Rendez Vous Bistro | Santa Rosa

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Steak Frites at Rendez Vous Bistro in Santa Rosa

Restaurant redemptions are rarer than a $2 steak. Which makes discovery all the sweeter.

In its first eighteen months, Santa Rosa’s Rendez Vous Bistro (which opened in March of 2009) was the source of significant Net chatter –– some quite unflattering. Despite a major interior revamp, the restaurant publicly struggled with uneven service and an inconsistent kitchen. Owner Nino Rabbaa, who sunk much of his own wealth into the venture, persevered at the central Santa Rosa location bolstered by a convenient location, a large and sunny outdoor space, a vibrant bar scene and a serviceable if not impressive food.

Earlier this year things began to turn around with the hiring of Chef de Cuisine Matthew Karson, a Santa Rosa native (and SRJC culinary grad) who spent time in the haute SF kitchen of Aqua and several local restaurant restaurants before landing at Rendez Vous. Bringing youthful ambition and high-end French technique to Rabbaa’s bistro classics, the two seem to have finally cracked the code. The menu is now approachable enough for workaday lunchers but with enough carefully-tuned details to impress the dining out crowd.

“Like a fine wine, with age we get better,” said Rabbaa, who plans to open a second eatery, a high end burgery in Santa Rosa this summer.

Though there are still missteps (desserts never quite hit the mark and when Karson isn’t in the kitchen, it can show), the restaurant seems to have found solid footing to build on. With a crowded playing field of top-notch French bistros in Sonoma County, the bar is set high. But if Rendez Vous can continue to match friendly service, kitchen talent and well-priced Parisian fare in its highly-trafficked downtown space, BiteClub can honestly say: Restaurant redeemed.

Foie Gras at Rendez Vous Bistro

Foie Gras at Rendez Vous Bistro

What to Eat
Dip Your Toe: BiteClub’s first foray back was Rendez Vous’ weeknight prix-fixe dinner served Monday through Thursday from 5-9:30. Three solid courses included a classic beef-broth French Onion Soup, meltingly delicious wine-braised Beef Bourguignon with creamed potatoes and haricots verts and a mini Crepe Suzette. Impressively plated and generously portioned, it was a meal that made me rethink the restaurant.

Small Bites: Happy Hour and late night, Rendez Vous serves up bar bites well into the night including truffled pommes frites, a petite tuna tartar, polenta fries, and sliders. Plus, a nifty specialty cocktail menu with gimlets, mojitos, and margaritas from $7 to $9. Sunday through Thursday 3-6pm and 9-12am; Friday and Saturday, 3-6pm, 10pm to 2am.

Go For It: Kobe Beef Steak Frites ($24.25) is a lush strip of Snake River steak, truffled butter and celery root slaw with crispy fries. Liberty Farms Duck Confit is one of the most ambitious and delicious dishes, with crispy skin, white beans and shaved fennel ($18.50); Tuna Tartare ($14.50) has gone through a number of evolutions, including pear, almonds and other flavors, but might best be left to let the fish speak for itself; Pan-Seared Sustainable Salmon ($19.50) shows off artichoke frites, melted leeks and smoked tomato foam (a Karson favorite); Seared Sonoma Foie Gras: Lush, indulgent with dried cherries and watercress, along with a Champagne gastrique ($16.50)

Duck confit at Rendez Vous Bistro

Duck confit at Rendez Vous Bistro

Crepes: Sweet or savory, Rabbaa has definite ideas about how a crepe should be — slightly crispy and not made with buckwheat flour. Loaded with fillings, they’re a slightly more American-friendly version made with white flour. Savories include duck confit with béchamel; ham, Gruyere and spinach with a fried egg, shredded chicken with olive tapenade and mushroom with Mornay and white truffle oil. Sweet Suzette’s are solid, if slightly sweet, but I have to question the “Aurelie” a frozen crepe filled with Oreo cookies and ice cream — mon dieu.

Aioli: I’ve told the story a thousand times, but it bears repeating. On one of the first nights of Rendez Vous opening, I asked for aioli with my fries (notch) and was given a ramekin of olive oil with garlic in it by a confused waiter. Not cool at a French bistro. The restaurant now has three different types of aioli: Plain, basil and white truffle.

Rendez Vous Bistro: 614 4th St., Santa Rosa, 526-7700.


Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

Share This Post On


  1. Mary Kay, I don’t know if you’ve ever run a business (guessing not) but sometimes you have to make tough decisions. Hate to point out the obvious to you, but he is the owner, you were a waitress. Yet, you think you know more about what the business should be doing. Who is the one with the ego problem?

    Also, not too bright to go on the web and trash your former employer. Seriously, who would hire you knowing that you’re that vindictive?
    Quit being a hater.

  2. I have recently promoted Rendez Vous as one of the best places I have ever worked. I just want to set the record straight. The fault of Rendez Vous decline is the owner Nino Rabbaa, he has never worked in a restaurant before and insists on paying for the top of the line help, then ,never taking the advice he is paying for. He has run this restaurant into the ground as well as many innocent employee’s. Ask him his philosophy on why, one day out of the blue, he removed all bread plates from the guests and left the staff to deal with it, there was no rhyme or reason to this decisions well as most of the decisions Mr. Raabaa makes.

  3. It is a shame that such a beautiful restaurant, is run by such a egotistical man. Never been in the restaurant business but thinks he knows all. I just want to set the record straight. I believed in Rendez Vous 100%, when I was promoting this restaurant. Let me tell you, it is not the service or the food, but the owner that is ruining RVB.

  4. I so appreciate your giving Rendez Vous Bistro another chance. When new restaurants open there is always a great expectations, that I feel sometimes is hard to live up to . I have worked in the restaurant industry for 25 plus years and I will tell you anyone who is willing to open a restaurant in this day, my hat is off to them. That being said, I have had my choice of anywhere I want to work and I chose Rendez Vous because the mission concept is the best that I have ever worked with, great vision, great food and a team that wants to make you happy .. When you come in again I hope you receive the service that I have witnessed for the time I have been a part of the Bistro team.

  5. Can’t really trust your response. You have been going there for years but the food is not great or marginal??????? Does that make Revendouz even worse??? La Gare’s french is much better prepared and cooked.

  6. Absolutely 100% agree with you, Biteclub. And thank you so much for sharing those links!

    Although industrial production of foie gras still does exist in some Eastern European countries, and China…the best quality foie gras comes from ducks or geese that actually live very pleasant lives, and gavage is done gently and quickly to avoid stressing the animals.

    If you’re vegetarian, don’t eat foie gras. If you don’t like the flavor, don’t eat foie gras. If it’s out of your budget, don’t eat foie gras. But please don’t base your criticism of it on misinformation spread by politicians and activists who chose foie gras as the sole focus of their campaign a few years back. The ban should’ve been on importation of foie gras from foreign, industrial producers whose facilities can’t be inspected.

    Good restaurants are paying attention to sourcing their products from conscientious and humane producers. They should be praised and supported for paying attention.

    Activists — Please focus more on changing where supermarkets get their meat and poultry and eggs. That would make a HUGE difference in quality of life for millions of animals.

  7. The wines by the glass are way overpriced and not that good. I refuse to pay more for a glass of wine than I do for my entree (steak sandwich).

    Also, the wines were pedestrian, large scale and even the french wines by the glass were the same wines served on airlines. With so many good small producers around, why not pour them.

    In essence, the wine list sucked.

    I’d like to go back and try the beef bourginon though.

  8. This place is only a facet or two away from being a real gem. Service does need to step up to the new menu–a lot. And they really should cool it with the hard-boiled egg crumbles basically burying the Caesar Salad (oh, and ditto the whole-leaf presentation: it’s tired). But that duck confit crepe is to die for.

    BTW, a crepe made with buckwheat flour isn’t a crepe, it’s a galette.

  9. La Gare’s not that great. Food was pretty marginal last time I was there & have been going there for years.

  10. Good post, Heather. I wonder if the CA ban on gavage will extend to the bloated Sacramento pols who waste our time, dictate our consumption, and harm small businesses just to buy ill informed votes with this sort of thing…

  11. Sounds like this place is still in the same spot (down in a hole). Small missteps??????? I have worked in the restaurant industry for a long time and this is a great way to sugar coat major problems. The desserts have not hit the mark??? Desserts should be really the easiest thing to prepare and think up. Also it shows when Karson is not in the kitchen???? This is a huge sign of bad kitchen management. Every cook needs to be on the same page. Sounds weird when the chef leaves that the other chefs can’t cook the same food they have been cooking all week. From the menu this is basic French food, nothing innovative or hard to make, so what is the problem??

