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 Didn’t Work