Food & Drink

The Rendez-Vous

Prohibition-era history, cocktails and eclectic Parisian romance in Oakland

The Rendez-Vous, a new Frenchified boîte on the other side of Temescal.
SQUID GAME The heavily charred cephalopod came with peppers and kiwi, along with hunks of avocado.

Recently, I sat down at Rendez-Vous Café Bistro, right next door to the Albany Twin movie theater. When the host said they’d been in business for nearly 20 years, it dawned on me that my robot-car-map machine had misled me. I’d intended to try The Rendez-Vous, a new Frenchified boîte on the other side of Temescal. 

A friend of mine had recommended it by sending enticing photos of lovely dark green booths and newly revealed frescoes from the 1930s. I sheepishly left Albany that day to subsequently make my way to the correct address on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

An early post on The Rendez-Vous’ Instagram account surmises that the 1910 building was “a private member’s social club during prohibition and was a cocktail lounge called Jax Club for a couple of decades.” Over the years, the post adds, the space has also housed a florist, a record store, a barber shop and stored car parts. The transformation of the interior is a complete departure from those utilitarian businesses.

The Rendez-Vous captures the spirit of a Parisian restaurant in a venue that embodies the original idea of shabby chic. The mood cast inside is of a fin de siècle decay, thanks to the layers of peeling paint and the series of partially rescued frescoes. One of the loveliest recovered murals features a topless dancer, her head and her blouse missing. But she’s wearing a pair of sheer billowing harem pants, jewel-green in color. Painted against a field of blue tile, she’s posed, mid-dance, with one heel in motion. 

Outside on the back patio, there’s a red neon sign in the shape of a heart. The overall effect of the décor is hypnotizing, transportive and cinematic. Off-duty espionage agents and ill-fated lovers could meet there and feel right at home sipping a strawberry-infused whiskey sour, just one of many inventive cocktails on the menu.   

When I walked inside, the architectural layout reminded me of eating at Doña Tomás, way back when it was one of the first restaurants that made Temescal a culinary destination. There are few pedestrians walking along the stretch of MLK Way where The Rendez-Vous is located. BART trains travel overhead, while cars race towards the 580, Berkeley or downtown Oakland.

The hand-drawn menu and sign out front above the doorway contribute to the feeling that you’re dining out in someone’s particular fantasy. It seems an off-the-beaten path oasis serving potent, yet restorative potables and tasty meals that supplement them. The drinks are served in charming mismatched glasses and the food eaten with antique silverware.        

A bowl of green olives ($12) bettered their usual, casual presentation. The chef slices them, adds chunks of feta cheese and oregano, and then bathes the ingredients in a golden olive oil. We used thin slices of crostini, cut from baguettes, to scoop the mixture up. The Caesar Salade ($16) convinced me, once again, that I’ve grown to like bitter lettuces. Radicchio tastes vaguely poisonous—something Snow White’s stepmother might enjoy—but was complemented by much sweeter little gem leaves. 

My friend recognized two dishes on the menu from her previous visit, but the presentation of both was different from what she remembered. The squid ($22) that arrived didn’t match the menu’s description. Instead of stone fruit, the heavily charred cephalopod came with peppers and kiwi, along with hunks of avocado. Adorned with microgreens, the plate was pretty, but the mélange of fruit and veggies didn’t gel well. The textures all landed as soft on soft on soft beneath a kosho vinaigrette. But I could see the potential of the dish if it were accompanied by heartier sides such as squash, potatoes or asparagus. 

We tried both desserts. First was a vanilla bean custard ($12) with a cassis “drizzle” that was more of a drenching. It was a comforting version of a pudding without being overly sweet. Next was a dense chocolate cake ($12) that tasted flourless. When we left the table, the plate was empty, dotted with a few tiny crumbs. 

The Rendez-Vous, open Wed to Sun 5–11pm. 5526 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. instagram.com/therendezvousoakland.

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