San Francisco Chronicle
Dining Out: Rumi's inspired menu roams Silk Road
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Waiting for my meal at Rumi, I thought back to high school history, trying to chart in my mind the ancient trade route that connected Europe and China. The 3-month-old San Carlos restaurant describes itself as "Mediterranean and Western Silk Road," and I wanted to place the food.
I couldn't quite remember, but it hardly mattered once the meal arrived. Rumi chef Hugene Kovacs serves up such interesting dishes - influenced by local ingredients and flavors from the Middle East, India, Italy and elsewhere - a label seems beside the point. (In case you can't remember either, the Silk Road, leaving China, crosses northern India or Central Asia, heads west across the Middle East and ends at the Mediterranean Sea.)
The restaurant's decor relies on goods traded along the historic route. Intricate Oriental rugs grace one wall, and the other side is lined by a mirror that so effectively opens up the small dining room I didn't realize it was there until I spotted myself putting a forkful into my mouth. The colors are rich and warm - rose, chocolate and copper.
While naan and dips are menu mainstays, other items change every couple of days, depending on the availability of ingredients. A few salads, entrees and desserts are replaced, while other dishes are tweaked.
Rumi's salads are expertly balanced, the delicate sweetness of the fruit tempering the slight bitterness of the greens. A selection of mixed lettuce, vanilla-marinated persimmon, toasted almonds and quince ($10), for example, sounds like dessert, but the vanilla flavor is so slight and the fruit has enough acid that the dish is savory and not at all cloying.
A classic walnut-pear-blue cheese salad with arugula and mizuna ($10) is excellent, the dressing understated to let the ingredients stand out.
Kovacs doubles up the meat in many of his entrees, a technique that adds interest without overburdening a dish. The pork ($24) tops two nicely grilled medallions with shredded, lightly spiced roast pork. The meat sits atop a hearty pile of Tuscan kale with little cubes of fried apples and cauliflower bits.
Similarly, the duck ($21) tosses seared breast in spaetzle (mini dumplings made of fresh pasta dough), with duck confit added to heighten the flavor. Tuscan kale accompanies this dish, too, a fine match for the juicy, gamey bird.
Sea bass ($23) is paired with clams, their brininess lending an edge to the mild, well-cooked fish. A light sauce flavored with bergamot, the bitter orange, plays up the fish as well as the chewy farro and broccolini accompanying it.
The vegetarian option ($19) features a compilation of spiced, pureed kabocha; fregola sarda, or little balls of toasted pasta; and sweet Bloomsdale spinach (the crinkly kind).
At lunch the restaurant offers a selection of well-made sandwiches, including a juicy one of short ribs, dry jack and slow-cooked onions ($12) and a tender, robust chicken breast and bacon number ($10), all served on crusty buns.
Desserts at Rumi are almost uniformly delicious. You can watch Gregory compose them in the back of the restaurant, piling on whipped cream or adding scoops of sorbet or ice cream. A showstopper is the banana flambe ($8), a kid-pleasing pile of banana ice cream and chocolate profiteroles, topped with caramel sauce and surrounded by sauteed bananas.
Tarte tatin ($7) features well-caramelized apples, the shell crisp and fresh. Meyer lemon tart ($7) balances a tender pastry shell, meringue and complex, sweet Meyer flavor.
A chocolate torte ($8) is clearly made with high-quality chocolate and is light and creamy, but it would have been better had it not been so cold.
On two visits, our service was smooth and professional , the waiters expertly anticipating our needs
The restaurant's finely crafted meals, drawing as they do from an array of cultures, are an appropriate homage to Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet who focused on unity, art and harmony.
Big thumbs up from all four of us.
In addition to the great food, we were very well taken care of by the staff. They even gave us a tour of the kitchen and I got to check out the 1100 degree tandoori style oven they use for all their in house made breads. I chatted with the owner for a bit more and he talked about the six month process they took to gut the old real estate office and build everything from scratch. Chef Hugene Kovacs is focused on the organic and sustainable food/wine products produced by Northern and Central California farms in their Southern Mediterranean cuisine. Great opening.
This place still continues to impress. They've opened for lunch now and the owner remembered me from their first night open. That's crazy. Had the short rib sandwich with fries which came with a small side salad and pickled onions. Split some fries which are halfway to potato chip like texture and the bread/trio of dips (red pepper feta, spicy hummus, & eggplant). Everything was again excellent As the season's getting colder, I'm looking forward to the menu changing to try new things!
We had a great dinner here this evening at this surprising little foodie heaven. This is the kind of place that I want to immediately recommend to everyone I know. Judging by how busy it was, word of mouth is already really good. The ambiance was warm and intimate and the service excellent. The chef delivered our starter to the table and told us he had just discovered a farm in Iowa that makes prosciutto and speck, oh and that the dates weren't medjool as advertised, but another kind of date that he picked up at the farmers market. His passion for food was a joy to behold! Our entrees gave us original flavours and melt-in-the-mouth yumminess. Wines were excellent too. We'll be back soon!
San Carlos, CA
Great food and atmosphere! Menu is unique and tastey. Service was very attentive and pleasant.
Experience was a A++++, as well as the food.
The best new restaurant in San Carlos!!
I had a great experience and will definitely be back. Great food and great service. The food was amazing, but I was even more surprised by how great the dessert tasted and was presented!
Menlo Park, CA
Rumi is leading the rebirth of the south-end of Laurel Street with its decor, cuisine, service and class. The decor is warm and inviting - with the centerpiece of the space being the stunning basket-weave design of the wood-burning oven.
We loved the ahi and lamb skewers, as well as the basket of flat breads and trio of dipping sauces. Our skewers were cooked to perfection - perfectly, deliciously RARE. Excellent preparation! And the flat breads and sauces... I could have eaten those all night and been happy!
Our waiter was lovely - his timing was right-on, he was knowledgeable and friendly. The pastry chef sent over a taste of her bananas flambe, which were amazing. Their collection of teas is not to be missed!
Welcome to the neighborhood, Rumi. So glad to have you! We'll be back again and again.
San Carlos, CA
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