Monday, January 23, 2006

Bad Name. Great New Restaurant.


Rendezvous, 502 Mass. Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, 617.576.1900

NOTE: I have dined at this restaurant a couple more times so make sure you scroll down and read my additional comments.

Rendezvous. Sounds like the name of a seedy towny bar that you would never dare go into. What were they thinking? They do have some branding issues. The name. The typeface they selected. That icky yellow awning out front. If I didn't peek in the window and see how beautiful the place is and discover that former Blue Room owner Steve Johnson was behind this restaurant, I may not have gone in—which would have been a crying shame.

Rendezvous is a fantastic addition to the burgeoning Central Square restaurant scene (see my other review for Central Kitchen). It's location is in a former Burger King. You would NEVER know it. They basically dropped a match to the place and started over. It's beautiful inside and has something that the vertically challenged like myself LOVE—a low L-shaped bar that enables people to sit in normal chairs instead of high bar stools so your feet can actually touch the floor. The bar is to the right when you walk in and straight ahead and to the left is a fairly large dining area. Ceilings are high, ambience is warm, the place was packed. Rendezvous has only been open maybe for a couple of months and they seem to have already hit their stride.

There were 2 seats left at the bar when we walked in right near the flat-screen TV. They seemed to be just sitting there waiting for us so we grabbed them. I immediately noticed a nice touch—carafes of water with long, paper-thin strips of cucumber in them. The only other place I've ever seen this is at a spa. I think cucumber water is supposed to be cleansing or something. Anyway, thought it was an instant indication that they were going to be attentive to details.

Since this was my first time at Rendezvous, I thought it best to get a few appetizers so I could sample more things. Turned out to be a good call. The food here is mostly European in influence although flavors of North Africa are peppered in there as well. I read on opentable.com that Rendezvous changes a third of their menu every month (just in case you go and try and order these and they're not on the menu). Here's what we ordered:

Gnocchi with oxtail. Sound scary? Not at all. I won't tell you what oxtail is exactly because it's not that appetizing but suffice it to say that it's delicious. It's a slow-cook beef stew kind of thing. That's all you need to know. The gnocchi the oxtail was served over were like little pillows, light not dense - a sure sign that it's made on the premises.

Grilled Portuguese Sardines with roasted red peppers, fennel and capers. I'm Porguese so I've always loved sardines. I know some of you think of them as stinky, jammed in a can fish you would never eat. Well, bury all those preconceived notions for good, stop by Rendezvous and order these. They are larger than what you might think (about 6 inches each). They are grilled and served with great complements which you can eat along with a bite of the fish. It's a little tricky to eat them as you have to cut the fish away from the bone but it's worth the effort.

Crab cakes.I don't remember the official name of these crabcakes but they were tasty. And there was something so unusual about the flavor that I had to ask the owner who was standing by the flat screen watching the Patriots game with us. I actually didn't realize he was the owner at the time. Anyway, he informed me that the crabcakes were actually seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, an example of the North African influence. Really different. Kudos for being adventurous with the ole crabcake.

I'm really looking forward to going back and trying some other things. Everything we ordered seemed to have a little twist on the traditional preparation. It was fun to try and identify spices and taste how they enhanced the dishes.

Rendezvous is now offering a Pix Fixe Supper on Sundays. 3 courses for $29. I tend to like to cook at home on Sunday nights but with offerings like Maine lobster and crab cakes; Cassoulet of pork, duck and sausage; and Ginger crème brûlée on the menu, I might be willing to bundle up and venture out.

Rendezvous Revisited - February 28th, Party of 6 - uh - make it 8
Last Friday I had some friends in from New York and made a reservation for 8:30pm. I made a reservation for 6 but a couple of my other friends showed up. Fun for us. Not so fun for the hostess. Let's just say the hostess wasn't too happy with us. But, hey, that's more business for them, right? There was plenty of room at the table and we worked it out.

It was great to return to Rendezvous with such a large group because we were able to sample a lot more things which now I can share with you. (Keep in mind, items on the menu change frequently so if any of these things appeal to you, you might want to try going to Rendezvous sooner than later before they change the menu. The crabcakes I mentioned above from my last visit are already off the menu.)

First off, the Cardamom Martini is a huge hit. Several people had it. High recommend trying it.

Appetizers that received the highest rave reviews were the risotto of fresh Maine shrimp, fennel and tomato, chives and chervil; and the Boston lettuce salad w/ apples, Vermont cheddar, spiced pecans & dried cranberries.

The most popular entrée was the Wood-grilled Black Angus sirloin tips with Savoy potatoes and green peppercorn sauce. They have an open grill in their kitchen so the steak tastes like it was made on an outdoor barbecue—great flavor for the dead of winter. The Savoy potatoes are amazing. This delicious side dish is a square of baked layered potato slices with butter, milk and grated cheese. Not a low-fat option but delicious nonetheless.

Two of us ordered the skillet-roasted skate with Moroccan spices, lemon, capers & brown butter. We both enjoyed it very much. The fish is crispy on the outside, flaky and moist on the insdie. One thing to keep in mind is that this is a large piece of skate with cartilage in the middle. You must eat the fish on the one side of the cartilage, flip the fish and eat the other side. Just something to be aware of.

Jeff ordered the Braised Niman Ranch Pork "Osso Bucco" with pimenton and jamon serrano. He was very happy with the dish. The meat just falls off the bone. Clearly it's slow cooked for a long time. Nice.

My friend Cathleen had the Monkfish & Littlenecks w/ porcini cream, Jerusalem artichokes & celery root. She said she thinks it is the best meal she ever had! That is a tall order, especially since she lived in New York City for many years. I sampled a small bite and I have to say that the porcini cream sauce is truly something you must try. Heavenly.

Mary Beth had Gascon style duck 3 ways: grilled breast, confit leg and country sausage. I sat right next to her so I had the chance to sample her dish. I liked all three duck servings but the confit was my personal favorite.

Once again, we didn't end up getting dessert. The waiter took too long to get back to us. No worries. We cashed out and walked a couple of blocks to Toscanini's for Micro Sundaes. THE best ice cream on the planet. Perfect way to end the evening.

www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com

2 Comments:

Blogger strawberry shortcake said...

That monkfish was truly the best meal I can remember! And, the micro sundae was unbelievable. Thanks for the scrumptious night out in Beantown!

9:28 PM  
Blogger mini-me said...

hi lynne, we just went to rendezvous last weekend and omg it was the best meal we've had in a long long time! i share your sentiments 100%.

ps.I didn't know that the menu changes frequently. Didn't see the sardines. would have loved to try that. but hey all the more reason to go back!

11:02 PM  

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