There are pupu platters and fog cutters, scorpion bowls and miso soup, chopsticks and umbrella drinks. But similarities to all Asian-themed restaurants you know and love end at Rhum’s octopus door handles.
In the heart of winter, in between snowstorms, what’s a tiki lounge doing opening in downtown Portland? Giving locals a reason to shuck their mittens and fleece, navigate the icy sidewalks, hop a snowbank and descend a dark passageway into the tropics. But first, is it a restaurant or a bar?
Rhum is a lounge says co-owner Jason Loring. The lounge Portland was missing. The lounge Mainers need. Now. “It’s about escapism,” says Loving, who also owns Portland hotspots Slab and Nosh and knows how to roll out an electric concept. “We have so much talent in this room,” added his partner Mike Fraser, dressed for Saturday night’s opening in a pink blazer, pastel shirt and powder blue sneakers.
In the kitchen, one well-know talent, Fred Eliot, is settling in. Until recently Eliot was the head chef at Petite Jacqueline before it closed in Longfellow Square. Through a peep window Eliot and chef de cuisine Frank W. Anderson look like they are having a ball executing Rhum’s fun fare.
How fun? A modern spin on the pupu platter includes edamame, chicken liver pate topped with tamarind chutney, pork jerky, pork ribs and rangons. Yes, there is sterno!
We saw quite a few seafood towers sail through the room like a leeward breeze. They come in three sizes and are loaded with oysters, Mexican shrimp, raw scallops, King crab from Alaska, chilled mussels and periwinkles.
Seated at the raw bar, with a good view of the kitchen, we dove into a half dozen oyster from Island Creek in Duxbury. A clean and fresh way to get your feet wet in this fantasy island. Like the festive boat drinks here, Rhum’s menu is loaded with novelties and throwbacks like SPAM.
Exotic combinations such as kaya toast, a soft egg, coconut jam, sweet soy sauce delicacy was only upstaged by the loco moco inari. We ran into friends who were falling over themselves after sharing the spam-and-foie gras-meets-quail egg loco moco inari appetizer. “The two fats melt together,” said the giddy couple, who declared it “filthy, dirty and decadent.”
This is a playhouse for adults, conjuring up Hawaii, the Caribbean or the isla bonita of your dreams.
The focal point of this Polynesian hideaway is the palapa bar. Duck under the castaway fringe and let the staycation begin. In the shade is an extensive library of rum, (every kind bar manager Sam Babcock could find in Maine).
Waitresses wearing orchids tucked in their hair return with suffering bastards, and scorpion bowls in all shapes and sizes. We started with a painkiller. Served in a custom made tiki glass, the pineapple, rum, coconut and nutmeg cocktail brought us back to the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke in the Caribbean. Attention travelers: This is your mosquito-free, urban equivalent.
Most cocktails here are rum-centric. Mai tais, and fog cutters are on draft, as is the rum runner and jungle bird. You can order the latter for large, thirsty parties. The vessel for the medium size did not arrive in time for Rhum’s opening so Babcock improvised with a gasoline can. Only in Portland!
What more do you want in the depths of winter?
Rhum, 4 Free St. Rear, is open from 4 to 1 a.m. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. nightly. Duck around Arabica Coffee and look for the giant octopus. See you in the Lower Antilles.