February 24, 2002
The Royal Grill, the Radisson Hotel’s principal restaurant, is a pleasure to enter: a bright, cheerful half-moon shaped space, naturally lighted by an arc of floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the pool deck and Panama City skyline. It would have been stunning had it been on the top floor, but was still appealing just 25-30 feet above street level. Bright tablecloths and wooden chairs with gaily-upholstered seats added to the charm.
Food was ok --- usually good and occasionally very good --- but not gourmet. On the other hand, prices were extremely reasonable for dining in an upscale hotel. The most expensive main course was jumbo shrimp in Thai curry sauce for $19.50, Beef sirloin filets or medallions with herbs were $12.50. The absolute taste-and-value standout was Corvina con Aceitunas al’ Arrabiata...thick, juicy filets of sea bass with olives and a spicy red tomato-based sauce, also at $12.50. Unless you’re a hearty eater, skip the salad before this one!
Salads were a la carte. At $5.50, the ensalada Griega was as good as any I’ve had in Chicago’s Greek restaurants. The Caesar was ‘ok’. A salad combined with the huge smoked salmon appetizer plate ($9.50) was a pleasing alternative to a full dinner: I had it twice during my stay.
Most of the wines were unfamilar, but I did find two old Chilean favorites: Concha y Toro Cabernet and Chardonnay --- ubelievably priced at just $12 by the bottle --- and Casillero del Diablo Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc at $17.
Now the bad news: The Royal Grill suffers from a maddening inconsistency in the quality of service and, occasionally, the food itself. One night, service would be prompt and professional --- even my cold smoked salmon arrived under cover on a silver tray --- and timed to perfection. On other nights, the lone headwaitress/hostess would be attending to other business while I tried to get someone’s attention. Part of the problem was that the bar and restaurant were two floors apart: Would you believe that my cocktail orders were transmitted by cellphone? And apparently brought upstairs by Room Service?
The Royal Grill has LOTS of potential. On my last night, the hostess disappeared entirely, leaving me to order --- in very halting Spanish --- from a young assistant waiter who spoke no English. My dinner of tenderloin filets in olive oil with a pesto-like sauce was served impeccably: hot, cooked exactly to my medium-rare request, and accompanied by enough carrots, broccoli and toasted spinach leaves to make up for my not ordering salad. It was great!
How to fairly rate a place this inconsistent? My advice: Try Royal Grill once and form your own conclusion. Or, for a risk-free trial, come here for the breakfast buffet. Offering far more than the typical ‘Continental Breakfast’, it’s a steal at $5.50.
For the sea bass and smoked salmon, and possibly the unusual beef tenderloin presentation, I highly recommend the Royal Grill. Otherwise, it’s ...
From journal Panama: Much More than a Canal