My friend Patrick, sitting across from me, made the connection that was eluding me: "He's asking if you want the buffet."
Oh, right. Unfortunately, our young server's awkward pronunciation was exactly wrong for this little Chinese-Korean restaurant. Before walking through the front door last week, the only thing I knew about Royal China was that, back in May, it had been cited by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for "continuing, repeated violations."
I probably never would have eaten here, but a friend of mine who's a fan of the place asked me to check it out. "They've really tried hard to correct everything they did wrong," she said. "And on Sunday nights they offer a terrific buffet of Korean dishes."
I was game. Patrick and I decided to venture in on a Sunday night. Before sitting down, Patrick investigated the men's room bathrooms are barometers of the cleanliness of most restaurants and reported that it was quite tidy. "And I peeked into the kitchen, and it was very spick-and-span," he whispered.
Despite the restaurant's name, the focus here is on Korean fare. The menu devotes 10 pages (with little color photos) to Korean dishes and only three to more familiar Chinese-American concoctions such as lemon chicken and Happy Family.
The buffet was an elaborate affair of salads (including a heap of fiery kimchee and a cooling mixture of cabbage, shrimp and cucumber), hot dishes (spare ribs, squid, shrimp in a luscious peppery sauce, General Tso's chicken) and sushi, sweet dumplings, fresh fruit and soup.
Patrick tasted nearly everything and gave it all raves. I was fussier but still polished off a couple of plates heaped with delicacies. We definitely got our $15 worth, and Patrick said he planned to go back. After all, he said, "I don't care what they call it if it tastes good."