Just to dispel any illusions right off the bat, Au Rendez-Vous is not the intimate, romantic destination with flickering candles and warm, dark woods that its trés francais name evokes. Au Rendez-Vous is, however, one of the most quintessential neighborhood restaurants to open in recent memory. Not fancy by any means, this little spot serves deeply flavorful, wholly affordable bistro fare to Brookhaven locals who seem as if they've been starving for this kind of place to open in their 'hood.
Owned by a Vietnamese couple that recently relocated from Paris, the vibe here is French with a capitol F, though you may not pick up on it immediately when you walk in. The ambience is far from glamorous: Simple tables are snuggly set in a long row; the walls are painted plain off-white; and there are a few ubiquitous prints of Impressionists hastily hung on the wall. A couple of patio tables are set up in the front for those waiting for a table.
But the menu is truly, unapologetically Gallic. Every entree is $12.90 at dinner ($8.90 at lunch), and includes either the soup du jour or a salad. I prefer the soup, especially when it's along of the lines of the subtle cream of leek served on a recent visit. The salad is a handful of weedy field greens with a slice or two of tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. There are two appetizers on the menu: sausage-stuffed mussels ($8.90) and stuffed tomatoes ($4.50), both of which can also be ordered as entrees. I'd skip the apps altogether, and save room for dessert. Those mussels, which are so encrusted with meat that you can't even find the briny little suckers underneath, are by far my least favorite thing on the menu.
I'm happy to report that I'm taken with nearly every other dish I try. You can't go wrong with the beef choices, especially a hearty and uncomplicated daube Provencale, and boeuf aux poivrons, flavored with orange and peppercorns. The true secret to these beef dishes, though, is the potatoes accompanying them. The pommes de terre are the sort of crispy, golden morsels collectively craved in the human unconscious, but which are rarely cooked this flawlessly in American restaurants. Someone in the kitchen learned a trick or two across the Atlantic.
Fish choices, which rotate but include common varieties such as tilapia, cod and sole, receive the same straightforward but eloquent treatment as the beef. My favorite is the fish prepared a la Normande, in a light cream sauce with apple cider and julienne of Granny Smith apple. I know -- fish and apple don't sound like the most probable of mates, but the flavors blend smoothly and seductively. On another visit, a feisty, well-balanced sauce of tomato, basil and olive adorns a fresh, meaty chunk of cod.
Of course, a French bistro menu would not be complete without several variations of chicken, and they don't disappoint. The standout is the coq saute aux champignon, an earthy plate of roast chicken flamed in cognac and simmered in a sherry cream sauce (misprinted on the menu as cherry cream sauce, which sounds a tad frightening) with mushrooms and rice.
Sounds fantastic, huh? Down-to-earth, satisfying food and great prices, right? Ah, but here's the inevitable catch: While the food here is good enough to drive across the city for, the place has caught on like mad in the last month, so the waits for tables and service have suddenly grown long. And I mean frustratingly, mind-numbingly long.
At this point, I should tell you that this restaurant is BYOB, or, more appropriately, BYOW (corkage fee is $3 per person). I fervently recommend you bring a bottle or two of wine with you. Sipping a decent vintage will make the time go by much more pleasantly. The servers are quite gracious about bringing wine glasses out and opening your bottle for you.
But do not -- I repeat -- do NOT come to this restaurant if you are in a hurry. I haven't quite figured out if the laissez-faire service is a holdover from the French cultural aesthetic, or if they're just plain freaked out to have this much business and haven't quite got it together yet. A friend who lives in Brookhaven recommended I go on a Sunday night to avoid crowds, but the Sunday I went, I waited 40 minutes for a table, and the meal took almost two hours.
Servers like to play the eye avoidance game while you're frantically waving your arms for a fork (and the other folks in the restaurant are giving you pitying, empathetic smiles). Nonetheless, this is the time to pull out your reserve patience: Dessert is outstanding. The crepes ($3.50-$4.50) instantly transport me to those little carts on the streets of Paris where they make mouthwateringly thin crepes before your eyes. Chocolate-banana and Cointreau are particularly on point. And the apples in the tarte tatin ($3.50) are deeply caramelized and yet not cloyingly sweet.
My restaurant intuition tells me that service will continue at its unhurried pace here for some time, so if you're feeling like a Francophile in the near future, come armed with a nice bottle of Bordeaux and some good friends you need to catch up with. You'll be in each other's company for a good long spell.
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