The Royal

Like the Ivy League grad who wouldn’t dream of putting a college sticker in the back window of his Saab, The Royal at The Raleigh is too cool for self-promotion. It just is, and for as long as I can recall, the place where locals and celebs feel equally comfortable lounging by the pool or doing shots inside the pinky-sized bar tucked off the lobby. Even after ultra-hip hotelier Andre Balazs quietly offloaded the 1940s Deco gem in 2009, the spot remains a favorite – mostly because of its irresistibly romantic or really more sexy, tropical vibe.

Despite the gorgeous quotient, the food at the stunning mostly outdoor restaurant now dubbed The Royal has never been top notch, even when one of my favorite French chefs, Eric Ripert, was in charge of the menu. Now that New Yorker John DeLucie has changed the focus from French to American comfort fare, the food still takes second place to the exquisite setting. It’s not that it’s bad, but, as the chef said about his New York eatery The Lion, “It’s a lifestyle thing; it’s not a culinary endeavor.” The food here as imagined by DeLucie and executed by Jimmy Corona is neither haphazard nor artful, but something in between. It’s casual and easy and mostly what you want to eat. Even if the staff and prices sometimes make that challenging.

Ambience: You cannot beat the vibe. White wooden tables are scattered beneath a canopy of shady sea grape trees where low-slung benches with gray cushions make for cozy if slightly awkward eating.

What Worked

  • Moist, tender & comforting signature roast chicken – lightly seared under a brick and served with braised cipollini onions as golden and sweet as caramel, nicely browned cubes of pancetta, slivers of tart apple and a flourish of wilted watercress
  • A side of creamed spinach with loads of butter and breadcrumbs
  • Satisfying local grouper, grilled and served with chewy faro and shallots
  • New York strip steak served a la carte
  • A casually composed chopped salad with hearts of palm, radicchio and Manchego
  • A Nicoise salad with gently boiled quail eggs and freshly grilled tuna
  • A bracingly peppery & sweet arugula and Asian pear salad
  • A tender, well-composed and expertly seared octopus salad
  • A tidy little stack of silver-dollar sized crepes sealed with a touch of caramel
  • A baked pear infused with cinnamon

What Didn’t Work

  • Handsome, well-intentioned but hopeless staff
  • An English-impaired bartender that poured shots into tumblers more suited for iced tea and delivered a cold Amstel Light (instead of the non-alcoholic beer ordered)
  • A friendly, but drifting waiter
  • A limited and nervily priced wine menu