Whenever we discuss the Royal Chinese BBQ, always high on our where-to-go list for a quiet dinner, we smile at the ducks that greet customers upon entry. These ducks will never be taken for the AFLAC spokesduck. No, no, these hang glistening from a rod, awaiting diners' pleasure. They always make us recall Chinatown in San Francisco, where hanging fowl greet all customers. Below the ducks are strips of pork, cooked in almost the same glaze, the Chinese equivalent of barbecue. If there are other Chinese restaurants in our town that display their wares this way, we haven't seen them. Behind them is the kitchen, steaming and sizzling.
We succumb to the duck or the pork on nearly every visit, but there are other excellent things to be had. On a cold, depressing night, the hot and sour soup was enough for two, warming the gullet and charming the tongue. An appetizer order of the barbecued pork, tender, slightly sweet, with no extraneous fat, arrived with the soup. We had never tried the steamed dumplings here; apparently the thought of roast duck dulls our curiosity. But that's now changed permanently; these small, thin-skinned babes have a real homemade look, slightly irregular, fine with or without the soy sauce-vinegar mix for people to mix on the plate depending on personal flavor preference.
When it comes to main courses, this is a fine spot to try a hot pot. And they really are hot, in temperature if not in spicing. The clay pot arrives bubbling madly, and the servers' exhortations to be careful should be taken very seriously. Our pork and oysters came with mushrooms and other vegetables in a thick, aromatic brown sauce dense with the flavors of ginger and garlic. The pork was not quite falling-apart tender, but close, yet the oysters weren't overcooked.
Recommended by a reader and one-time softball teammate, we tried something not on the menu called butter lobster. (Lobster? Butter? What could be bad?) A whole lobster arrived, cleaved into pieces that were actually manageable without anything extra to crack the shells. The pieces were barely battered, the coating as thin as expensive silk chiffon. Atop the nicely arranged pile of lobster chunks were loads of minced garlic and scallions, and strips of the green ends of the scallions. Like nearly all lobster, this wasn't tidy eating, but it certainly was delicious and different. Market price; on this night, the dish was a little less than $40.
Green beans in XO sauce were a fine foil for the lobster, a stir-fry leaving them still slightly chewy, the seasoning spicy-hot, evidence of charring adding an extra dash of savor. The leftovers ended up in a batch of scrambled eggs, and were just as good, perhaps better, in their new surroundings.
Service is good enough, but right now, the buspersons have very limited English. However, everyone there is delighted to see the universal smile the food brings to customers' faces.
Royal Chinese BBQ
8406 Olive Blvd., University City
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Entrees: $ $8-$25