Good food, odd vibe.
Royal Cuisine's non-Mediterranean Mediterranean food is delicious, but don't go for the ambience.
By AL MANCINI/Las Vegas City Life.
Walking into Royal Cuisine, a relatively new restaurant in the Trader Joe's parking lot on South Decatur Boulevard, it's hard to know what to make of the place. Royal bills itself as a Mediterranean Restaurant and Banquet Hall, and the emphasis is on the latter. The décor could be described as either "lush" or "tacky," depending on your aesthetic. Lavish drapes cover the windows. There are thick marble columns with intricately detailed capitals, and sparkling crystal chandeliers. The parquet floor was clearly designed for dancing, while a white piano sits next to a corner stage.
Royal Cuisine definitely doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd drop by for a kabob. Nonetheless, kabobs ($8.99-$13.99) are the most prominent items on the illustrated menu, alongside other common items such as tabuleh, hummus and Greek salad. But while the large photos dominate the pages, there are 20 more dishes listed between them. Those include everything from beef stroganoff ($9.99) and chicken Kiev ($11.99) to sturgeon ($17.99) and a red pepper paste called adjika ($4.99).
Taken as a whole, the menu is overwhelmingly Armenian, with a handful of Russian, Georgian and even Afghani items. The fact that none of those nations borders the Mediterranean Sea makes you wonder why the restaurant calls itself "Mediterranean." Presumably it's an easier sell than "Armenian," especially when a lot of Americans assume a kabob is a kabob.
The kabobs at Royal come in two varieties. There's your standard version: chunks of meat on skewers. Then there are the lula kabobs. Made by molding a mixture of ground meat and spices around a skewer, they're sort of like elongated meatballs.
When I first visited the restaurant for lunch, I ordered a chicken lula kabob. Consisting of two large skewers of delicious meat, a large salad, rice, a roasted tomato and a roasted pepper, it was a bargain at $11.99.
My wife and I returned the next night for dinner. We began by sharing a plate of the cured meats basturma and sugux ($6.99) and a massive cup of lentil soup ($3.99). The meats were both delicious, although the basturma was extremely salty. The soup, on the other hand was mildly seasoned, and excellent.
For my entrée, I had an order of the Russian beef dumplings, pelmani ($9.99). The secret to this dish is balancing the heavy dough and meat with light, fresh herbs, and Royal's chef nailed it. My wife was also delighted with her order of four grilled lamb chops ($15.99). She probably would have been happier if she'd ignored the waitress's suggestion that they be prepared well-done and ordered them as she always does, medium-rare. But the meat was top-notch and wonderfully seasoned.
As great as the food was, service on this visit was a little lacking. Several times a waitress walking past our table failed to notice my empty glass, and didn't make eye contact so that I could ask for a refill. And my entrée arrived a good five minutes before my wife's.
Between the décor, and the fact that this is a new restaurant catering to a very specific ethnic niche, Royal had a strange ambience on my visits. The first time, I was the only person in the house. When my wife and I were there together, the place had a pretty decent crowd but felt kind of like a private club. Half of the tables appeared to consist of people in the midst of business meetings. At various points, groups of men entered and walked directly to a door in the back marked "Private." Most of the patrons seemed to know the staff. Nonetheless, the waitresses were friendly, and welcomed me back on my second visit.
All of that aside, Royal Cuisine offers delicious preparations of both familiar foods and more exotic cuisine. Give it a try.
Royal Cuisine 2101 S. Decatur Blvd., 982-2000. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini's blog, www.almancini.net