Rendezvous: Mixed Food, Mixed Feelings Reflect Fair Highs and Pitiful Lows
Ever had moments when you experience something that you might have felt before? Oh wait – that’s déjà vu. Anyway, a dinner experience at Central Square’s Rendez-Vous a little less than a month ago had me reeling in spontaneous moments of déjà vu: a time when I was imagining myself swimming in the restaurants’ heavenly stew of cod, lobster and littlenecks. Then, every-time I look at Dewick’s pepperoni pizzas I would be reeling in disgust, imagining myself being force fed Rendez Vous’ crimson-colored charcuterie, like a poor child being force-fed Willy Wonka’s bars of chocolate every minute thereafter.
This summed up my otherworldly experience at Rendez-Vous in Central Square. Tucked-away in Cambridge and sandwiched between MIT and Harvard, it would seem like an ideal spot for hot dates at a trendy, foreign-sounding upscale eatery. Although it sounds French, the cuisine presented by executive chef Steve Johnson is decidedly New-American, with its vegetables directly sourced from their pretty rooftop garden directly above the building. When the harsh winter hits Boston, Johnson might have to wake up earlier to defrost the thyme sprigs and his precious collection of frisee. On the bright side, he could stock up on frozen shallot and onion bulbs to throw at his chefs when they over-roast the meats.
Step-inside the restaurant and soak in the overwhelmingly yellow-washed walls and tables that the architect created to scoff the Orientals. A lot of money probably has been spent on the skylight and the 90’s lights. The restaurant itself is crowded with furniture that might have been bargained for from a sweat-shop anywhere in Asia, but strangely it creates a cool ambiance – like a chic Californian college cafeteria.
We were served charcuterie as a “compliment” from Chef Johnson for waiting nearly 30 min for a table that I clearly reserved in advance. Maybe it was Johnson clearing up old stock, because eating the charcuterie of the week ($11) was like eating Mandolin-processed rugby-ball skins with curing spices thrown in the mix. A third of the platter was edible, at least, but what redeemed Johnson’s compliments was the added dish of seared scallops with toasted Moroccan spices ($12) (presumably after the waiter saw my sour expression). Traditionally speaking, the difference between an undercooked and overcooked scallop are mere seconds, but here the texture of the scallop is on point, with the
accompanying spices giving a earthy lilt to the scallops’ clean taste of the sea. Pity though, that the butternut squash puree is just superficially there for color.
Equally as satisfying were the spicy bluefish cakes. A worthy alternative to disastrous crab-cakes that some chefs abuse, they come not with traditional remoulade but a cool cucumber salad that is deceptively simple yet effective.
Fortunately, the redeeming appetizers pave the way for the more anticipated entrees, and finally the spicy stew of cod, lobster and littlenecks makes a grand – albeit understated –entrance. Clean, simple, elegant, the stew ($26) is sophisticated and made even more so with the accompanying fennel, tomato and saffron rice, which give the dish a play on textures on a smart combination of subtle flavours that don’t overpower each other.
The braised pork and veal meatballs with toasted orechiette, maitakes and piave cheese ($25) was a similar concept but fell short. In my mouth, everything tasted like if had been submerged in liquids for half a day, but remarkably the off-putting flavours of the veal remain – I might as well have been sticking my nose to up a Columbian farmer’s underarm after he has been herding sheep in the fields for the same duration.
Speaking of over-cooked meats, chef Johnson should find a way to harvest the onion bulbs for in kitchen use on his chefs, because the Gascon Duck Three Ways (sliced breast, confit leg and garlic sausage) is a misfire in all three directions. It’s hard to describe which was worse: the fact that the quality protein was aggressively overcooked or the underwhelming lack of seasoning – except for the sausage, which at a certain point gave off a nauseating feeling of a garlic flavoured appendage.
If it weren’t for the sumptuously divine warm crostada of caramelized bosc pear with rum raisin ice cream and the sub-par but nevertheless edible warm chocolate cake with cinnamon cream, Rendez-Vous might as well been given the cassez-vous* treatment in anyone’s book. With a 26/30 on the ZAGAT Restaurant guide, Rendez Vous is a memorable experience in an underwhelming way. Perhaps Johnson kept all the disgruntled diners in cages and injected them with hallucinating serums so they could tell others (hence ZAGAT) that their experience was in fact, something that is not to be missed – which, in some cases, is true.
PS: Bosc Pears are also offered in Carmichael. Get them while stocks last.
*cassez vous: in French, this means “go away,” or to put it more bluntly, “**** off”
Rendez-Vous Central Square
502 Massachussetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139