Dish of the Week: The Royal’s masa gnocchi

Media Credit: Diego Mendoza | Staff Photographer

Stop by The Royal for the subtle, smoky corn flavor of the masa gnocchi.

As the city’s restaurant scene starts to come back to life, treat yourself to a night of Michelin-starred Latino bites at The Royal in LeDroit Park.

The restaurant operates as a coffee shop from 10 a.m. until noon before transitioning into a bar and dinner spot for the rest of the day. Located in the heart of the historic LeDroit Park neighborhood at 501 Florida Ave. NW., the restaurant is just a five-minute walk from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station that serves the yellow and green lines.

To satisfy my desires for a delicious meal and to stay at home for the evening, I opted for delivery using the gourmet food delivery app, Caviar. If you want to experience their in-house dining, The Royal is open for both indoor and outdoor seating with certain pandemic regulations still in place, including social distancing between tables and placing orders by scanning a QR code. 

If you decide to visit the restaurant in person, you’ll enjoy your meal inside a chic brick building located at the rounded street corner where Florida and New Jersey Avenues intersect.

Inside, high-top rectangular wooden tables fill the center of the small restaurant. A curved bar – where customers are served coffee during the day and cocktails in the evening – takes up the back wall of the establishment and is adorned with an ivory colored marble counter and multi-colored tile backsplash. 

The afternoon and evening menu is the true star of the show at The Royal, and the 19 food options make it suitable for anyone whether you’re in the mood for seafood, red meat, chicken, vegetarian options or non-Latino cuisine. 

When I spotted the most unusual creation on the menu, the masa gnocchi with braised beef ($16), I knew I had to order this Italian Latino fusion of a dish.

Masa – a maize and lard dough integral to Latin American cuisine – has a delicate, smoky corn flavor, and the gnocchi proved to be just exactly that. The dumplings were less dense than a traditional potato-based gnocchi with coarser texture resulting from the grainy corn base. The maize held a subtle smoky corn flavor and packed in a punch of saltiness. 

The braised beef was in tender shreds and pleasantly moist. The fatty, savory flavor of the beef and the umami undertones from the maitake mushrooms proved to be the most noticeable flavors of the dish with only slight hints of the queso fresco crumbles and Italian herbs that garnished the dish. 

I enjoyed the meal’s bold flavors, but an acidic salsa verde or spicy ranchero sauce could have balanced out the taste and made my meal even more delicious. 

I didn’t order any drinks to wash down my food, but the eight house cocktails on the menu looked tasty enough to make me want to come back for happy hour. Next time I stop in, I’ll try the “low lights” ($14) – a mezcal mixed with apricot liqueur, sparkling wine and cardamom. 

The next time you’re looking for a spot to spend a night out or a place to take a brunch date that features the staple flavors of Latin American cuisine, make sure to see for yourself what The Royal has to offer.

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