On a maudlin Monday night that seemed to encapsulate the emotional trappings of a holiday hangover, I convened with a pair of old friends in downtown Raleigh for a nice dinner. Our original plans were spurned by an unexpected Boxing Day closing of a nearby restaurant so we landed at the new French-American bistro Royale located in City Market.
On the slow Monday night without reservations, we were led to a window side table overlooking Moore Square. Inside Royale, however, I felt taken a tiny bit by the intimate dining space that seemed to radiate a very French Provençal romanticism. Maybe it was my mood that night, or my imagination, but the slivers of light from the kitchen that penetrated the dimly-lit room and that reflected glint off the wine glasses placed across the many marble tabletops throughout the space oozed with an air of sexy sophistication—and not in that chintzy and contrived type of way. The romantic, cozy ambiance reminded me of my recent visit to David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York City’s East Village where intimacy with others in the shared urban space was also very visceral.
You would think that the well-harangued French snobbery might carry over to the service at Royale, but I found it to be not so. My friends and I were able to split a bottle of rustic French red wine as we perused the rest of the menu comprised of classic French dishes like bouillabaisse and steak frites at our leisure, without any protest from our affable and patient doe-eyed server.
To start, we quelled our hunger with a sliced baguette from Boulted Bread, a celebrated local bakery, with slathers of an emollient compound butter. The entrees at Royale are quite rich in ingredients (like most of French cuisine), and you’ll have to have a bit of change in your pocket to try anything significant from the bistro’s menu , as entrees starts at $18 and escalate in price from there. But, you might find that the Duck L’Orange doesn’t run afoul its expensive price tag. The segmented roasted duck was moist, tender, and dare I say, satisfying unctuous coated in a zesty, amber-colored blood orange sauce. It also came with charred fennel that gave a nice, springy contrast to the crackly, fatty duck skin. The steak frites au Poivre, a sizable hunk of juicy seared red steak, flanked by crispy house made frites was likewise as satisfying to my friend.
It seems that Royale will likely infuse new blood flow into an area of downtown that perhaps seemed a bit pallid before its addition. Once overrun with half-baked gastropubs serving elevated bar food and North Carolina craft beers, now the current downtown restaurant landscape has diversified into already and soon-to-be open concepts that include dim sum, sushi, barbecue, Neapolitan pizza and an oyster bar. An upscale French-American bistro is a nice, luxe fit into the new united colors of downtown Raleigh eateries.
ROYALE | 200 E. Martin Street Raleigh, NC 27601 | 919.977.3043