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PSA: avoid Rendevous

For all of you thinking about going to Rendevous in Central Square (Cambridge), turn the corner and walk up the street to Green Street--you'll thank us.

For all of you that choose to go to Rendevous--we're sorry.

We're in the business: he does wine, she does food. We eat out a lot. This dinner was one of the more disappointing ones we can remember. Here are the highlights/warnings.

Drinks: The cocktails were barely shaken. The wine list was boring.

Salad: We had the "shaved" asparagus which was not at all shaved, and served swimming in salad dressing.

Appetizer: We had the braised pork belly which was "fine"--not a ringing endorsement. We also tried the gnocchi with lobster. Although the gnocchi wasn't rubbery, the cook must have forgotten the salt, and never learned how to shape that style of pasta.

Entree: We split the Summer Vegetable Pot Pie. Carrots, parsnips, onions, BRUSSELS SPROUTS, and peas. We double-checked to make sure the menu really said summer. Recent articles on the restaurant said the chef shops at the local Monday farmer's market or uses local farms for as much produce as possible. Having been to that farmer's market I can assure you that none of the "summer" vegetables were purchased there.

Dessert: Perhaps it would have redeemed the meal, but we were too dissapointed to gamble anymore of our money on the possibility of one decent course.

A final word: Salt. They will bring you a lovely dish of salt to sprinkle on your food. Unfortunately the kitchen does not have access to this supply--everything was completely lacking in salt.

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  1. Is this even serious? Did you just make an account to make strange remarks about this place? Are you suggesting that the brussels sprouts were frozen or otherwise preserved? If vegetables grow in the summertime, they are summer vegetables.

    I've never been given a dish of salt, and I've been going there pretty much since it opened. They don't even give you salt to put on the butter with your bread.

    Salting is always rather aggressive and Rendezvous, just as I like it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Luther

      I am a big fan of Rendezvous. I have eaten there a number of times and always had excellent food. And I think their wine list is interesting and reasonably priced.

      1. re: Luther

        Boy, everyone's awfully defensive about this restaurant. As far as summer vegetables go, I'd be pretty surprised if I had parsnips and brussels sprouts in something termed "summer". Those say Thanksgiving to me. The Smiths may not be regulars and they seemed a ilttle excessive in their damning, but they're allowed to not like their meal. "What difference does it make" (if they're indeeed referencing *that* Smiths).

        1. re: Joanie

          I think these smiths might have a girlfriend in a coma. I know. It's serious.

          I really enjoy Rendezvous and find the food at Green Street to be unremarkable. That said, they are entitled to their opinion -- just wish they'd left out the hyperbole.

      2. I have never had a bad meal at Rendezvous. Not sure, but I think it is one of my listed top five. I may have had a bad pour of wine by a distracted bartender - once. But that is it, otherwise the food has always been over the top delicious and the service fantastic. I too am in the food business and have a pretty good palate. Seasoning has always been thoughtful, balanced and nuanced. I cannot disagree with OP more on this - Rendezvous is one of the brightest lights to shine on the culinary scene.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Small Plates

          Like any good book, I enjoy reading this site and rarely feel a need to comment.
          I must say that Stephen Johnson has only equal in this town. I have never had a bad meal from any of his kitchens. He could not be kinder or more capable.
          It is possible the op had an off meal but there is no way that is indicative of what generally comes out of this kitchen.I have eaten several times at Rendezvous and enjoyed all of them as did my guests.
          As for quality of product, Stephen is such a perfectionist and passionate chef, I am puzzled how any sub par ingredients made it on to a dish emanating from his kitchen...just puzzled.

          1. re: ypeopleeat

            Not commenting on the quality of the food or anything, but the person who runs the kitchen at there is not Steve Johnson (he's almost always at the front of the house) but Deepak Kaul who had previously cooked under Traci de Jardin at Jardiniere before opening Rendezvous. If you've loved the food at Rendezvous, it's to Deepak's credit.

