“Why are we at a sports bar?” my dining companion asked. The first of impression of Rai’s Rendezvous flickers with TVs playing sports and dings with the pinball machines near the entrance. I can forgive him for not thinking this would be a memorable meal, but fortunately for eaters who like their meals with a side of innovation, he was wrong.
Rai’s Rendezvous is the latest restaurant from Basil Kuhn III and his team at WTF Restaurant Group, known around the region for Rai’s Pizza, Rai’s Pour House, and Sully’s Pour House. But don’t expect pizza or cheesesteaks at Rai’s Rendezvous. The small plates menu leans Mediterranean, with dishes that range from falafel and hummus to arancini. However, that’s not the end of the story. Diners will also find creative outliers from chef John Iatrellis, including a lobster PB&J with kimchi peanuts and onion marmalade packed with lobster onto brioche.
Service at Rai’s Rendezvous also far exceeds what one might expect from a sports bar. Our server walked us through the menu and gave us her recommendations with a smile. Those included the fried halloumi. The artful stack of cubed cheese is piled with pomegranate arils and chunks of sour apple, all drizzled with honey. For me, it conjured “The Song of Solomon.”
The crispy cauliflower with arugula aioli was another score, though I was expecting the vegetable to be oven-crisped, not fried. The arayes burgers are a chubby take on the Lebanese meat-stuffed pita, made with a sirloin, brisket, and chuck blend. The combination of the juicy meat with garlicky toum is a winner, especially when dipped in a puddle of lightly spicy harissa aioli.
I had contemplated ordering the falafel but instead went for one of the eight large plates, chicken and fawaffle. Yep, it’s chicken and waffles with falafel batter. The boneless fried chicken is a winner, but the falafel relies too heavily on coriander to flavor it.
When I tried it, the date-filled bread pudding betrayed a similar issue. I loved the earthy aroma of the ras el hanout spice blend in the mix but found that it made the texture of the dessert slightly powdery.
With 36 dishes on the menu and just a few weeks open, I certainly won’t fault Rai’s Rendezvous for minor issues like those. Instead, I’ll appreciate the effort of a menu that makes ordering even more fun than watching wrestling or playing pinball. I have no doubt that all will soon be honed to make the new restaurant a dining destination.
44042 Pipeline Plz., Ashburn
See this: As you wait for your food (it won’t be long), unpack the dense tangle of skillful graffiti that covers the walls.
Eat this: Fried halloumi, arayes burgers, bread pudding
Feature image by Alice Levitt
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