The long-adored Ristorante Rumari in Laguna Beach has re-emerged with a fresh face and brand; she now calls herself simply “Rumari” with a focus on Mediterranean fare that meanders Italy’s Riviera and introduces even more bright, fresh flavors from Greece.
Still keeping in “in the Laguna family”
After longtime Owner Vince Crivello sold the 30-year icon, new owner Chris Keller (who created the enormous success of Casa del Camino and revived The Marine Room Tavern) stepped in right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. After setting up outside on the upper patio with talented Chef Craig Connole in play, Keller eventually moved to create a live music club, Cin Cin in the restaurant’s interior. He closed the operation at the first of this year and began looking for a new restaurant operator.
The search ended a block to his north when existing Restaurateur Ivan Spiers of Mozambique stepped up to the plate. Spiers first opened a head-to-toe renovated Mozambique in 2005 from the old Tortilla Flats structure. He then went on to open Skyloft in downtown Laguna in 2015, and recently introduced the Laguna Fish Co. directly below Skyloft (old Tommy Bahama’s space) in 2022.
As Spiers considered the Rumari space, he knew that its long history with locals would best be served by continuing in an Italian tradition, but Spiers knew nothing about cooking Italian food. “I can cook African and steaks and shellfish and fish but I don’t know the first thing about running an Italian-centric kitchen,” Spiers told me.
“I’ve known an amazing Italian chef for 30 years and he was tired of working corporate,” said Ivan. “I knew that Chris Keller had this offer on the table, so I contacted Braulio and told him to take a look with me. If Braulio hadn’t agreed to go in on this with me, there’s absolutely no way I would have considered taking it on. He’s really that good.”
I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar faces
Spiers then reached a second time into his world of successful partnerships to ask George Poulos to help as a menu and recipe consultant. Poulos, who’s steeped in the restaurant business on more than one continent and across a span of four decades, was quick to accept. He’s a happy and familiar face having been involved in Mozambique’s operations in the recent past, too.
“I grew up in a family of Greek and Mediterranean restaurants, so it’s always been my first love,” said Poulos. “Chef Braulio and I had the same vision of creating an experience that melded the best of Greece and Southern Italy together, and I think we’ve created a really unique concept for Laguna Beach.”
Yet another “restored” item to the revised Rumari team – Giovanni is back! A longtime rock as the lead server during Vince’s decades of operation, we thought we’d lost Giovanni for good when he moved back to England with his wife. Fortunately … and five years later … he returned to Laguna Beach, first welcomed at Oliver’s Osteria and now back at what he’s always considered his “home team” restaurant.
The dining room has been restored to a similar version of the original Rumari with lighting and seating updates to reflect more of that breezy Mediterranean style. The bar still only seats about 8 or 9 people, which is just fine by locals who like to find their way to a hallowed bar seat early. And, for the time being, the outdoor dining option on the upper parking lot is not open. George says that it will eventually be a dining area again, but with more of a grill-forward menu.
So, speaking of menus, let’s take a look at the new Rumari menu.
The best of both worlds is apparent from the appetizer menu forward. From authentic Pasta E Fagioli soup to a Naxos Island Greek Salad with a bold, thick blanket of Feta cheese, you’ll find Calamari and grilled eggplant side-by-side with Beef Carpaccio and a traditional Greek Meze plate with tzatziki, brown rice dolmades and more.
Pasta main dishes include house-made noodles in the Chef’s Rotelle and Spaghetti Lobster Carbonara. Or, choose capellini, Fettuccine Alfredo, Bucatini Bolognese or linguine loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp and lobster.
From the grill, main dishes includes a sizable 18-ounce bone-in rib eye, filet mignon, Greek Lamb chops, Chicken Limoni, or Souvlaki, the traditional pork loin skewers. Or, just choose separate dishes of grilled prawns and lobster. Not up for grilling? Then try the Halibut or Veal Piccata, or choose Chicken Parmigiana or Chicken Marsala. I mean, let’s face it … you’re going to find something here to your liking!
When I stopped in with my friends, Ruben and Ali, we enjoyed the lovely Meze dish, which set the perfect tone for this new Mediterranean experience. I think we all then opted for the Greek Salad. It was a beautifully bright and fresh mix of chunky cucumber, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, capers, thin-sliced red onion and a rectangular brick of fresh-faced Feta.
While Ali opted for the Grilled Chicken Limoni, Ruben chose the Penne Arrabbiata with Chicken. Both reported a “thumbs up” though Ruben plans to ask for more spice on his next round of Arrabbiata.
I ordered the Grilled Prawns because I’m typically NOT a prawn fan. While they seem rather innocent in their appeal, prawns can put a grill cook to the test. Too often, and especially when grilled, prawns can become too dry or rubbery. And, sometimes, the chef will err on the side of under-cooking and the prawn’s texture is still a bit raw. Yuck.
Chef Braulio, though, has the grill game down. He did, after all, open and operate at the Executive Chef at Mozambique for years before moving into the corporate world. I, for one, am glad to see him return to our town. And, as I expected from Chef Braulio, the prawns arrived still piping hot with plenty of garlic butter for dipping.
Let’s just deal with it now: The Semifreddo dessert has not returned
There. I said it. Any time a new concept goes into an old favorite space (i.e., Royal Hawaiian), the longtime fans tend to ask the new proprietors for the old menu items. In this case, though, I don’t think you’re going to be missing the former popular dessert that shall, from this day forward, be known in my lexicon as the Dessert That Must Not Be Named.
Trust me, my friends, lean into the Grand Marnier Soufflé or Chocolate Soufflé, instead. Wow. Giovanni whisked the fresh-out-of-the-oven soufflé to our table, proceeded to cut a small hole in its center and filled it with creamy ice cream followed with a hefty draught of Grand Marnier. It as a magnificent finish.
It’s a happy thing to see Rumari’s doors open again. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Rumari details …
Rumari is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5 pm to 9:30 pm and on Fridays and Saturdays till 10 pm. Be sure to catch the weekly happy hour, too, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, 3 pm to 5 pm.
Rumari is at 1826 S. Coast Highway between Center St. and Pearl Street. Reservations can be made at the RumariOC website or by calling 949-494-0400.
And, a very welcome addition – valet parking is readily available at Mozambique, barely a block to your north. And, remember, the Laguna Trolley stops right there on Rumari’s block. If you manage to find a lucky space on the street, just remember that our parking meters roll until 7 pm, and until that point, they prefer to be well fed.
Congratulations to Ivan, Chef Braulio and George Poulos for a fresh and welcome Rumari face!