Open Thursday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m., weekends until 11 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Resverations. Prices: Lunch specials about $3 to $4 for a full meal; dinner main courses average $6 to $8. Full dinners average $15 to $20 a person with drinks, tax and tip.
The genuine Asian most appreciated culinary art is offered in its exquisite varieties and tasteful richness from Stir-Fried Abalone with Chinese mushrooms to Thai Basil Chicken, from Korean shredded beef to Vietnamese grilled meatsticks to provide you, our distinguished patrons, the best food from The Far East excellently served in the most friendly atmosphere [sic] in town. -- Menu of Le Rendez-Vous
Le Rendex-Vous has bitten off more than it can chew, in its kitchen as well as in its menu prose, but with careful trimming of the fat and gristle from the extensive menu, one can dine well there. It may not have, as the menu proclaims, the most friendly atmosphere in town, but it is sufficiently congenial. The stir-fried abalone featured in the menu introduction no longer exists as an offering from the kitchen, and terms as "exquiste" and "best" are overreaching. Yet, while humility is not the strong suit of Le Rendez-Vous, it does have its strong suits.
If the surroundings look familiar, that is because the country French interior of the old Charcuterie Normande has not been much changed. If the menu's seven pages of pan-Asian listings have a familiar ring and the waiters look familiar, it is because you have seen the same dishes and people at Germaine's, which was apparently the inspiration for Le Rendez-Vous.
The waiters learned their craft well.Not only do they carefully attend to such needs as presenting and clearing and refilling glasses, they willingly lend their expertise in constructing a well-balanced dinner from the extensive choices. They suggest a sequence of serving, even being so thoughtful as to recommend that the crabs should be eaten first because it is crucial that they be eaten hot. Waiters change plates between courses, a nicety rarely practiced in Asian restaurants here, and expertly flame dishes at tableside. It is the service more than any other characteristic that defines Le Rendez-Vous as a restaurant of elegance.
While Le Rendez-Vous serves Thai, Korean, Indonesian and Chinese food (Japanese dishes were recently removed from the menu), it is, like Germaine's, primarily a Vietnamese restaurant. Leading the appetizers are Vietnam's spring rolls and autumn rolls, the former being fried stuffed rice paper, the latter being plain, cold rice paper wrapped around pork, lettuce and mint. Spring rolls here are greasy and insufficiently stuffed, lacking the character of the dish at most other Vietnamese restaurants. Autumn rolls are more successful, light and salad-fresh, but they lack the shrimp and scallions that characterize the dish at Chez Maria in Georgetown. At $3, neither is as worthwhile as the shrimp tempura which, for $3.50, offers four decent fried shrimp and a mound of fried broccoli. At the same price, Thai fried chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and mushrooms could be interesting if you have not had them beofre, but don't match the versions at local Thai restaurants. The skewered and grilled shrimp and beef sates are dry and tasteless, severe disappointments if you are familiar with Germaine's. Finally, a beef-rice noodle soup was but a few tablespoons of liquid fire moistening nodles and beef. Appetizers are $2 to $3.50, and not likely to be satisfying ways to spend your money.
Yet most of them are accompanied by a side dish of sauce that should serve as a clue to treats to come. The sauces are tantalizing, whether peppered dark soy or thin red-gold fish sauce with vinegar and pepper. The kitchen knows the secret of seasoning, and that talent is used to advantage in main courses.
Ask if there are stir-fried crabs available ($7.95), for even if they are small and mushy, as this season's crabs have been known to be, they are irresistibly seasoned with five-spice powder, scallions and garlic, a happy ending for crabs. Also rich with the anise-cinnamon-clove scent of five-spice powder is roasted duck home style ($8.50). The well-browned duck is moist and meaty, blanketed with crisp broccoli, snow peas, bamboo shoots and fleshy straw mushrooms.
Faced with the impossibility of sampling a fair portion of the dozens of main courses, I concentrated on the page of house specialties. The first of them, grilled shrimp on sugar cane ($6.95) is one of the delights of Vietnamese cooking; ground shrimp is molded around sticks of sugar cane and lightly fried, the sugar faintly perfuming the seafood.To eat it, you remove the cane and roll the shrimp cake into rice paper with lettuce and thin cold noodles, then dip the roll into a dark hot-sweet variation of hoisin sauce sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Like fondue, this is one of the world's classics of participatory food.
Seafood curry ($7.95) at Le Rendez-Vous may not be what you expect; it may, in fact, be better. The curry is much soupier than most Indian versions, and at first taste, fragrant and sweet from coconut milk, with the pepper attacking you only in the aftermath. Thus, the sauce does not overwhelm the delicate seafood, though some of the fish was sufficiently strong from storage that it could have used some overwhelming. Most of the shrimp, scallops, fish and crab, though, were creditable, and the contrast of snow peas, bamboo shoots, baby corn and straw mushrooms enhance color and texture.
Half of the house specials, it turns out, are grilled skewered meats, and after my experience with the appetizer sates, I passed them by. In the main body of the menu, however, I found an unusual preparation -- pork rolls with broccoli ($5.95), the thinly sliced meat rolled into cigar shapes with black mushrooms and scallions, sliced and sauced with plenty of ginger and garlic, tossed with broccoli.
The culmination of one meal was dragon fish 11.95), the whole rockfish butterflied, battered and fried, presented with a flouish of maraschino cherry eyes. It is indeed a splashy looking dish, though frying is not the most complimentary method of cooking whole fish. It was, therefore, only a visual highlight. Try to persuade someone at another table to order it.
Unfortunately, all of the fish dishes at Le Rendez-Vous are fried. There is more variety among shrimp dishes, and the chicken dishes offer interesting choices. The menu ranges from humble vegetarian combinations ($4.50) to lobster Szechuan or with black bean sauce ($12.95). The two elaborations among the desserts are cooked bananas, both batter-fried but one dipped in caramel and ice water to harden it, the other flamed with rum. Both would have benefited from using riper bananas, and you would probably profit by ending your meal at the main course, or with tea, which is served in an unusual porcelain pot with delicately pretty cups.
As for alcoholic beverages, beer is the wisest choice, particularly Thailand's Singha beer. While there is a wine list, it is very limited and priced high. The wine I ordered was served warm.
Le Rendez-Vous serves very good Asian food, and serves it with more attention and flourish than do most of Washington's Asian restaurants. But it serves some ineptly prepared food as well. If you focus your attention on the main dishes, and steer away from grilled skewered meats, $15 can bring you an evening of pan-Asian intrigue.