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At Kim Wah, a silk purse can be made from a pig's ear

"Pull harder to open" exhorts a sign on Kim Wah's door. Pull as hard as it takes: For your effort, you will be rewarded with rare gems of the Orient - such treasures as the Kim Wah Special Sauce Pork Ear and Pork Bag.

From front: Chinese-style BBQ pork, soy-sauce chicken, and walnut chicken are just a few of the featured dishes at Kim Wah Chinese BBQ in Northwest San Antonio. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

Kim Wah has a traditional Americanized Chinese menu, and its Malaysian owners provide a chalkboard with other Asian specials. Our rowdy band of eight diners ignored both of them: the first on principle, the second as an excuse to return. Order from the serious Chinese menu, but keep in mind it's only a suggestion of what's available. In search of an appetizer (nothing is labeled as such), we were led off the menu to a special version of the salted pepper shrimp. Delicately crusted, lightly salty, and tingling with a touch of chile heat, the improvised seafood trio came with shrimp, scallops, and squid, each bite better than the one before. An order of crisp fried dumplings, our one bow to the civilian menu, was filled with aromatic pork and tasted delicious with a delicate dunking in the sweet-hot sauce provided.

You probably aren't ready to do this yet, but you must now make a trip to the restroom, as it's the only way you'll see the long line of ducks fan-drying in the kitchen for tomorrow's diners. The sight only makes the appearance of a beautifully deboned Peking duck at your table all the more impressive. Note: The duck must be ordered in advance. Lacquered and luscious, it is divine, wrapped in a puffy, dim-sum-like bun - rather than the usual, paper-thin pancakes - with shredded scallion and a dab of punchy hoi-sin sauce. The meaty bones that don't make it to the table on round one are made into a soup, with bok choy or watercress, or a stir-fry with oyster sauce.

All other forms of duck had been depleted by 8 p.m, and the crispy roast pork had also gone AWOL. However, the substituted honey BBQ pork was anything but hindquarters. Classically crisp, it was just fat enough to coat the tongue, and star anise and soy flavors played to the pork like Anthony to Cleopatra: one cunningly seductive, the other bold and daring.

Kim Wah Chinese BBQ
7080 Bandera Rd.
11am-2:30pm & 5-10pm,
Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm
Sat, 11am-9pm Sun
Price range $5-22
Major credit cards
Bathrooms not wheelchair accessible
After the drama of the duck encounter, a few simple vegetable dishes were in order, but even they didn't lack flair. Broccoli with oyster sauce, bracingly bitter, was fantastic; crisply sautéed stems of "hollow vegetable" in garlic are well worth a revisit; and Asian eggplant in unrepentant garlic sauce was among the best I've ever had. An order of silky, sautéed beef flat noodle was appreciated for both its inherent heartiness and its comparatively comforting quality.

Which brings us, at last, to the pig's bag. It turns out that "bag" is really stomach, and that slices of it and ear are distinguished mainly by the somewhat unsettling crunch of the latter. Though the fragrant, five-spice flavors were quite fetching, you won't be faulted for not ordering the dish - there's always intestine with preserved vegetables instead. Moving straight from stomach to dessert, we especially enjoyed our order of sesame balls: rice dough stuffed with bean paste, rolled in sesame seed, and deep-fried. Yum. A new chef is expected soon from Singapore, which will add to the Malaysian fare, so more delights await behind the balky door.

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