I'D been peeking in the windows of the Royale at the corner of Rampart and Wilshire boulevards for months, but as the weeks wore on and the heavily touted wine bar failed to materialize, I gave up on the restaurant ever opening. Come December, though, just before Christmas, I got word that Royale had opened -- not as a wine bar but as a full-fledged restaurant.
Curious, I gathered up some friends for dinner last week. I have to say, it's quite glam pulling up in front of the former Wilshire Royale Hotel a few blocks from MacArthur Park. There's a valet to park your car. To the right is the entrance to the hotel-turned-apartment building. To the left, the entrance to the new Royale beckons.
A DJ is setting up in the corner as we enter, and though the place is sparsely populated at that hour, it takes the bartender a few minutes before she realizes we're expecting to be seated. The restaurant is through there, she says, pointing toward the back door.
Gotcha. We head thataway, opening the door onto a stylish patio strung with lights like an Italian piazza. Behind a partial wall, I discover a diminutive swimming pool for (smallish) Esther Williams types. Just when I think we're going to be doing some outdoor dining on this chilly night, we realize we haven't yet reached the restaurant. Its entrance is on the far side of the patio, and really, at this point, we never expected to find anything this glamorous.
Royale is an airy, high-ceilinged room with floor-to-ceiling windows. Enamel-white subway tiles cover the pillars and make the ceiling's darker paint pop. A stunning bird's nest of branches, twined with gold fairy lights, floats above the bar. Bare bulbs encrusted with garlands of cut silver and brass flowers and foliage add their mysterious and dreamy light to the room.
We order wine. We look over the menu, which has incorporated all the latest trends. There's a short list of \o7crudo, \f7i.e., raw fish in the Italian style. The scallop with smoked trout roe and grapefruit has us puzzled, though. Would that be roe of smoked trout or trout roe that has been smoked? In the end, it's a moot point. The raw scallop is sweet, the roe barely detectable as smoked, and the pink grapefruit odd man out. There's also a charcuterie plate, one trend I'm happy to see. Here it includes Serrano ham, fennel salami, \o7speck \f7and chorizo.
What would a trendy new restaurant be without a beet salad on the menu? In this case, it's golden beets paired with the ever-reliable and delicious Humboldt Fog goat cheese from Cowgirls Creamery garnished with walnuts and an emulsion of beet juice and balsamic vinegar. So far so good. Too bad the spareribs -- touted on the menu as crispy pork spareribs followed by three exclamation points -- aren't crispy. They're also sweet enough to stand in as dessert.
Chef Eric Ernest's menu for Royale mixes updated chophouse fare with modern American cooking. He worked at both Boa Steakhouse and the now-shuttered Citrine in West Hollywood. You've got your sumptuous Royale burger topped with truffled cheese, your slow-braised short ribs with buttermilk mashed potatoes, your bone-in New York steak with blue cheese butter. But what is "rotisserie moderne" Jidori chicken? It is, explains the waiter, not cooked on a rotisserie at all but on a griddle (i.e., \o7a la plancha\f7), and when it comes out, it's like chicken browned and seared on a griddle and not anything like rotisserie-roasted chicken. Are we missing something here?
Desserts include a bowl of cotton candy along with warm cookies and French toast to appeal to the kid in us all.
After, you can retire to the bar in front or opt for a game of billiards in the upstairs lounge. If too many people have the same idea, you may have to wait. Oh, well, bring on the martinis.
When we finally emerge much, much later in the evening, we're surprised to hear a pounding beat from across the street, where a velvet rope has been hastily set out to keep, one would presume, the hordes out. Yikes, I don't know, but it looks as if the scene is waking up enough that you could actually do some bar-hopping along the Wilshire Corridor. What an idea!
Where: 2619 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. nightly; lounge open until 2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking.
Cost: Dinner appetizers, $6 to $15; main courses, $17 to $35; sides, $7; desserts, $6 to $9; bar menu, $6 to $10.
Info: (213) 388-8488