La Dulce brings Spanish cuisine, ambiance to Royal Oak

Molly Abraham

Brothers Luis and Juan Negrete, Mexican by birth but Spanish by inclination, are the proprietors of what is surely Royal Oak’s most distinctive new restaurant. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the town has never seen a restaurant quite like La Dulce.

It’s dedicated to an array of tapas as small as arberquina olives and white anchovies threaded on cocktail picks and as large as platters of Galician clams and rustic bread, as familiar as gazpacho and as exotic as baby eels and cuttlefish.

Small couches covered in digitally printed linen fabric are pulled up to glass-topped coffee tables under chandeliers made entirely of white china teacups and saucers. Walls are also digitally printed with a muted flower design in soft colors.

Open shelving defines both rooms and reaches almost to the ceiling, holding a collection of antique leather-bound books and decorative plates. Juan Negrete, who is the chef, can pop out of the open kitchen to get a jar of olives or a tin of olive oil from the array of items on the estanteria near the open kitchen that include the practical as well as the beautiful. He worked in restaurants in Spain for several years before joining his brother in Michigan.

La Dulce was nearly a full year in construction before opening its doors in August, revealing its serene floor-through setting designed by Gaspar Sobrino, who came from Spain to oversee the project.

The highly detailed setting is matched by the cuisine and the meticulous way it is served. All of the dishes are sharable, except the soups. Gazpacho with a touch of Iberico ham, and fava bean with saffron and chorizo are the mainstays, with a third soup of the day. At lunchtime, the list of tapas is brief, with a dozen or so choices, and the menu expands in the evening to include many more choices.

You may count on finding such dishes as croquetas de lomo which are crisp little balls of potato and cured pork loin. They come with a Bechamel dipping sauce. Another interesting dish is tomate con bonito, made with green and red heirloom tomato slices and also bonito (tuna). Serranito is a sandwich-like dish made with wheat bread filled with Serrano ham, oxtail meat and shishito peppers.

The Spanish love potatoes, and in addition to the delicious lomo, there also are patatas bravas, fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aoili, as well as tortilla de patatas, an omelet-like dish with egg, potato and onion, a classic tapas dish.

With such an emphasis on décor, it stands to reason that the food presentation is equally stylish, and it is, with a variety of serving pieces that complement each dish. Servers, too, are in synch with their black shirts and trousers covered by long bistro aprons, and they are able to discuss what is an unfamiliar cuisine to some diners. There’s no doubt they’ll recommend the churros for dessert, although other choices include flan and tres leches cake. The churros (deep-fried sweet dough spirals sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar) tucked into cone-shaped containers seem to be on most tables.

The white-tiled bar is stand-up only. But patrons must have a table before ordering tapas. The bar is well stocked, with an emphasis on Spanish sherries and wines and top shelf liquor.

This is not a restaurant that will appeal to the burger and beer crowd. Others, however, are going to love it for its European flair, attention to detail and well-prepared Spanish fare.

La Dulce

115 S. Main

Royal Oak

Call: (248) 268-1719


Rating: ★★★★

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat. Closed Mon. Sunday brunch from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. will start the first week in Oct.

Prices: soups $4-$10, salads $8-$10, tapas $3-$15, except for seafood and charcuterie assortments $20-$50, desserts $6-$8.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar, with an emphasis on sherry

Noise level: Low to medium

Parking: Metered lot in rear

Wheelchair access:

No barriers