It's six o'clock. Traffic is intense for no Red Sox game and the Grateful Dead boys several weeks gone. Every street is on hold as we split to Central Square's Mass Avenue and voilà: it's Rendezvous. We opt for the bar as we're greeted and seated in no time. This is some room: it's all skylights with yellow brickwork and the ceiling's a warm orange. Why is it looking familiar? Oh, now I remember. When they opened eight years ago, they took over a space that used to be . . . a Burger King. Pretty gutsy, Steve Johnson, creating fine dining where there was once less fine dining, with all due respect.
Here's a bar basket with lemons, limes and oranges that are missing peel. When he's making your cocktail, the bartender carves a fresh piece, just for you. Watching him assemble mojitos and martinis is affecting - he never stops shaking and measuring. As we watch, he puts together a Mamie Taylor, a tall drink with Scotch, ginger beer and lime. It's too hot to think about wine, let alone Scotch. What's wrong with us, I think, is too much yard time earlier. Cocktails galore yet I see him pour no beer or wine though he must have.
Now it's us: he's handing over the bread basket and we're into olive oiled crackers and rustic bread. First, sautéed Rhode Island squid with arugula, fennel and borlotti, a thin-skinned velvety bean. The squid's peppery with arugula and vinaigrette. Next, spicy bluefish cakes with cucumber salad. We're trying to figure out what's in the bluefish: is it cumin or curry powder? Steve comes by to say hello, we ask and he says only: "yellow, red and brown spices." Okay, then.
We choose escarole and parsley salad with radish, Romano and toast. If I were home, I'd sliver more cheese, cut the amount of escarole and parsley and fill in Boston lettuce to ease up the chew factor. Even though the crabcakes and the squid both come on greens, we find the salad array intriguing tonight and in keeping with our heat exhaustion.
What I call the Cambridge crowd is out in force and Steve knows everyone. He is making the rounds from host to bartender to table and back again. Tunes are mellow for this Mediterranean cuisine and air conditioning is on high, just the way I like it. Before we face the night, we opt for strawberry shortcake with mint and sure enough, it's in sweet cream surrounded by berries with no whipped anything. They grow their own herbs on the roof. Monday from 5-10 pm they do tapas. Unpretentious, low key, hip, date-worthy or simply come by yourself. Steve can cook.
Rendezvous in Central Square
502 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer at http://www.corp-edge.com.
by Chef Mark Shoup