        2. I am taken aback by this review. Perhaps Rendevous had an off night. It happens. But the commentary just puzzles me. I make superb gnocchi, but have never spent much time shaping them. The wine list may be be not to "thesmiths" liking, but it is anything but boring.

          Just totally perplexed.

          1. So, thesmiths, where have you been to lately that you like? Any positive reviews to contribute, and help other Hounds understand what sort of places you favor? An adamant negative review in a vacuum of other commentary isn't especially helpful.

            1. I don't think it's great, but I've always had a good meal at Rendezvous. Fish has been very good twice.

              1. I too am puzzled by this commentary. I've eaten at Rendezvous twice and enjoyed my meals there immensely, as did my dining companions. Not only were we very happy with the food, but the service was great. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but to warn everyone not to go to a restaurant based on one experience is a little overboard.

                3 Replies
                1. re: AnjLM

                  I agree, the "PSA" title is over-dramatic. I tend to read comments with hyperbolic headings with a very critical eye. My experiences at Rendezvous have been lovely, as are most posted on the board. Thesmiths are entitled to their opinion but in my mind if you're going to report a PSA you'd better be sharing something critical, something like you found a razor blade in an apple... You get my drift.

                  1. re: kittychow

                    Slap me stupid but what does PSA stand for?...and Rendezvous is my #1 choice for a casual and delicious meal..we go a couple of times a month. Witness my review this past Sunday of their Pre Fixe Sunday Supper..thesmiths seemed really snarky to me...there is an axe grinding there somewhere

                    1. re: capeanne

                      I assume it's short for "Public Service Announcement." As if....

                2. Wow I have to agree that the whole place must have had an off night. my husband and I have dined here a dozen times and never had such the bad experience that the smiths had. Im curious as to the short reference to Green Street? Green Street is very good but there was no information on why the smiths prefer it?

                  I will state that the last time I was there the place was packed. We had a party of six. Our normally amazing waitress Kristian was harried and the food was slow to come out. It was a Saturday so i normally wouldnt judge but this was not a great service night. Also Steve was not in the house and he is usually always happily buzzing around. However the food flavor and textures were lovely. I wonder if they are having growing pains?

                  I must implor thesmiths; what do you like and why?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bernie71

                    I agree w/ bernie71. What do thesmiths like? Why was this the first post- and only post- they made? After reading all of the GOOD things about Rendezvous here, I have now bumped it up to the top of my list of places to go on my next trip to Boston in a couple of weeks.

                  2. I've never been to Rendezvous so I can't comment on that, but as for the claim that the vegetables couldn't have been purchased there, that's just flat wrong. I literally saw Steve Johnson with an assistant at the Central Square market on monday, picking up a large supply of vegetables from Parker farm (including carrots and beets) and also at Dick's Market Garden (I didn't snoop TOO much but he seemed to have his eye on their strawberries). As Joanie says, anyone's certainly welcome to post about a bad meal, but they lose credibility by going over the top and making claims that simply aren't true.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MichaelB

                      Thesmiths' review did not mirror my experience per se, but I was underwhelmed on my visit, especially at the pricepoint and the setting (it still seemed to have a BK feel to it in February.)

                      I have had similar experiences at Gargoyles, EVOO, Oleana, and once at Central Kitchen. The fopod did not live up to billing and the settings were 'eh.' (Perhas a Cambridge/Somerville thing?).

                      Looking back, what I realize in each case was that my expectations were sky high and therefore probably impossible to live up to the preconception. (save for Oleana, which was simply a miserable experience - 2+ hours for a glass of wine, app & entree.)

                      Interestingly enough, when I hit CK a 2nd time with a group, and had low expectations, the food and experience was fabulous (I say this even though the kicthen forgot to make one of our parties' entrees.

