A bistro vet starts fresh. But somehow the food tastes tired.
There’s a big difference between traditional and tired. Opened a month ago by Kiki’s Bistro maître d’ Simo Yaacobi, Rendezvous has all the trappings of a traditional bistro—a mustard-yellow-and-burgundy color scheme, homey wall sconces, a menu of all the classics, from onion soup to steak frites. Yaacobi isn’t faking it or presenting some manufactured idea of what an authentic bistro should be. It’s just that his kitchen is already cooking on autopilot, sending out tired renditions that aren’t necessarily flawed but that aren’t going to win Rendezvous the legions of fans that kept Kiki’s afloat for two decades.
Still, Yaacobi’s good name and Kiki’s connection has made for a full house so far, an accomplishment on a stretch of Lawrence Avenue where half of the so-called restaurants are more like social clubs for gruff old men sipping coffee over table games. The odd location choice was likely a financial one, and we can appreciate that, but once you’re in the door you have to hold the experience up to a certain standard, and it’s tough to find much to get excited about here. An appetizer of softened mushrooms boozy from reduced red wine tastes of little more than just that, even with a crumpled pouch of puff pastry thrown on top for texture. Onion soup meets the traditional requirements but registers as merely fine. Puny mussels, some shriveled to the size of a navy bean, get lost in a provençale-style tomato sauce so thick and so heavy on cream that you’d need a cup of water to turn it into soup.
After appetizers that didn’t do much to earn their name, I was perhaps overly hopeful that I could be won over by the entrées—almost like a guy who gets turned down for a kiss on the first date but hopes to score on the second. But even with tempered expectations the coq au vin would have disappointed. It tasted as if the kitchen just borrowed the mushrooms and sauce from that appetizer, dumped it over some chicken and stuck the pan in the oven. Duck got two treatments, the breast seared and the leg confited, but neither of them ever got a second glance from the salt shaker or pepper mill, and the leg had skin the exact opposite of crispy. Finally, there were the steaks, the linchpins of any solid bistro. Steak au poivre turned out to be the star of the show: thick, juicy, perfectly medium-rare and doused with a creamy sauce of cognac and veal stock spiked with smashed peppercorns. But the other option, the steak frites, tested the limits of just how thin a steak can be sliced without becoming a Steak-umm. It’s nearly impossible to cook a quarter-inch steak and not send it out looking like a lifeless, bloodless hunk of meat found under a fistful of good-but-not-great fries. Most of Rendezvous’s kitchen staff may have made this dish (in fact, most of these dishes) at Kiki’s so many times they could do it in their sleep. But now that they’re in a new restaurant, they’re going to need to wake up.