When I heard that an Eastern European restaurant in Eagle was the new venture from the owners of the defunct Russian Bear Cafe, I instantly formed expectations. I imagined what the cuisine might be like: wintry and pale, heavy on white flour and cream, hearty but not necessarily welcoming.
I should have known better. At Rendezvous, my expectations were happily met and defied. Svetlana and Oleg Mironov's food is comforting and rich, but prepared a la minute, not stewed for days. And it is surprisingly international, drawing inspiration not only from the eastern half of Europe, but also Italy and France, a touch of the Mediterranean, and with gestures toward northern Africa.
The restaurant does not look like the kind of place where you will have some of the best cabbage rolls you have ever tried, but it is. Stately gray walls are hung with a gallery of oil landscapes and photographs, and purple light casts up to the high ceilings. Downbeat electronic music sets a cool, if chilly, vibe. The menu is a little unruly, with the beer and extensive wine list on five loose pages printed front and back. With a glass of wine in hand, you feel a little like you're out for drinks at an art museum.
Then a dish like those cabbage rolls ($16) arrives, as homey and classic as you could have dreamed. The two large rolls are filled with a mix of spiced ground beef and turkey, baked in a thin tomato sauce that is spooned over them again on the plate. Underneath are skin-on, mashed red potatoes. Sour cream is draped over everything. It's evocative of the Russian childhood you never had.
Several of the other dishes my wife and I tried were Eastern Europe classics. A brothy bowl of chicken and lentil soup ($7) with potato and garbanzo beans was simple and soothing, brightened by a toss of fresh parsley. An appetizer of plums stuffed with cheese ($7), coiled in bacon and fried, was also tasty, served with shreds of pickled carrot. And I loved the meat dumplings ($15), little packets filled with the same beef and turkey as the cabbage rolls, steamed and then seared in a pan like a potsticker, dressed on the plate with sour cream and fresh dill. This is listed under entrees, but also recommended as an appetizer for sharing among a group of four. An order of dumplings is at least 20. We would've eaten 40 on our own.
From there, the menu strays from convention. A steaming hot Russian crepe appetizer ($8) is served with wild mushrooms, strips of basil, and chicken in an Italian Amaretto cream sauce -outstanding. There is a spinach salad ($6) with strawberries, almonds, and feta cheese; Spanish shrimp ($10) with garlic and breadcrumbs; a Turkish roll with baba ghanouj ($8).
Two-inch thick lamb chops ($25) are marinated in Marsala and balsamic vinegar, grilled to temperature and served with a sweet blackberry sauce. On the side are oven-crisped Brussels sprouts and a mound of long-grain white rice, ringed with a bit of vinegary red pepper hot sauce that makes the whole dish. The sauce, called adjika, is a recipe of Oleg's great-grandmother, and as we discovered, it is delicious on just about everything at Rendezvous.
The most unusual and most successful twist on a standard preparation was the beef schnitzel ($19) - pounded thin, hand-carved New York steak, breaded and pan-fried. It is topped not with a heavy hunter's cream sauce, but lightly sautéed mushrooms and just-wilted spinach, served with an especially apt wine-balsamic-berry sauce.
On the dessert menu, a French Napoleon ($7) is a huge, airy slab of layered pastry and cream, streaked with chocolate and a snowfall of powdered sugar. We also like the fudgy walnut-chocolate roulade ($8) with vanilla ice cream.
The disappointments are few but notable. I understand that the cabbage rolls are necessarily reheated to order, not made from scratch that moment, but I'd have liked ours served a bit hotter. And the bread that accompanied the soup and was toothpicked to the stuffed plums presents an opportunity: Instead of the ordinary toasted hoagie, this could be something grainy and dark to fit the other accoutrements. And one problem with a beverage list this big is maintaining it: Baltika beers were not available on both occasions we dined, and we had to get to our second and third choices on wine (though what we received was quite good).
Rendezvous feels largely undiscovered. One night, Oleg was both server and chef, and the restaurant was so quiet we could hear him pounding out the schnitzel in the kitchen. This should change. Especially in winter, the cuisine here feels interesting yet familiar, and it should find a larger audience.
Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org