                      Anyhow, there are some places that just work for some folks (mine include Blue Room, Salts, ESK, Grill 23) and others that don't. Perhaps in a year Thesmiths will find themselves in Rendezvous and feel differently.

                      Or not.

                      1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                        Rendezvous isn't really a gourmet destination. It's just a super excellent neighborhood place for a nice dinner or special occasion. That might explain the feeling of underhwhelmedness if you go looking for a fine food destination.

                    2. Ok, really, is all the drama really called for?! I have no problem with posters giving honest reviews of restaurants they don't like, but this one really borders on snarky, patronizing, and the rudeness that often gives foodies a bad reputation as a whole.

                      For those unfortunate enough to have read this post and mistakenly trusted the information as accurate, please read my quick point by point rebuttal so you do not make the mistake of missing one of Cambridge's great restaurants!

                      Drinks: The have a wonderfully inventive list of carefully balanced cocktails, including a cardamom infused vodka concoction with a hint of brightening lime that is a favorite of mine. If a wine list of over 50 options is not long enough for thesmiths, I'd suggest he BYOB from his several room wine cellar.

                      Appetizer: Cooks are known for becoming desensitized to salt over time, so I am guessing this may be a situation where being part of the industry hurts rather than helps (restaurants should always defer to less salt than more since it can be added but not taken away at the table). If you're really going to write a review telling people to run away from a restaurant because the *rustic* style pasta is not shaped in the fashion you are used to, you may want to consider lowering your bar just a tad :) I have has several amazing apps here before including a lively and refreshing duck confit and frisee salad and a suprisingly delicious grilled squid (a creature I'm not usually a big fan of that they made me really enjoy!).

                      Entree: With the exception of the parsnips, all of these vegetable can be summer vegetables and could easily have been bought at a local farmers market or at least regionally (yes you can get grow brussels sprouts as a summer crop, especially in cooler areas like Maine) . I personally have seen carrots, peas, and onions at the farmers markets, so not sure where the poster been going. Besides, you never said how it tasted....if it was delicious, but 1 or 2 of the veggies were a bit out of season, would you still make a PSA to avoid a restaurant all together? Again, your bar may be a bit mis-calibrated. You should have had the roast chicken (there chef makes the most amazingly tender and flavorful chicken) or maybe one of the fish choices (I have had fish 3 times there and every time it was a delight).

                      Dessert: Sorry you missed the Lemon-buttermilk pudding with huckleberry sauce as I think it is one of the best summer baked desserts in the city. The cake is perfectly moist, the pudding lusciously smooth, fresh, bright, not to sweet lemon flavor with no fake overtones, contrasted by a richly sweet huckleberry sauce. I'm sure there other desserts are great, but I can't bring myself to order anything else I like this one so much.

                      Final word: When you make your first post to a new group of very discerning and bright fellow food connoisseur, it is best to show respect to your audience, give constructive critique of the location you're grading, compare it to other places you enjoy if your review is poor, and never pull the "I'm in the industry" so you must take my word as gospel and if you disagree you don't know as much as me card!

                      My final word, go to this restaurant as some of the dishes are exceptional and the rest are really good...and be ware of first time posters with an ax to grind :)


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                        Thanks for your very fair and food-centric post. I could not agree more.

                        1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                          OK -- I'm moving Rendevous near the the top my "must try" list from somewhere in the middle having never been there (can't seem to walk past Central Kitchen without going in -- and yes, I do still think BK lounge --- and I know I shouldn't....).

                          There's got to be something very interesting going on in a place that generates such passionate defense from trusted sources on a trusted board -- and I'm definitely having a cocktail and that lemon dessert!

                        2. I ate there on July 9, the day before your post. There were 4 of us and we shared lots of different items, including the lobster gnocchi. The gnocchi were perfectly cooked and there was sufficient salt, and I LIKE salt in my food. Frankly, there is nothing worse than food that has too much salt. You can always add a bit yourself, but you can't take it out at the table.

