have a paucity of places to eat at. You know I'm friendly as hell and eat out a lot, but in DC, that limitation would restrict me to less than a 1/2 dozen spots and no sushi restaurants. What do you suggest I do?? :wacko:

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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Liam and I went to Sushi Taro (at least I'm 90% sure that's what it's called) last weekend and it was quite good.

Yes, we ate at Sushi Taro last weekend. I've always found the sushi to be of good quality there.

Liam

Eat it, eat it

If it's gettin' cold, reheat it

Have a big dinner, have a light snack

If you don't like it, you can't send it back

Just eat it -- Weird Al Yankovic

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Sara, Liam,

Yeah, I know, I went back and read what you wrote after I wrote this, and then there's Danzig who, if it's who I think it is, also knows what he's talking about.

That's 3-1 by my count. Sietsema likes it too. Make that 4-1.

But I'll continue to blather:

Buck's Fishing and Camping - Unjustified rap for bad service. My read is that they're slammed during rush hour, and if you can get there during off-hours, you'll have a great experience. The latest was tonight, when I walked in and immediately took a seat at the bar, and Amanda (who was hostess) and Jessica (who was tending bar) were the most cordial people I've come across in quite awhile. I asked Carole Greenwood tonight, "So, is this place a destination restaurant or a neighborhood restaurant?" She smiled, and said "Both!" And I replied, "but what do you want it to be," and she smiled, and said "Both!"

The Original Penis of Rome Bethesda - Here's a trusted friend's letter to me, which I happily duplicated (take it for what it is, however):

"depending when you go, (and sunday nite is pretty popular w/the families) and which room, there can be lots of parents and kids and fairly active noise levels. but seems like they try to seat the kids in one room if they can. you could try asking for a more quiet room, but if it's packed, ya gotta take your chances. i think y'all can cope!! (it's WORTH it!) don't forget though: order: white pizza w/fontina (ask for it to be well done) marinated red peppers (x-tra garlic ... if you're man enough) make little open-faced sandwich by layering: white pizza, pepper, parmesan and hot pepper sprinkles (if you're man enough. make sure to get a good touch of liquid (vinegar) from the pepper on the pizza. savor first bite and feel the heavenly bliss. en-JOY!!"

Indique - Falls under the radar as one of the great dining destinations in the city. Everything is wonderful, and I could wax on-and-on about things, from the chutneys (free!) to the breads to the rice to the bengan bartha to the tandoori king prawns to the ... oh, you get the idea.

Tabard Inn - The wine list and wine service are first-rate. The food ... well, the liver as a main course is killer, served medium-rare when I ordered it medium-rare. I owe it another visit before commenting further.

Clyde's Tyson's Corner - Half-priced crab-cake sandwich after 10 PM, meaning $6.00 for a decent legit crab-cake sandwich with fries. At that price, it's a fair deal.

Artie's Fairfax - One of the largest but most welcoming bars in that area, with decent food ranging from $8 (for certain sandwiches) to the low $20s (for certain specials and fish items). It's never bad, and often good, and considering the number of customers they serve, it's flat-out amazing. Sweetwater Tavern is basically the same thing, except that they brew their own beer (corner of Route 50 and Gallows Road).

2 Amy's Still, the best pizza in town.

Corduroy I've had the parsnip soup three times since my glowing description of this place, and each time, it has not been as good as the time I had it then. But it's $6.00, so who cares? The best chocolate desserts in Washington? That's right, Tom Power is probably the most underrated artist in the city using chocolate as his medium. I stand by my stellar report of the Baked Chocolate Sabayon. It's absolutely brilliant.

Ceiba My feeling is that Chris Clime is so busy and hogtied that he's unable to unleash his full potential.

Those are my thoughts for the week,

Rocks.

Edited by DonRocks (log)
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The Original Penis of Rome Bethesda - Here's a trusted friend's review, which I verified this evening and can not deny (take it for what it is, however):

As a long-time Washingtonian I know that the Smithsonian Institution is supposed to have John Dillinger's, ahem, six-shooter stashed away in a backroom somewhere, but I was unaware that another historically significant organ could be found within the Beltway, as well. :laugh:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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