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November 2004: 101 Royal

Good Prime Rib and Buffet in Alexandria

Come to 101 Royal for the bargains. It's in the heart of Old Town Alexandria in a Holiday Inn. The restaurant looks out onto an attractive courtyard. The service is welcoming.

Evenings feature one of the best deals around—all-you-can-eat boneless prime rib for $13.95. There are other items on the menu, the maitre d' explained, but most customers stick with the beef. It is very good quality, served about 3Ú4-inch thick and cooked as ordered. If you finish, you'll get more as promised, perhaps a slice as thick as the original. According to the server, the whole rib is cooked rare and then sliced to order. If a diner wants his cooked longer than rare, the slice is returned to the oven.

Among other items on the dinner menu the steamed lobster stands out, a very decent-size crustacean for $14.95. A good appetizer is the sautéed shrimp in a red-pepper cream sauce. The Cajun sirloin is not bad. An alternative for hearty eaters is a choice of all-you-can-eat pastas for $9.95. The flavor was good, but the pasta was overcooked. The wine list has several good wines at reasonable prices.

Friday evening is the seafood buffet, all you can eat of several varieties of fish and seafood. At $14.95, there is enough appealing fare to make the visit worthwhile. The raw bar of oysters and clams, served along with boiled shrimp, is very good. Some smiling diners finish off several dozen of the shellfish. Another treat is the steamed snow-crab legs, cooked just long enough and served with a butter sauce. Also offered are three kinds of fish with noodles. The cod was fine, the other two were overcooked and tough.

The weekday luncheon buffet is very good. The centerpiece is the roast of the day, which may be roast beef, London broil, Virginia ham, or baked salmon. It is generously carved to order. A whole filet of salmon was pink and well seasoned. At the same station diners can order thick pasta, such as rigatoni, sautéed with a sauce of choice. Other hot dishes sampled were roast chicken, thinly sliced well-done prime rib in a sauce, and a baked fish dish, all served with vegetables and either potatoes or rice. While the chicken and mixed vegetables were overcooked, the fish and beef showed well.

The salad bar at the luncheon buffet is good. A highlight is the cold shrimp in the shell, medium in size with good taste and texture. There are the usual greens, mushrooms, chickpeas, and other items, but also several better-than-average salads. One day they were tuna, chicken, and potato salad, another day a variety of vegetable salads. One pie and one cake along with fresh fruit salad constituted the dessert offerings. A pleasant surprise was the absence of a charge for iced tea or coffee. An even more pleasant surprise was the tab—an astoundingly low $8.95 per person.

The Sunday brunch all-you-can-eat-and-drink "Champagne" buffet is more elaborate and more expensive at $19.95. Lovers of raw oysters and clams can gorge themselves on good shellfish. A good variety of smoked fish and boiled shrimp is on display, as is an enormous roast sliced to order. Otherwise, the buffet is similar to the daily luncheon offering with the addition of several good baked desserts. The Champagne is medium-quality California sparkling wine.

A different dining experience can be had at Annabelle's Pub on the other side of the courtyard, with a woody decor and televisions. Featured are a large and very good hamburger at $7.95—a second one is free in the unlikely event that you can handle it—and a sandwich bar with a thick cold-cut sandwich on good bread for $5.95. Also on the menu are soup, several salads, dessert, and nonalcoholic beverages. There's also a large and appealing shepherd's pie with plenty of meat and fine mashed potatoes on top, all attractively served piping hot in a clay crock.

Atmosphere: Pleasant and welcoming.

Food: Terrific all-you-can-eat prime rib plus good buffets at lunch, Sunday brunch, and Friday evening.

Service: Friendly and competent.

Price: Prime rib is $13.95, Friday-night seafood buffet is $14.95, lunch buffet is $8.95, and Sunday brunch is $19.95.

Value: Excellent.

Bottom line: A good choice for hearty eaters and a nice family-dining experience.

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