                          In several restaurants, I have been served salt (and pepper) in a small bowl instead of a typical shaker. That is usually because the salt is kosher and is of larger grain and won't pass through the normal shaker holes. Ditto with fresh, coarse ground pepper.

                          At this stage of the growing season, brussel sprouts are usually not harvested because they are too small and need a frost to sweeten their flavor. There were 2 tiny brussels sprouts in the vegetable antipasto we ordered. It is possible that they had been grown this summer; they were that tiny. They had been seared and marinated. Tasted fine and clearly were not frozen, canned or otherwise.

                          We all were very pleased with our meals. My only complaint was the Italian rose wine special. It was served too cold for my taste. I like my wines on the warmer side where the flavors can really come out. We just let it warm up a bit and it was delicious.

                          I'm sorry you hated your meal there so much.

                          1. So, this post finally got me to go to Rendezvous and, ironically, I ordered the same thing as the OP.

                            The gnocchi was fine, tasty lobster, gnocchi okay if a little overcooked. I found that it didn't need salt at all, there was enough citrus that, for me, took care of it.

                            The vegetable pot pie wasn't great but was okay, probably would have been better on a cold day. My only real gripe with the dish was that it was difficult to eat.

                            Overall seemed fine, neighborhoody type place. Service was friendly, quick and professional. My only real problem was that I found the prices were high. For those two dishes and a bottle of mineral water before tip was $40.00, which is too high for that type of food in Cambridge on a Wednesday. I can that much food at many other places for about the same at higher quality. From a comparison point of view I actually do prefer the food at Green St. and Dbar.


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: sailormouth

                              How does the day of the week figure into the equation? It's gonna be that price on a Wed. or a Sat. I assume you're saying it's a place you'd save for a nicer weekend dinner or something. I think Green St. is pretty good and certainly their apps are a better price, but entrees are about the same aren't they?

                              1. re: sailormouth

                                Hey Mark - the place is not cheap for sure but curious - was this the lobster / gnocchi dish you ordered?

                                Potato gnocchi w/lobster, green garlic, fava beans and celery leaves $13 - Pulled off the restaurant's website...

                                If so, I am left scratching my head how the rest (pot pie and water) = $27? Was just really surprised at the amount you paid.

                                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                  The lobster/gnocchi was $13.00 (and worth it, IMHO), $20.00 for the pot pie, (would have been happier had that been $13.00 too), add in $5.00 for water, 5% tax et voila, $39.90. So yeah, I'm scratching my head too. If I recall it was the cheapest entree on the menu, those I saw around looked good and were about $4-7 more, if I recall.

                                  It seems that they're competing with more of the higher end places than those like Green St., for example, and there are often deals on prix-fixes, specials etc. . . at the same price point or less during the week. That could be just my imagination though. For a plate to plate comparison on of the main courses, they seemed a little smaller in size and "variety of stuff on the plate" than, say, Central Kitchen or Green St. I'm a little troubled comparing to Green St. and Central as they all appear to serve 3 different niches.

                                  I guess, overall I would absolutely try it again, but probably not a 3rd time if it echoed my first.

                                  I must be spending too much time at work if I'm signing my name on chowhound posts, I'm amazed I didn't throw my email, phone and the standard "thanks and best regards" crap.

                                  1. re: sailormouth

                                    LMAO - good last point.
                                    It's definitely the pot pie that's askew - no way that should cost $20, unless there is something like lobster or foie inside.

                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      I agree that the pot pie is not worth the price. Last month, I went to Rendevouz with 5 DC's-all of which loved their food except for the "pot pie diner". While it wasn't a bad pot pie per se(I had a bite), it just wasn't worth the cost and was a small portion. But we felt that the rest of the food was exceptional so it wasn't a big deal.

                                      1. re: beksis1

                                        It's encouraging to hear all that and I may make my return faster. Just please please please, let me get what I want, this time.

