Rumfish y Vino
34 N. Palm St., Ventura
Happy hour $3-9, Dinner $5-26
It’s no easy task opening a restaurant off (or even on) Main Street in Downtown Ventura. The Livery off Palm Street is no exception. While Tutti’s Off
Main had a seven-year run that ended in a bit of a mess, its successor Shanghai Beer Garden never really took hold. Rumfish y Vino, however, has unlocked The Livery’s potential. In this unique space, it’s reminiscent of side street cafes in Santa Barbara, with its Martha Stewart-meets-hipster-chic appeal combined with fresh South American flavors, stemming from its sister and founding restaurant of the same name in Belize (which has rave reviews, by the way).
In its third week since opening, my companions and I made it a two-night excursion to Rumfish y Vino. While I personally hadn’t heard much about its opening, it wasn’t news to the robust dinner crowd on Friday night. And it’s no wonder. With fireplaces warming both the inside and the patio, the cool blue and white color scheme complemented by wood accents, plus a quasi-industrial look with a subdued nautical motif inside, and a Better Homes and Gardens feel on the lattice-covered patio, its welcoming nature is hard to deny. The fruit-bearing lemon trees and light samba music also added a certain zest.
As I waited for my guests during happy hour (3-6 p.m.), I ordered several enticing and affordable options — plantain chips, Peruvian ceviche, manila clams and the rotating flatbread pizza, all of which were served without delay despite the dinner rush.
The plantain chips were warm and crispy and served with a side of valentina (mildly spicy chipotle) aioli. The Peruvian ceviche — rockfish, ginger, cilantro, sweet pepper, red onion and habanero tossed in lemon juice and topped with popcorn — was a dynamic flavor mixture with a bit of a bite to it and pacified with the buttery popcorn. On Saturday, though, I ordered it again and it was bit too salty. The manila clams were soft and delicate, but the chorizo and spicy lobster tomato broth took center stage; I ordered extra bread to make sure I didn’t miss a drop of that rich liquid, akin to cioppino. The big chunks of garlic, though soft, might be a little off-putting to some. The Friday night rotating flatbread toppings were Brussels leaves, soft carrots and hanger steak, which I believe was pork belly rather than traditional beef, with a sharp cheddar sauce. The stone oven cooked the flatbread and Brussels leaves to a light crisp and char.
On Saturday night, the recorded samba music was replaced with acoustic guitar with singers Jack Johnson and the like, which set a different, more beachy tone. For appetizers, we ordered various tacos. The grilled fish, conchinita (roasted pork) and barbacoa (shredded beef) came in soft taco-size corn tortillas, still warm, sufficiently filled with their respective meats. All of the tacos had pickled onions and/or radishes, which balanced the hearty with a hint of tart. We also shared the special tiger prawn and grits dish, which came topped with a spicy hickory chipotle sauce. That creamy, spicy heart-warming blend sealed my zeal for the latest newcomer to Downtown Ventura.
It’s been a while since I have enjoyed outdoor dining around town, with few exceptions, and Rumfish has nailed it. With friendly staff who understand
customers’ desires to relax and take in the scenery, it’s a new addition worth visiting. Plus, if you make it for happy hour, the bartenders are especially attentive and the cocktail list is rather inventive, such as Rumfish spritzer and the Bush Doctor. But you are going to have to visit Rumfish to find out what they are.