When I heard the owners of one of my favorite Southwest Florida restaurants—Blue Windows Bistro in South Fort Myers—were shuttering that space and relocating to Sanibel, I let out a worried little groan. Would the new eatery offer the same classic French fare? Would the atmosphere be as inviting? Would people cross the causeway for it?
The answers, I was happy to discover, were yes, yes and definitely yes.
Bleu Rendez-Vous French Bistro opened in May, and fans of Blue Windows will be relieved to see nearly the same menu. The bouillabaisse has been cut and a seafood vol-au-vent (lobster, grouper, shrimp and scallops baked in a puff pastry with a sherried lobster cream sauce) has taken its place, but otherwise the Gallic staples remain.
The wine list at Bleu Rendez-Vous is extensive with many French wines offered by region. There are also several pages of domestic options for die-hard American oenophiles. On the night of my dinner, my friend and I began the meal with two kir royals, those effervescent pink aperitifs that combine champagne and crème de cassis ($7.50 each). They are very drinkable, and when our vigilant waitress asked if either of us would like another, my companion hurriedly said “yes.”
She sipped her second cocktail happily as our appetizers—escargot ($8) and seared quail ($12)—arrived. The escargot were served steaming, each snail firm but tender, and the sauce provided the right balance of garlic and butter. The quail had a crisp outside and was complemented by a honey sauce that held surprising hints of cinnamon and cardamom.
Between courses, we had enough time to admire the décor. Make no mistake: Bleu Rendez-Vous is fine dining, but the atmosphere is unpretentious, a Gulfshore take on the Parisian bistro. There’s no denying you’re in a French restaurant—fleur-de-lis curtains, miniature Eiffel towers—but the nautical accents and touches of blue lend the interior an island feel. The effect is just right for Sanibel.
Our main courses arrived: rabbit in a white wine reduction ($31) for my friend and filet-frites ($33) for myself. The stewed rabbit was tender and flavorful, accented by mushrooms and potatoes in the sauce. My steak—a hand-cut beef tenderloin—was cooked to an exact medium with a thin strip of pink inside and a good sear on the exterior. Béarnaise sauce accompanied the meat, along with crisp truffle fries. I happened to glance at my companion as I worked through my dish, and she was busily sopping up sauce from her bowl with a chunk of bread. In a different restaurant she might have received disapproving looks, but at Bleu Rendez-Vous she was just fine.
In addition to the dozen or so tables, the restaurant offers bar seating that looks into the open kitchen where you can watch French-born chef Christian Vivet at work. His wife, Mari, who is originally from this area, serves as maître d’ and all-around enthusiast. She circulated among the tables, chatting warmly with diners. At one point she confided to us that the idea for the new restaurant came to them over a shared bottle of champagne.
“That’s when I get my best ideas,” she said, laughing.
I laughed, too. There are worse ways.
To finish the meal, my companion and I indulged in a crème brûlée ($7) and profiteroles ($9-pictured below). Crème brûlée is one of those deceptive desserts, seemingly effortless but in reality a challenge to get just right. This one was perfect. Not too sweet, with a firm but still supple interior and a crackling top layer of caramelized sugar. The profiteroles, always my favorite at Blue Windows, were just as good as I remembered.
People say there’s no improving on a classic, but I beg to differ. Bleu Rendez-Vous makes an outstanding addition to the Southwest Florida dining landscape, one that is worth crossing the causeway to visit.