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Royale treatment 

Koo-E Nami Royale Grill has a lot to offer, all of it good, says Kristen Pickett.

click to enlarge The Koo’s buffet offers an enormous amount of food. - KRISTEN PICKETT

Koo-E Nami Royale Grill is a large restaurant on Dresden Row that specializes in Korean food. Its claim to fame is the cooktop in the centre of each table that gives diners the opportunity to grill their own meals. When we arrive on a Saturday evening, there are only a few occupied tables. An empty resto sets off alarm bells in my head and I expect boring cuisine to suit the atmosphere. We choose a four-top and are later glad we had the foresight to do so.

Once seated, our server doesn't skip a beat before bringing over a sampling of some traditional Korean fare. She responds to our confused looks by explaining that these nibbles are served to each party, regardless of their orders. I take tentative bites of each: a fresh and vibrant zucchini salad; a yummy egg pancake flavoured with scallions and soy and delicious chunks of potato bathed in a mysterious sesame seasoning. These are rounded out by some familiar favourites, kimchee and miso soup.

We order an appetizer while I choose my entree. Suckers for dumplings, we choose the Fried Man Du---an order of eight for $7.95. I take awhile to decide, but my friend has his heart set on the buffet ($29.95). The menu notes specifically that there is "no sharing," but I'm doing research, so I figure it won't hurt---just this once.

Faced with unfamiliar cuisine, we're thankful that our server is keen to assist with the menu. I choose the Dak Galbi ($15.95) a spicy chicken stir-fry with vegetables, and one of our server's many recommendations. Once we place our orders, she encourages a trip to the salad bar, included in the meal. The bar consists of the usual fare: greens and salad toppings; fresh fruit; soup and a pleasant assortment of sushi. I take a minimal selection in order to save stomach space for the main event.

The dumplings arrive and they're delicious. The savoury pork filling is enclosed in crispy paper-thin skins and pairs nicely with the sweet soy dipping sauce on the side. We've barely tried our first one when our meals arrive. Our table is filled to the brim and I'm overwhelmed as to what to eat first ---admittedly, not the worst dilemma.

My dish is tasty and there's plenty of it. The tender strips of chicken are tossed in a piquant sauce, but I'm wondering where the requisite vegetables are. I forget the veg when our server brings out side plates of items for my friend to grill. She explains that these are the samples and that she'll replenish the items he prefers. My jaw drops. The plates are heaped with beef short ribs and marinated beef, spicy pork and pork belly, spicy chicken and chicken in a mild marinade and a plate of shrimp, scallops, octopus and squid. My friend goes all out by placing some of each protein on the grill. We like the strips of meat and the shrimp, but the other seafood is chewy, as is the short rib. As soon as our grill is gunky, our server appears and quickly swaps it for a fresh one.

Once our plates are cleared, curiosity gets the best of me and I ask for the dessert menu. I'm disappointed with only two options but decide it's just as well---I'm incapable of possibly eating another morsel.

The food quality is pretty good at Koo-E Nami, though I use caution when recommending a $30 buffet. One does tend to overeat at these types of spots, and we are prime examples---we leave with a dumpling doggy bag. The restaurant may have been almost empty, but I'll now think twice before taking that to heart. The entertainment value of cooking the food ourselves is so much fun that we don't even notice that we're the last table standing.

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