A dining review of brunch at the Old Town Holiday Inn's Royal 101 in Alexandria should have reported that a birthday guest can receive a free dinner, not a free brunch. According to the dining room manager, free balloons are given to brunch goers.
If you're looking for especially fine food next Sunday, you probably won't want to bother with the brunch at Holiday Inn's Royal 101. But if you have a big appetite and want to while away the day reading the papers and sampling scores of courses accompanied by champagne, then this family-style restaurant will be a pleasant place to go.
The brunch, which begins at 10:30, sprawls through three dining rooms -- a large, sunny room with a wall of windows; a more intimate room that turns into a lounge at night, and a rather dark discotheque. Here's the deal: pay $13.95 and eat all you want -- gorge, in fact -- and drink unlimited coffee. Pay only $2 more and you are provided with unlimited champagne. It's a decent champagne, too, a light, dry budget brand from California.
Now to the first course. Shall we start with fish? Or shellfish? And shall it be smoked, baked, steamed or spiced? Our favorite first course here, perhaps the best course in general, is the smoked salmon -- big slabs that the server slices on command. It's excellent salmon, buttery and lightly cured and not the least bit salty. Spoon some chopped onions and capers on the side. There's also a platter heaped with whitefish, but on a recent Sunday the whitefish wasn't anywhere as good as the smoked salmon. Might as well stroll by the shellfish table before you sit down and get some steamed, cold mussels, clams and shrimp; reach a couple of feet to the left, grab a few slices of crisp bacon next to the scrambled eggs, and make your own clams casino.
Once you've finished your first plate and a couple of glasses of champagne, you'll have to decide whether to hit the hot entrees table, the pasta bar or the omelette station next. The kitchen serves various fish, chicken, beef and veal dishes every week, but we haven't been terribly impressed with these chafing dish specials; they occasionally have that dried-out hotel taste. So we urge you instead to move a few feet to the right and have some delicious eggs Benedict -- perfectly poached eggs, light hollandaise (although the muffins should be toastier) -- and excellent sauteed potatoes, still slightly crunchy and tossed with onions.
Try a thick, crisp waffle. Want an omelette? If you like your eggs on the fluffy side, tell the cook when to take the pan off the heat, for he tends to overcook them. Don't spend time or stomach room on the pasta bar, where the noodles tend to be squishy and the sauces thick. But two feet to the right there's a refreshing Caesar salad.
Some coffee. A few more sections of the paper. A cook in a towering chef's cap is carving big slabs of rare beef round and flank steak, but now you'd better slow down and start pacing your bites.
Dessert? Only if you really crave it. The dessert table is covered with moist cakes drenched with whipped cream but not that much flavor. You can make a better ice cream sundae with gobs of hot fudge, dashes of various liqueurs and spoonfuls of walnuts in syrup.
It's a weird concept, this American-style brunch, eating as much as you possibly can, until your stomach feels like it's going to burst. But 101 Royal offers a lot of food for the money, and the quality's a level up from most smorgasbords. Go with your family on a birthday, and the birthday guest will eat for free. Birthday or not, you can decorate your table with helium balloons.