But at the new northern outpost of Bo Lings the fifth restaurant in the continually expanding restaurant empire owned by Richard and Theresa Ng there's roast duck on the menu and a living, breathing Duck working as a waiter in the dining room. It's not unusual to see Duck serving duck.
"It's really spelled Duc," the young man, a native of Vietnam, explained to us on the night I came to dine in the nine-month-old restaurant with Jeanne, Roxanne and Alexandra. "But I add the K so people will know how to pronounce it." His name tag spelled DUC in professionally printed letters; the letter K was scratched at the end with a ballpoint pen.
Duck's concern about Midwesterners' language needs charmed me almost as much as his attentiveness as a server. He was just one of the nicer discoveries at this sleekly handsome incarnation of Bo Lings.
When the Ngs opened the first Bo Lings (at 90th Street and Metcalf in Overland Park) in 1981, the young couple decorated it in the universal style of most Chinese-American restaurants.
"We had red hanging lanterns, red painted walls, bamboo wallpaper," Richard recalls. "That's what customers expected a Chinese restaurant to look like."
They also served the kind of bland fare that Midwestern customers expected egg foo yong, chicken chow mein and shrimp in lobster sauce. Over the years, the Ngs have quietly dropped a lot of those dishes and stopped cooking with canned ingredients such as bamboo shoots and baby corn. Yes, the kitchen crews at all the Bo Lings restaurants will still make egg foo yong and chow mein for customers who request them, but neither dish has appeared on the menu for years.
The flagship Bo Lings on Metcalf has had a face-lift, too, though the Zona Rosa model is different in style from the others, Ng says. "It's got its own look and personality."
The room is more Danish modern than Peking temple. When he took over the space briefly occupied by the short-lived Flat Wok Mongolian Grill, Ng gutted it. Beneath the soaring ceilings, he laid earth-tone floors and maple-stained woodwork. To complement a dazzling wall of windows, he painted the walls a creamy café au lait. All of which makes a focal point of the hanging light fixtures that Ng found in Shenzhen, China wavy cylinders of glass sheathed in brilliantly colored glass mosaic squares.
Ng had always been hesitant about opening a restaurant in the Northland. (All but one of his Kansas City venues are in Johnson County.) But a friend told him about the vacated Flat Wok space, and Ng fell in love with it. "There's so much happening in the north," he says. "And I had so many customers who drove in from north of the river to the Plaza location, and they didn't want to drive so far."
I was curious to see how the Ngs would fare in a bustling center heavy with big-name chain restaurants. With the dining room filled to capacity on all three of my visits, this new Bo Lings clearly is a contender.
But it's not too sophisticated for the occasional bizarre moment. When the four of us walked into the restaurant and stood in front of the hostess station, the pretty blonde behind the desk stared at us and said, "So there are three of you?"
Luckily, she escorted us to a big comfortable booth that would have seated at least four people. Maybe six. Fourteen-year-old Alexandra curled up at the end of the booth and examined the plastic bubble-tea menu perched on the table. "What are bubble teas?" she asked.