Rendez-vous with Ethiopian Cuisine
When it comes to Ethiopia, most people know it's famous for being the motherland of coffee. But what they usually don't know is that Ethiopia, just like many other African countries, has a distinct cuisine full of delicious, diverse dishes, both meat and vegetable based. It can be a bit heavy on meat, but vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free and lactose-free eaters will find Ethiopian dishes very satisfying and delicious as well. There really is something for everyone.
In Toronto, the food scene is so diverse that you can try almost every cuisine of the world, Ethiopian included; there are several restaurants that serve the delicious dishes of this East African country. But this time we've decided to to try the food at Rendez-Vous. Owner Banchi Kinde opened the restaurant in 2001, after moving to Toronto. She decided to share the unique and rich culture and cuisine of Ethiopia with Toronto.
Rendez-Vous exterior. Photo from Zomato
Décor and Atmosphere
Rendez-Vous is situated at 1408 Danforth Avenue, just steps away from the Greenwood TTC station, on the corner of Danforth and Monarch. The exterior is not very attractive and it definitely doesn't say much about what you can expect inside. But if you're walking down the Danforth during the summer, the aroma of coffee and food might attract you to the corner of the street where you'll find the patio full of people laughing and talking. One can't help but notice that it's a local meeting spot. It stays true to its name Rendez-Vous, as it was actually named after a famous spot in Ethiopia known as a meeting place where people come to socialize.
The interior is pleasant, but a bit too dark. The walls are painted red, there are hut-like decorations above each table and there is Ethiopian art across the walls. It feels a bit more like a bar than a restaurant, but it's pleasant nonetheless. There are menus on each table and as soon as you sit down, one of the waitresses is already on the way with a glass of cold icy water.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
African music is playing just loud enough to be a nice background for all the conversations going on, and it contributed to the décor and theme. However, one corner is a bit different—there's a big TV with sports games on. There is something that looks like an altar of some kind below the TV, but it is actually setup for the Rendez-Vous traditional coffee ceremony ($15). Rendez-Vous imports their coffee directly from Ethiopia and the coffee ceremony is a real treat!
During the ceremony, they bring out a pan of roasting Ethiopian Coffee beans and you can enjoy the coffee aroma filling the air. Then they add water and boil the coffee in a traditional clay pot called a "jebena". Coffee here is served with popcorn.
Tip: If you want the coffee, make sure you order before your meal, because it takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
Food and Drinks
The menu can be a bit confusing at first, also due to the weird font and some spelling mistakes, but the staff is very kind helpful and they explain every dish and provide great recommendations. We decide on the double Rendez-Vous vegetarian combination ($13) to split between the three of us and beef tibs, a hot and spicy beef stew ($12).
The vegetarian combo is a rich plate filled with misir vot (pureed split red lentil simmered in red spicy sauce), shiro (milled split chickpeas), gomen (kale and collard greens cooked with spices), atekik alicha (split peas in light sauce), buticha (chickpea dip mixed with vegetables in lemon juice), fasolia (string beans and carrots sautéed with onions), keyser (cooked beets and potatoes mixed with hot pepper), azifa (lentil salad), and selata (special salad with Rendez-Vous’ home dressing, onions and jalapenos). It is a vegetarian’s dream. The plate might look a bit strange at the beginning, with all the colourful little piles on the Injera, but when you start tasting all the different sauces and veggies it turns into a big fun exploration.
It is important to mention that when it comes to Ethiopian/Eritrean food, there are no utensils whatsoever. The food is served either on or with an injera—a spongy sourdough flatbread, made from fermented teff flour. (Fun fact: Teff is actually a grass, not a grain like wheat.) Imagine a big thick soft crepe that tastes like sourdough bread. You use it to pick up food and to dip into and mop up the all the delicious sauces in front of you. The veggie combo is actually served on an injera which soaks up all the sauces and the different flavours. Picking up food with injera can be a bit awkward at first, and you might get the feeling you're eating too much of the bread and not picking up enough of the delicious veggie sauces. But injera is complementary at Rendez-Vous, so feel free to ask for more.
The food was sweet, it was sour, it was spicy. It was the combination of all the flavours you can imagine and it was delicious. Our favourites was buticha, which is a lot like hummus, and misir wot - the red lentils simmered in spicy red sauce.
Next on our plates was the spicy beef stew, beef tibs. Tibs is a traditional Ethiopian dish, made from sautéed meat and vegetables. It is served in a lot of different ways, and it can range from very spicy to mild. There are also many variations of the dish depending on the type of the meat and the vegetables used. Rendez-Vous' beef tibs consists of prime beef sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, green peppers and jalapenos and it was just spicy enough.
The tibs paired with the vegetarian platter is a great combination to keep you full, although once you start eating, you will probably find the veggie combo to be enough. When the plate arrives, remember that looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to hearty and delicious cuisine like Ethiopian. If you're bringing someone with you to the restaurant, go for one combo platter and share, because it's more than enough.
As for the drinks, the cold water is enough to go with your meal. But if you're in the mood for something else, they serve beer—Canadian and imported—plus wine and non-alcoholic drinks too.
The food is pretty affordable considering the amount that you get. The bill for for the double veggie combo and beef tibs came to a total of $38 for three people.
If you're looking to try something new and you've never had Ethiopian food, make sure you try Rendez-Vous. It's a great place to meet friends and enjoy a delicious meal together. It's a great place for dates, because it's kind of romantic to share food and the ambiance of the restaurant is very date-friendly too. Actually, in Ethiopian culture, it's common for to people to feed their friends and loved ones with their hands. They call this "gursha", which is an act of love and affection intended to create intimacy.