A Rumi Rumination

Rumors of its debut have been greatly exaggerated

And perhaps I shouldn't have been ribbing Rumi quite so hard. The restaurant has only been in development for a year. During that time Roth and Saladino, who have been partners in promoting club operations like the Magic Garden at the Albion, solicited senior partner Eric Levin and investor Carlos Garcia, the Mexican club lord who would front the three million dollars (I did say three million). They found the location, a narrow seventeen-foot wide slot that had been vacant for 30 years on the unfashionable part of Lincoln Road, a strip of the mall about which Saladino says with a touch of hero worship: "Chris Paciello was a pioneer in this area. When the Bar Room opened, everyone was blown away." They interviewed for an executive chef and wound up with a pair of chefs who have been friends since childhood, who in turn got a "freestyle Floribbean" menu together fast enough to have a dish photographed for the misleading American Way piece. In Miami time? Twelve months means, damn, Rumi was built fast.

Still, I can't be quite so cavalier about the eatery's prospects as Manhattan File, which claims that Rumi is "destined for A-list greatness." And not only because Saladino's choice of role model Paciello is suspect (make that guilty as charged). While the Bar Room made it -- however briefly and notoriously -- Mayya, located in the Albion, didn't. The Rumi spot is clearly a 50-50 gamble.

Plus the current market is glutted with supper clubs like Touch, Tantra, and yadda yadda. Even so, I am going to allow myself to be convinced of one more thing. No, I'm not easily swayed (I am, but ...). I do think these young men are veterans in their own way. Fredel and Harris have trained under some of the best celebrity chefs in the world, including The French Laundry's Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse, and our own Norman Van Aken. They're insisting on keeping the dining room to a comfortable 75 seats, and will not allow cocktail tables to be mixed into the dining area. "You'll never be having dinner with a bunch of people next to you ordering just a bottle of champagne," Fredel promises. "We spent $85,000 on banquettes alone. We've even thought about table height. There won't be a bad seat in the room."

Harris, the more reflective personality of the pair, nods in agreement and adds, "Everything will be done to order. The menu is simple but the fare [think conch and corn chowder with coconut and curried popcorn, or wahoo poached in olive oil with marinated lentils and hearts of palm] will be the absolute best."

Then there's the management team to consider. Having hung around promoting parties for half a dozen years now, Roth and Saladino have what they call "collective experience." Saladino puts it simply: "We've seen the mistakes others have made. We've seen the rise and falls, why people have been to the top and been to the bottom. We never want to be compared to Pearl and Opium." No doubt the Murphy bed eventually will inspire B.E.D. references, but to avoid other such collating, Roth and Saladino have taken supper-club dining to a more sophisticated level. Lighting will be controlled by a computer, so parts of the dining room can be more brightly lit than others. Music also will be zoned, so diners won't be overcome by acid beats from the lounges and DJ booth upstairs. Spoken-word performances by celebrity guests like actor Michael Madsen will be part of the agenda.

The question remains about whether a supper club will stay part of our artistic collective consciousness -- or make that unconsciousness -- for long. But at least Rumi, by virtue of its name if nothing else, has a shot at becoming poetry in motion.

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