"What?" "Huh!" "I can't hear you." That pretty much describes the noise level at Roy's Baltimore and a lot of our conversation during a recent dinner there. The cacophonous din is a sharp contrast to the soothing mango colors, soft golden lighting, and dreamy artwork of island flowers and palm trees in the restaurant's dining rooms. But if you're not there for a cozy tête-à-tête or to negotiate world peace, you can count on Roy's for a memorable meal that blends seasonal foods with the allure of Hawaiian cuisine and classical preparations. There's a reason this Harbor East mainstay is celebrating 10 years in Baltimore.
This past year, the restaurant also welcomed a new chef/partner, Patrick "Opie" Crooks, who looks like his TV namesake but cooks like the pro he is. He's been under the tutelage of Roy's chef/founder Roy Yamaguchi since starting at the upscale chain in Atlanta in 2005. Crooks also has been able to put his own creative spin on the menu, including a prix-fixe menu (three courses, $35.95) using the freshest available ingredients, like a recent Fuji apple salad and harvest spice cake for fall.
I've always liked the way Roy's sets out a welcoming plate of seasoned edamame for nibbling. The bright-green pods, sprinkled with a mix of sea salt, pepper, sugar, and togorashi (a spicy seasoning), promise good things to come.
To continue the mood, we started with the Big Island-style poke, a traditional dish featuring ruby pearls of fresh ahi set atop a round of rice and flecked with greens. The tuna burst with flavor and melted in your mouth. We also savored the crispy pork steamed buns, traditional Chinese street food, transformed into fancy fare with kimchee and Sriracha aioli. The pillowy buns were an excellent cushion for the slivers of pork, nicely charred on the edges. Our other appetizer, crunchy golden lobster pot stickers, featured delectable dumplings served with a spicy miso butter sauce.
Sauces played a starring role in many of our dishes that night. The brown butter shrimp is a good example. The jumbo shrimp were seductively paired like intertwining acrobats on the plate and balanced with cauliflower purée in a butter sauce. We also indulged in a macadamia-nut-crusted mahi mahi, a thick, center-cut slab of fish with a pool of lobster essence. Carefully peeled asparagus spears (hats off to the prep cooks for the tedious task) added a splash of color to the plate.
For another dish, we stepped away from the Pacific flavors to indulge ourselves in good-ol' mainland comfort food. The braised-beef short ribs were as good as they get with luscious chunks of fall-apart meat, crowned with Yukon mashed potatoes and a sprightly bouquet of broccolini.
When we were ordering our meal, our server suggested we pick our desserts then, too, if we were considering Roy's signature melting hot chocolate soufflé or pineapple upside-down cake. Those particular sweets take 20 minutes to prepare. We opted for the pineapple cake because, well, who wouldn't want this dessert?
After our main dishes were cleared, the cake—a small round bursting with fruit—showed up accompanied by coconut ice cream. Unfortunately, our waitress had forgotten to check if we wanted other desserts, too. In her favor, she sprang into action and soon had the chocolate nut tart with salted caramel ice cream on the table. It was a wonderful way to end a meal at Roy's.
Dining here is a pricey affair, but you can always partake of the restaurant's fusion charms during a daily Aloha Hour at the bar from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Selected wines, beers, and specialty cocktails are $5 each. But the appetizers, also $5 each, are the reason to go. The portions are so generous that you won't leave hungry for dinner.
On one evening, I shared with a friend a delicious tempura-crusted spicy ahi roll and a couple of juicy Wagyu beef sliders, topped with caramelized onions and chipotle aioli and served with sweet potato fries. Other small plates include a lobster California roll, salt-and-pepper-crisped calamari, and Szechuan grilled beef tenderloin skewers.
The bartenders are pleasantly attentive even though you're not paying full price. Take note, the bar fills up quickly for this bargain dining opportunity and is as clamorous as the dining rooms.
If you're looking for a hushed, staid atmosphere, Roy's may not be the place for you. But if you don't mind talking loudly, the restaurant won't disappoint you with its carefully prepared, irresistible cuisine. After a decade, Roy's definitely knows what it's doing in the kitchen.