                              2. While I haven't had quite as bad an experience at Rendevous, my wife and I were pretty underwhelmed by the experience. I cook quite a bit, and I can do as good or a better job at home for less money. The food at Rendevous feels formulaic to me, like they ordered a "start your own new-american style restaurant" box on the internet, unpacked it, and started cooking. A college from San Fransisco told me recently that he had the same impression as well. It's just not original food, and I expect something interesting, not merely competent at that price point.

                                I will completely agree with the original poster's complaint about the vegetable pot pie's ingredients. The peas could stay, but the rest of those vegetables are fall/winter foods (things you'd keep in a root cellar), and don't belong on a summer menu. I'd probably avoid the "pot pie" completely for the summertime. It's like serving a cassoulet during the summertime - it's a great dish, but it's just the wrong time to serve it. I want bright, crispy, acidic/sweet flavors in the summertime.

                                For the same money, there are a lot of other places you can go that serve interesting food that's both seasonal and delicious. Right now, I've got Neptune on my mind (but holding out until Saturday, so I can get the tuna special...)

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: jamesnemesh

                                  A nice perspective from someone who has actually eaten at Rendezvous recently.

                                  But I have to ask, jamesnemesh, aside from Neptune (which I adore, but am a little nervous about the largely unqualified praise it seems to get on this board), I have to ask: what are those "lot of other places" in Boston that you love?

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    MC, Exactly what I was thinking regarding Neptune. For me there's no reason to go to the N End except for Neptune or Regina's, but lately people are talking about it like its the best place in town. It's a great spot with a lot of character and some excellent chow... and owned by one of the best dudes in town... but agree people do seem to be getting carried away.

                                    1. re: WineTravel

                                      I've been talking about it like it's the best place in town since it opened--because, pound for pound, in full awareness of comparing apples and oranges, I honestly think it is. Considering creativity, value, vibe, ratio of hits to misses, wine selection--to me no other place pulls off so much so consistently. OTOH, I do realize that the more I love it, the more I want to love it; one becomes invested in one's own opinion.
                                      What's more, I do think there is a small minority of Neptune naysayers who've occasionally made their voices heard--and I can totally understand; I'm actually surprised so many people like it, since Nevins' palate is pretty unsubtle.

                                      1. re: tatamagouche

                                        "[O]ne becomes invested in one's own opinion." Really perceptive, tatamagouche. Thank you for putting into words so well.

                                  2. re: jamesnemesh

                                    I still don't understand why the OPs ordered the dish, though, if it sounded like such a bad idea to them.

                                    1. re: jamesnemesh

                                      The pot pie may well have stayed on the menu for too long (it wasn't on there when I dined there last night), but for those cold rainy days that should have felt like spring, it was perfect comfort food, if, as one poster commented, a bit logistically difficult to eat. What's new to the
                                      menu is a summer fish fry (halibut, squid, an oyster or two) which fits the same niche for me -
                                      it's not haute cusine, but basic simple food, well executed, with a interesting twist or two (in
                                      this case, some pickles/pickled vegetables, which is a perfect contrast to the fish

                                      As for the OP comment on drinks being barely shaken, I was sitting at the bar and there was a lot of shaking going on.

                                      But Green Street Grill has seemed to have finally found itself again. It seemed to have been wandering in the wilderness after it closed and reopened with its new menu, but it's figured out what it's aiming for and has been consistently good the last couple of times we were there, after being consistently disappointing.

                                      And, for the record, both these places are easy walking distance for me, so the bar I set is "really good neighborhood place", though I think Rendezvous makes it to "destination" place as a dining experience.

                                      1. re: jamesnemesh

                                        jamesnemesh, what else do you like besides Neptune?

                                      2. Wow, talk about harsh. Certainly don't agree with the OP, but there are some aspects that ring true. A few thoughts:

                                        1 . Agree with the suggestion that the wine list could be much improved.
                                        2.. Service is usually slow
                                        3 . Location is terrible... so is parking (the lot around the corner??? don't feel safe parking there).
                                        4. Chef/owner, Steve J. is one of the nicest guys in town... and an excellent chef
                                        5 . Some dishes great, most just ok...

