When I lived in Chicago, I worked at a restaurant. It was a complete rude awakening that deeply changed my perspective on dining out. As a customer, it’s hard to fathom all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into your meal, and in particular, the number of resources it takes to produce one meal a day, not to mention three. So when I heard The Royal is open all day, has a breakfast menu, an all-day menu, a specials menu, a bar program, and a coffee program, I had to check it out…
The Royal is located on an unassuming corner right as you hit LeDroit Park on your way from the Shaw metro station. If you don’t have your eyes peeled, you might miss it. The building is quaint, clean, and cozy. The cocktail bar is surprisingly stocked for the stature of the place. The open kitchen is a sight you want to see, and there is even a nook with a non-working fireplace where I implore all people who work from home to occupy as often as you can.
I’d like to note that I went to The Royal for lunch, but that didn’t stop me from looking at their craft cocktail list. I was intrigued by the Aguardiente Punch with blackberry, vanilla, cassis, and citrus, mainly because I had never heard of aguardiente before. I quickly learned that aguardiente is one of the most popular liquors in Colombia, and is often referred to as “fire water.” I also learned very few DC establishments stock this so-called “fire water,” a.k.a. my excuse to try it. I’m glad I did, because this punch was seriously delicious. It was incredibly well-balanced and refreshing, and it was the type of drink that could compliment any dish well. I also ordered a cortado made with coconut milk, because I was irrationally excited they had coconut milk on the menu.
After perusing the cocktail menu (first, of course), I dedicated some time to the food. There were two things that stood out to me in particular. One, that majority of the offerings were plant-based or included vegetables, and two, that several of the dishes were naturally gluten-free. This was extremely refreshing. You can eat your gluten-free rice flour pretzels, burrito wraps, and chocolate-chip cookies all you want, but nothing beats food that is gluten-free without even trying.
I decided to start with two veggie dishes – the Red Cabbage & Hearts of Palm, and the Grilled Avocado. I can solemnly say that I have never been a fan of red cabbage and I don’t even know what a heart of palm looks like, but this dish was fresh, acidic in the right ways, and surprisingly meaty, despite there being no animal product in the preparation. The Grilled Avocado, served with red quinoa and lentils, was simple in terms of ingredients, but had very complex flavors. I think I might have to grill all of my avocadoes from now on, because something organic changed with this preparation. The flavor profile of the avocado was truly transformed, just from placing it on a wood-burning grill for a few minutes. Remarkable.
Next came the White Sweet Potato with arugula and avocado dressing, and the Charred Field Vegetables, which that day included green onions, Brussels sprouts, and squash. The field vegetables are on a daily rotation depending on what vegetables come in their farm deposit. This rendition was very interesting with the green onions. I had never eaten an entire grilled green onion before, as green onions are typically found chopped up and served as a garnish, but I was pleasantly surprised by their flavor. I also must mention the avocado dressing on the white sweet potato was fantastic. The Royal is loosely based on Colombian cuisine; in all honesty they define their food more as “inspired by,” but I think we truly have the Colombians to thank for this restaurant’s obsession with avocado.
The final round of dishes was probably my favorite. These included The Royal’s Grilled Squid with smoked tomatoes, radish, and cilantro, the Morcilla, a grilled pork & rice sausage served with roasted potatoes, and a Lamb Stew, which was on the specials menu that day. The flavors portrayed in this course were out of this world. The squid had a clean and fresh preparation, partly due to it being grilled rather than fried like calamari.
The Morcilla sausage was definitely a standout for several reasons. First of all, I’m a huge sucker for an establishment that makes their sausage in-house. Secondly, the dish was fairly lean compared to your normal sausage. You could tell it was composed of mostly meat rather than a fat filler.
The Lamb Stew was almost in a league of its own. My visit to The Royal was on a particularly dreary day, and the stew was exactly the type of comforting meal you would want to eat under the circumstances. It was something exquisite. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender and served atop yellow rice. Definitely not the traditional stew preparation, but the creativity and uniqueness that was translated through its sophisticated flavor profile was more than welcome.
The Royal is a place you absolutely must visit. The only difficulty will be choosing which part of the day you should go for. Stop in for an early morning gluten-free breakfast complete with a latte and arepa breakfast sandwich, bring your laptop for a working lunch accompanied by some housemade Morcilla sausage, or grab your girl friends or a date and explore the carefully crafted cocktail menu. Hint: there is no wrong answer.