By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
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By Laine Doss
OK, so the restaurant is in Davie. But being located in the heart of hoss country is no longer an excuse, because the municipalities in west Broward have some of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the tricounty area. Indeed Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Plantation, and Davie are now home to dozens of Latin-American eateries, including El Batey, La Esquina de Tejas, and Las Totoritas.
Not that Rumba's inspired much confidence on the way in. The place is located at the far end of a strip mall, which itself is not a deterrent in South Florida. But it stands adjacent to the one portion of the parking lot that has never been paved; if you want to park near the restaurant, you do so on matted grass. (That's fine if you're looking to tie up a horse.) Plus Rumba's is trying to complete a name change from Parrilla's Latin Grill; proprietor Carlos Ochoa recently split from the partner with whom he opened up two Parrilla's (the other is in Weston), and each owner kept one restaurant as part of the settlement. Unfortunately Rumba's has been in the process for at least two months now, and the result is utter confusion. The neon sign attached to the strip mall, the staff, the business cards, and the menu all call the place Parrilla's, while the billboard sign in the parking lot and the credit card machine note it as Rumba's.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent to dining at Rumba's is the lack of company. Both times I've visited the spacious place, which has a couple of different tiers for dining plus a separate bar, it was nearly devoid of other customers. The first time, coupled with the other little jolts, the solitude seemed warning enough that my husband and I sat at the bar and split an entrée.
Our strategy turned out to be both good and bad, and not just because it was ladies' night and I drank the house white wine for free. Good because the vaca frita we ordered was an enormous flank of steak, accompanied by pressed Cuban bread spread with garlic butter, robust black beans, buttered white rice, and caramelized plantains. Any more food would have been wasted. And bad because the shredded beef, pan-fried to a melting crispness and topped with sweet white onions and a hearty squeeze of lime, was so accomplished I immediately absolved Rumba's of all its earlier sins. Indeed we regretted we weren't hungry enough to sample some other dishes.
When we returned almost a month later for the full-blown experience, all of the previous red flags were still flying high: underwhelming location, vying appellations, few customers, and an extensive, beef-heavy menu that trawls various Latin-American countries for recipes. The only thing different this time? The food was even better.
Though the kitchen draws its inspirations from Spain to Mexico, much of the fare tastes Cuban in origin, including those dishes that cater to untutored American tastes. For instance the potato skins appetizer was the usual collection of hollowed-out, deep-fried spud shells. But these papas were stuffed with ropa vieja, stewed beef that translates literally as "old clothes" because of its falling-apart appearance. The stew meat was heartily flavored and wonderfully succulent; these little treats set the tone for a superb carnivorous meal.
The last page of the menu lists the grilled steaks that are available for consumption, and these range from filet mignon to skirt steak. But if you're expecting the expected, don't. The New York sirloin we ordered was magnificent -- and I don't use that word lightly, given that a strip steak isn't my favorite cut of beef. The steak at Rumba's was the thickest I've seen, obviously top-quality and juicy as well as tightly textured. Moreover it had been seared quickly on a clean grill and served still sizzling. (I can count on one hand the number of times in my life that this has happened.)
If you prefer pounded meat, look to the Cuban specialties on the previous page. There you'll find the aforementioned vaca frita as well as a breaded cutlet that overran the plate the way a good hot dog does a bun. The pounded steak had been quickly fried, then dressed with a little tomato sauce and blanketed with melted cheese. As with all the main courses, the excellent black beans and rice partnered the steak, but these had to be brought on the side because, well, there was no room on the china.