Odd Location, French Flavors

Our reviewer checks out Le Rendez-Vous, a place many Tucsonans intend to try

I've driven by Le Rendez-Vous on Fort Lowell Road hundreds of times. I've mentioned to Ted that we should try it at least a dozen times. And yet, until I was assigned this review, I had never actually managed to do so. That sentiment seems to be a trend with this restaurant—friends and family have said, "I meant to try it out ..." but it never seems to happen.

Perhaps it has something to do with the somewhat awkward location of the restaurant, or maybe it's because, until that special occasion presents the opportunity, most of us don't wake up in the morning thinking, "Gee, I could really go for some escargot followed by a nice coq au vin and a soufflé."

Le Rendez-Vous didn't always have an odd location, squished between an apartment complex and a Circle K. It was opened in 1980, back when the intersection of Fort Lowell Road and Alvernon Way was on the outskirts of town. Not much changed at the restaurant for 30 years, but now the former owner's son, Gordon Berger, has taken over and tried his hand at making it a little more approachable and affordable.

The interior of the restaurant is surprisingly spacious, and is divided into distinct halves—a formal, upscale side that remains true to the restaurant's roots and a more modern, casual bistro. The two sides share a menu (despite what the server told us on our first visit), but there are also small plates and $5 wine specials available in the bistro half.

The menu is, to put it bluntly, very French. If you want French food prepared in classic French style, this is the place. Escargots ($8), duck pate ($9), sweetbreads ($13), frog legs ($12) and baked brie ($9) round out the hors d'oeuvres. The entrees include crevettes ($27), chateaubriand béarnaise ($65, serves two), filet au poivre vert ($31), coq au vin ($21), duck Montmorency ($28) and beef Wellington ($31). All entrees are served with a vegetable (green beans both times we dined) and potatoes Anna.

Detail in preparation is where the chefs at Le Rendez-Vous shine. The escargots were hot, buttery and tender, without being chewy. Frog legs (we opted for the $5.50 bistro small plate) were thoroughly cooked and very moist. The trio de champignons ($11)—wild mushrooms and brie baked in puff pastry with a red wine and butter sauce—was gooey, melty, cheesy goodness. The only appetizer we ordered that faltered a bit was the duck pate. The texture was a bit on the grainy side.

Entrées were, for the most part, executed with impeccable precision and excellent flavor. The duck Montmorency ($28), roasted duck with cherries, was a touch dry and the filet au poivre vert was just a hair past medium-rare, if you want to get really picky about it. Both dishes could have used a little more sauce. The beef Wellington was absolute melt-in-your-mouth perfection, and on our second visit, Ted chose the evening's special, a lamb porterhouse ($28), which was nicely seasoned and perfectly medium-rare.

Dessert also shines at Le Rendez-Vous. On the first visit, we shared a charlotte verrine ($7), a lovely, creamy mousse-like dish with ladyfingers and fruit, which ended the meal with a nice light note. It was the total opposite of the Grand Marnier soufflé ($10, and you need to order while you're still enjoying your meal, as it takes more time to bake), which was incredibly rich, but delicious.

All of the food at Le Rendez-Vous was wonderful. The problems are with the service, and the clientele. On both of our visits, Ted and I were easily the youngest people in the restaurant by at least 20 years, and when we sat on the more upscale side, our server was quite inattentive to us compared to the service that she was providing some of the other tables. They seemed to be understaffed that night, but on the subsequent visit, when we enjoyed dinner on the bistro side, the restaurant was practically swarming with staff. They were gathering at the service station near the bar, chatting and laughing, and we must have had five different people (servers, bussers, etc.) at our table at one point or another throughout the evening. At least they were friendly and attentive.

Now, I know you can't judge a restaurant by its clientele, because it doesn't have any control over who dines there, but I think it's worth mentioning that on both visits several of the tables near us were exceedingly rude to their servers. And, in the category of something that the restaurant can control, if I am paying for a $31 steak, or a $65 chateaubriand, my steak knife had better not be made by Ronco.