163 Glyndon St. S.E.
Vienna, VA 22180
PRICE $$$ ($21-$30)
HOURS Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS Best Restaurant 2006
Best Restaurant 2007
Best Restaurant 2008
Best Restaurant 2009
Best Restaurant 2010
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
Food: 7.5 Ambiance: 7.2 Service: 7.9
During daylight hours, Renaissance remains the purview of cabin feverish retirees armed with dog-eared books and bird-like appetites.
But come nightfall, the clientele—and hands-on owner Saeed Abtahi—really come alive.
Abtahi doesn’t just oversee the tightly knit space, he works the room. He is not above flambéing bananas for silver-haired birthday girls, dispensing wine advice—“You want a sauvignon blanc for this season,” he informed the patron in search of a “nice, quiet white,”—or playfully ribbing his regulars (“You’re leaving us so soon? It hasn’t even been two hours!” he chides one departing pair).
Seafood cioppino summons shellfish and squid adrift in spicy tomato broth.
Chicken curls around a purse of spinach, shrimp and shiitakes, all drizzled in lobster-laden beurre blanc (majestic).
Overlapping scaloppinis of veal ride a wave of richness powered by sautéed mushrooms and brandied cream sauce.(November 2009)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 6.7 Ambiance: 7.2 Service: 6.8
The veneration of regulars remains Café Renaissance’s most striking calling card, as evidenced by the legion of retirees who continue to soldier in for the favorite Gallic creations.
From meal to meal, very little changes. And the fast-graying guests that dot the majority of Renaissance’s tables seem to prefer things that way.
Staff fawns over well-known charges like family (“I’ll see you soon, sweet lady,” the manager cooed to one blushing octogenarian) but sometimes stumbles with us less-familiar folks (one server left us stranded for close to 15 minutes at the end of the meal even though we were the only remaining guests in the dining room).
Luckily, the kitchen doesn’t seem to play favorites.
Soft shell crabs drizzled in lemon juice and decorated with almonds certainly look grand but succumb to too much salt (pity).
Hollandaise-drenched eggs hoisted atop gripping prosciutto deliver lavish bites of savory, meaty and soft.
Spongy calves’ liver smartly soaks up its wine-shallot accompaniment (seared onion essence duly complements the mellow organ meat).(November 2008)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 6.7 Ambiance: 7.2 Service: 7.3
Don’t bother looking for headline-seeking politicos or paparazzi-plagued celebrities at this Vienna mainstay.
Café Renaissance remains a much more intimate experience—best appreciated by those who prefer reposing amidst floods of familiar sights and smells and receiving meticulous care from staff who revel in getting to know patrons beyond a first-name basis.
Owner Saeed Abtahi seems to know everyone who walks through his front door, precipitating lots of boisterous “hellos” and impromptu reunions as he joins guests at their tables and effortlessly slips right into conversations about old friends and family gossip like a long-lost uncle.
The menu is just as familiar, even if some old favorites seem to have passed on (RIP, sweetbreads).
Smoked salmon blanketed in lush vodka cream prompted one companion to plead with staff for a to-go gallon of sauce. A seasonal gift of venison scaloppini is braced by a ravishing black-peppercorn reduction (spicy pods prevail in almost every bite). Roast monkfish (fluffy, moist) shares the spotlight with cream-splashed scallops and complex cilantro sauce (an onion-pea-ground herb tug-of-war).(December 2007)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 6.8 Ambiance: 7.3 Service: 7.5
Veal sweetbreads may not be for everybody, but those of us who do enjoy them treasure the few places that can satisfy our offal itch. Sadly, Café Renaissance has pulled the specialty selection from its proudly Gallic carte—a not-so-subtle departure that has not gone unnoticed by this Vienna mainstay’s rapidly graying clientele.
A sentimental favorite amongst the Greatest Generation set, Café Renaissance remains a cozy retreat for devotees of traditional Eastern European fare. Though the alluring sweetbreads have disappeared—one waiter says patrons routinely call to inquire if it’ll be on daily special, management claims they can accommodate special orders with just a few days notice—gourmet staples like calves liver Bercy and seasonal game dishes continue to satisfy.
Roast eggplant gives way to a pleasing ricotta and prosciutto filling. Flattened chicken filets arrive smothered in a brazen gorgonzola-tomato sauce bolstered by capers and black olives (bravissimo!). Tilapia leaps from subtly sweet to sublime after a quick soak in lemon butter with tart apples and sliced almonds. An eponymous pasta dish scatters a bounty of fresh mussels, shrimp and jumbo sea scallops in the homemade sauce of your choosing (vodka cream adds bite, olive oil and garlic let the seafood do the work) atop steaming capellini.
By-the-glass wines are limited, while bottles top out at $600 for a 1971 Chateau Latour Pauillac.(August 2006)
By Warren Rojas
F 7.3 A 8.1 S 8.0
It is astonishing how adept perfectly charming neighborhood eateries are at hiding right out in the open. And it is even more amazing when the locale consistently prepares gourmet cuisine and lavishes attention on its customers-as is routinely the case at the underappreciated Café Renaissance.
Classic paintings adorn a tastefully decorated dining area featuring just a handful of tables, most of which are claimed by long-time customers. Nattily dressed staff (looking sharp in vests, bowties and sometimes full suits) casually tick off a wealth of daily specials from memory, offer recommendations with ease and compliment each guests' dining selections.
The menu reflects strong Gallic and Roman influences, although staff do their best to accommodate any special requests. A trio of jumbo shrimp smothered in curry cream, or crispy scallops in a citrus beurreblanc whet the appetite. Brandy-infused veal paired with tart apples is French to the core, as is a plate of calves' liver in a red wine reduction. Fresh monkfish ensconced in garlic and mushrooms is superb, while rainbow trout gets dressed with asparagus, crab and plenty of hollandaise.