The culinary scene in the East Bay south of Oakland leaves quite a bit to be desired. In this context, Rue de Main can be cherished as a good place to get competent upscale food in a charming yet fun atmosphere, albeit at stratospheric prices. We visited for the first time in August 2001, and we'll probably go back again.
Our decision to try Rue de Main was truly last minute. After a couple of very heavy work days, we were looking to relax and decided that some French food would do the trick. We called the restaurant at about 8 PM on a Thursday night to see if we could drop in, and although they didn't sound thrilled, they accepted a reservation for half an hour later.
When we arrived, a little late, the restaurant was pretty empty. In addition to the restaurant staff, there was only one other table occupied. Not surprising for a Thursday night, but as we were practically the only customers, we got pretty good service. Our waitress was nice and efficient, our water glasses were frequently replenished, plates were quickly cleared and so on. We only spent about an hour at the restaurant, but we never felt rushed and indeed, we were able to relax quite well.
The restaurant itself is charming and fun. It's made to resemble (a la the Paris hotel in Las Vegas) an outdoor neighborhood restaurant in Paris. The walls are painted with street scenes; there is a lot of red brick and a very cute small patio featuring a tree, a fountain and other stuff, between the two dining rooms. There are high ceilings and what looked like a skylight. A great decor that is thoroughly out of place in Hayward (that's a good thing). There are candle lamps at the tables, though none of them were on that night and our waitress did not offer to light ours. A pity, because I think the restaurant would be much nicer and more romantic if the overhead lights were dimmed a bit more and you could eat by candlelight. Of course, I just happen to love to eat by candlelight, and the inability to do so when dining at an upscale restaurant is one of my most common complaints. Though there was only one other table occupied - or perhaps because there was only one other table occupied - noise was a problem. If we cared to, we could have easily listened to the whole conversation going on at the other table - and no doubt they could have done the same with us. That decreased the sense of privacy, and therefore comfort (and romance!), that I like to have when dining out at nice places.
What really distinguishes a French restaurant, however, is not the service or decor, but the food. At Rue de Main, the food was competent though not outstanding, and ultimately it did not justify the high prices (appetizers were in the $5-9 range, main dishes mostly in the low $20s and desserts about $6). You can get better food for considerably less money at La Maison, in Castro Valley - though you'd have to forgo the beautiful interior.
As usual, dinner started with bread and butter. The french bread was OK, though no better than Safeway's. The butter was whipped and soft and I thought tasted a bit stale.
Mike and I shared an appetizer of baked brie, with garlic and almond slivers (about $7.50). It came with the same french bread that we had been served before. It was good, though not outstanding, perhaps only a notch above the baked brie you can get at Trader Joe's.
For a main dish, I had the filet mignon with foie gras and truffle sauce. The small steak came over a piece of toasted bread and was perfectly done - medium rare, as I requested. It was tender and delicious with the savory foie gras and the sweet sauce. I would definitely order it again. Mike fared much worse with his entrecote au poivre. The steak was tender but insipid; the sauce tasted of black pepper and nothing else. Mike didn't like it; fortunately (or unfortunately) the waitress did not ask us how the food was, so we didn't have to make the choice as to whether be honest or insincere. Both of our steaks (priced in the low-mid $20's) came with the same garnishes, a thick slice of baked potato, broccoli with some sauce and some carrot thingy. Mike thought they were OK. Note that entree portions are small, so plan on ordering an appetizer for each diner.
We each had a glass of the house Cabernet for dinner (there were no Bordeauxs available); the wine was very drinkable though not very interesting.
Desserts were also a disappointment. Mike went for the crepes with orange sauce while I had (surprise, surprise) the creme brulee. My dessert came in a small bowl, not suitable for sharing. Most of the custard was cold, though part of it was warm - I'm not sure if that was because of an attempt at reheating or what. It was OK, not great, but certainly better than Mike's crepes. These came with a very runny, somewhat bitter orange sauce that didn't taste very good. It certainly could have used some grand marnier.
The bill, before the tip, came to about $80. We'll probably go again, my filet mignon was good enough that we are willing to give other dishes a chance, though if anything Rue de Main made us appreciate La Maison, with its superior food and lower prices, even more.
Rue de Main
22622 Main Street
Hayward, CA 94541