Royal Buffet serves up bountiful fare at great value
Royal Japanese Seafood Buffet is much more than Japanese and seafood. In fact it's one of the largest buffet concepts I've come across that offers an excellent value for an all-you-can-eat feast.
The well-spaced buffet stations are grouped in different categories: sushi, complete with chefs making rolls on the spot; cold salads; dim sum; hot stir-fried dishes, most with a Chinese accent; a few American favorites; and a dessert bar. At lunch, a Mongolian stir-fry station is thrown into the mix while at dinner there's a hibachi grill option.
Royal Japanese Seafood Buffet31 Golf Center, Hoffman Estates, (847) 885-0688, royalbuffetil.com
Setting: Expansive and contemporary
Price: Lunch $11.49; dinner $19.99 Saturday through Thursday, $20.99 Friday
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; closed between 3 and 5 p.m. except Saturday and Sunday
We were greeted promptly after entering through a spacious lobby decorated with a sprawling Asian mural and a fountain in a converted strip mall building that once housed a movie theater. It was crowded at a peak meal time and sprinkled with quite a few Asian diners -- a good sign indicating we could expect the food to be good.
We placed our drink order with our smiling waiter who invited us to explore the buffet. But where to begin? Being sushi lovers, my companion and I started there. With too many choices to count, we selected a few that looked appealing, along with condiments like fresh ginger, small plastic cups for soy sauce and chopsticks, which were not on the tables with the silverware.
Tables also lacked a "lite" or low-sodium soy sauce alternative, so I flagged down our waiter to ask for some, which he promptly brought in a dipping cup. Consuming a lot of regular soy sauce often leaves me quite thirsty for awhile after a meal, so I've turned to the low-salt variety.
Most of the choices had labels on top of the glass partition identifying the main ingredients. Occasionally a label would be missing or misplaced, so some knowledge of Asian ingredients and how they look is helpful. The rolls could be eaten in one bite -- a good portion size allowing us to sample many more foods.
Some of our favorites were a rainbow roll with crab, avocado and cucumber; spicy tuna; and one with salmon on top of crabmeat and cucumber. I avoided those that included mayonnaise, figuring that was an inauthentic American addition that doesn't improve the flavor. I also avoided anything with "crab sticks," which are imitation crab usually made from pollock.
The most logical way I found to approach the buffet had us proceeding from sushi to the cold salads or soups and sticking to choices throughout that are most authentically Asian. The seaweed salad, for instance, was properly crunchy and salty. The bean sprout and carrot salad in a slightly sweet vinaigrette also was good. The kimchee had its usual heat, although without warning on the label for the uninitiated. The spinach salad, however, was plain and flavorless.
Dim sum is not the restaurant's strong suit. Several bao (steamed buns) filled with unlabeled sweet fruit pastes were dry. Sweet sticky rice wrapped in a palm leaf was interesting and fun to unwrap. The steamed pork pot stickers in won ton wrappers were my favorite as they had good flavor and weren't too greasy.
At this point we already were feeling almost full but soldiered on to the hot foods. Favorites here: tiny clams in black bean sauce; ditto for mussels in black bean sauce, both served on their shells; generous fillets of nicely seasoned flounder, which had been steamed and then sauteed; Chinese-style barbecued pork ribs; and stir-fried long beans and asparagus.
There were countless other temptations in this section, including many Chinese stir-fries, but we'll have to come back another time to try them. A tip: Select foods that are still steaming or freshly put down on the steam table to insure they are still hot.
If there's a nonadventurous diner in your group, the buffet includes personal pizzas, fried chicken, corn on the cob and such. Nothing there tempted me in the least.
Saving a little room for dessert, we enjoyed some of the lighter choices, including fresh fruit, sesame balls with a sweet fruit paste inside and fried plantains. We found the soft lychees -- available peeled or unpeeled -- to be an acquired taste. I observed an Asian man eating a whole plate of them, peeling every one, yet I couldn't get past the odd texture.
I topped off my meal with a cup of green tea, which, unfortunately, came from a Lipton tea bag.
All in all, Royal Buffet is a place worth visiting repeatedly, whether you're an Asian food expert or novice. And the value definitely can't be beat.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not review restaurants it cannot recommend.