                                        This is a good neighborhood type place (although actually little pricey for the
                                        neighborhood), meaning if I could walk there I'd go from time to time. But
                                        really no reason to go if you have to drive IMO as there are better spots in
                                        that price category without having to deal with parking and in better locations.

                                        So, not enough going on there to draw me in. I'd rather spend a little more and
                                        go to Rialto... worth the extra money. I preferred it when Steve Johnson was at
                                        the Blue Room and would still rather go back there than Rendevous in Central Sq.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: WineTravel

                                          Well, this has been quite an interesting thread. It started as a suspicious flame (and I'm frankly still a little suspicious, as the OP is a first-timer, and has never responded), but has morphed into a thoughtful discourse on the merits of Rendezvous. I'm glad to see this, as I haven't been, but it was next up on my list. I've loved Ten Tables so much recently, I can't seem to go anywhere else, but the reviews on this board and elsewhere made Rendezvous seem like a comparable experience.

                                          Perhaps instead of Rendezvous, I should check out Craigie St. Bistro, where I still haven't been. Any recent reviews for that?

                                          1. re: winedude

                                            I love Craigie, but reserve it for special occasions or group dates, as it's more expensive than Rendezvous. My fave dishes at Craigie are the duck rillettes app and the chcken breast/confit thigh. My DC often gets the chili-rubbed hanger steak with marrow. The waitstaff there are extremely knowledgeable.

                                            1. re: winedude

                                              Go to Craigie St. for the killer chow. With a name like winedude, I must advise that the wine list is just servicable, and in my mind doesn't live up to the unbelievable execution and originality in the kitchen. Its night and day compared to Rendevous. There are really only 2 issues with considering a visit to CSB. Parking is a nightmare (unless you are able to snag one of the 4 spots right outside in their lot... otherwise its a bit of a walk as its in a residential area with no parking other than by permit). The other issue is it's a tiny place and its not very comfortable. So, these are minor points for the serious diner... but could be an issue if they are expecting something else. Sometimes you need a grand atmosphere or a good place to take a good business associate from out of town, etc. Craigie is great for when you don't care that much about the ambiance, it's very laid back... and want to enjoy one of the best meals you'll have had in the Boston area in quite a while. You really won't believe they are capable of putting out what they do in the kitchen when you see the place. At Craigie Its all about the food...

                                              1. re: WineTravel

                                                With all due respect, I parked in those lots (one street off of Mass Ave) for years and never felt the slightest bit "unsafe." Furthermore, you can park right across the street at the Green Street Garage for like $3/night. Central parking is much better than parking in the North End, the Back Bay, South End, etc. Or Allston in Allston village - what a crapshoot.

                                                1. re: Dax

                                                  I thought CSB was still a no-no here, hence my lack of mention of it in my earlier post where I stated "For those two dishes and a bottle of mineral water before tip was $40.00, which is too high for that type of food in Cambridge on a Wednesday" where they have killer deal early in the week for something like 3 course for $35 or so. Liquor tends to be quite [read: overly] expensive but good and service can be a tad spotty but the food is truly sublime. I think it's a sleeper that can go toe to toe with best in town, especially when you're willing to drop the big bucks. As a frequently single diner with few inhibitions it is, however, one of the very few places that feels too couple heavy for me to be a regular there when alone. Rendezvous was no where near that level and at the same price point, that was bothersome to me.

                                                  Yeah, you shouldn't be afraid to park in Central garages, best deals in town. It's certainly a lot safer than the SE. It's actually a draw for me to choose Central as the meeting place when people from out of town come in.

                                          2. thesmiths- what places do you like in Boston? Since you are in the business, I would like to read other reviews. Thanks a lot.