    Why should I not go to La Gare? Everytime!

  12. It always kind of confuses me as to why folks get worked up about foie gras, but not about the treatment of any other animal we eat.

    There are conventionally raised animals treated with far more brutality than these ducks. Most reputable duck farms work hard to keep their animals healthy and generally stress-free because sick and damaged meat won’t sell. Rendez Vous says they use Sonoma Foie Gras, which is a reputable local producer. Gavage (force feeding the ducks) done with care (again poorly done will result in death or sickness, something that is contrary to a making a profit) seems a lot less horrid to me than the typical treatment of chickens and pigs who often live their entire lives packed into small cages, with beaks or tails chopped off — and worse.

    You can read about Sonoma Foie Gras here:

    Serious eats did a great article on the Physiology of Foie Gras:

    You can also check out PETA’s take on the foie gras issue:

    This will all be a moot point in 2012, however, when California bans the sale and production.

  13. Any restaurant owner who woud put out such a heartfelt & generous spread for the homeless on Thanksgiving gets my thumbs up. The place is great & I think we’re lucky to have it in downtown SR. I haven’t been there in awhile, we don’t eat out that often, but I’ve always enjoyed the ambience. I always find it amusing that we have so many food snobs in SR when for the most part the food is very pedestrian at best & in our effort to appear worldly we have to worry about the amount of bread etc. If you want more bread ask for it. . It’s curious that Sonoma County is considered just a food mecca when we have so many medicore Mexican restaurants & pizza places. Glad to have Rondez Vous there & look forward to eating there soon!!

  14. Pity they are still serving foie gras.

  15. Thank you for taking time to review and respond. That says a lot. I understand the balance you are working with. I certainly support local restaurants and will return one day soon. STEVE

  16. Thanks to you and to Nino for the attention and responses. I have a lot of appreciation for the work that goes into the restaurant business (consumer side only) and will certainly return. STEVE

  17. This really surprises me. I know they are trying with the staff and I also know Nino is reading this. I hope it improves. I have had several incredible servers but maybe it was the times we went. I haven’t been on a busy weekend

  18. Well written Nino!

  19. Steve,
    I want you to know that we at Rendez Vous value our customer’s comments and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that incidences such as this do not happen again in the future. In the restaurant business our reputation and success is built one meal at a time and your continued patronage is very important to us.

    Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. Your feedback is extremely important and will help me correct the situation. However, please know that our bread policy is not necessarily to serve insulting portions but to limit the amount of bread that is thrown away. Our experience in the last 2 years has shown that the more bread we serve the more waste there is and while all of the left over unused bread at the end of the day (which by the way we make in house every night) is brought to shelters, we made a conscious decision to serve smaller portions. We are happy to serve you as much bread as you want free of charge but just remember what you don’t finish cannot go back onto the table and must be thrown away per Health Code standards and in turn will not go to feed some less advantaged than we are.
    Once again, please accept my sincere apology and gratitude for letting me know about this incident.

    Best regards,
    Nino Rabbaa

  20. HI, As it happened I went there last evening. I can see the improvements with the menu and the kitchen but the wait staff were seriously lacking. IE: Several minutes before anyone found us after being seated, one out of three orders were brought with the wrong entree, no attention to detail. We were not the only ones and it was not all that busy. A minor item but interesting. They brought the smallest piece of baguette in the bread basket that I have ever seen. (Three times) so that it appears to be house policy to use a United airlines “insult you with smallness” approach. Very puzzling. Overall, they won’t be in the Sonoma County top twenty for a while in my book.

  21. I hope one can order dishes without the truffle treatment that seems so pervasive in the last few years….bleh:)

  22. I went there once for lunch and was impressed by the large array of specialty non-alcoholic drinks. Looks like I will have to try them again! Glad you reviewed it :)

  23. It was good before. Looks like it got bit by the foodie bug.

    C’est Dommage!

  24. Well, I will give it another chance. Went before the change and thought it was TERRIBLE. So dissapointed. Hope it’s better now.

  25. thanks lindy. I’m kind of stepping out on a ledge here, so it is good to hear feedback from biteclubbers.

  26. I was one of the “less enchanted” people; but gave them another chance and was glad that I did. It certainly shows improvement and I always commend those who take a step back to readjust.

  27. They have a great cocktail, the Sonoma 75. A local take on the classic using gin, Limocello di Sonoma and bubbles. :-)

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>