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Rice restaurant review

Evening dinner review

As we drove back from Sapa a few weeks ago, we noticed the new Rice restaurant, also a Pan-Asian restaurant plus sushi bar. It struck us as rather perplexing that such a similar restaurant should open its doors in such close proximity to another. One night while idly reading the Rice menu online, I spied a special “buy one get one free appetizer” offer listed. This was the deciding factor that we would be trying Rice, and I demanded we head there that same evening.

From the outside Rice seems like a huge new purpose-built building, some money has certainly been spent here, and we debated what was upstairs, we thought maybe condos, but were still unsure when we left. Inside the restaurant space itself was nice enough, if not a bit eerie, with us being outnumbered by staff. Big windows fronted state street, a sushi bar lined one side, and the center of the space was populated with tables and booths. To our complete distraction, the restaurant’s PA system was pumping out some kind of poppy/dancy/electro-y music, very loudly, and utterly unnecessarily. We mused that the restaurant might be aiming for a late night club crowd before remembering they close at 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Slightly disturbed by the ambiance, we dug into the menu, which at Rice is huge. The menu is comprised of popular items from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. Even India bizarrely crops up in the form of Roti bread served with Curry Sauce as an appetizer. I counted over 70 menu options before giving up and I hadn’t even started on the sushi. Rice also maddeningly uses the phrase “fusion” to describe a number of their dishes when they are anything but; such “fusion” items listed include such traditional and standard staples as Pad Thai, Kung Pao and Pho.

Our waiter checked in on us as we browsed the drinks menu (basic wine and beer). We both noticed our waiter seemed a little bored, ready to get off work most likely (it was around 9:00 p.m. by now). As Wendi ordered, I really didn’t appreciate him checking his watch. Focused, attentive service this was not.

It also struck us that he didn’t know the menu all that well. We weren’t given any information on the mammoth menu, our orders were taken verbatim and he wandered away. He took my order for a glass of “pee-not” noir and was flummoxed by Wendi’s requests for some (commonly requested) tweaks to her entree. With the size of the menu being what it was, it was hard to blame the guy really, but this should have served as a warning in hindsight.

I started with the Japanese Croquettes ($5.00), an item that really interested me, as it wasn’t something I’d had before:

rice croquettes

These plump discs of pseudo-spuds were described as “Japanese style crispy fried potato cakes” so I thought I would give them a whirl. To my mind, they were very likely not made in house, they had quite the processed feel and flavour to them. A vaguely artificial mashed potato, breaded then deep fried. They reminded me of a frozen processed food item from my childhood. For that reason alone, I enjoyed them in a nostalgic kind of way. They were nothing exceptional though, and possibly a tad expensive at five dollars.

Wendi went for the Shanghai Rolls ($3.00):

rice shanghai roll

These are Rice’s version of meatless spring rolls, served up with a fairly standard sweet & sour sauce. I sampled a bite too and concurred with Wendi that these were nothing more than average and most likely from a box, but for $3 perfectly fine.

Wendi is a *massive* fan of the Vietnamese dish Bun, she is also (oddly enough) a lover of all things soy. So when she spied the Vermicelli Rice Noodle Soy Chicken ($10.00), she just had to order it. This is where the aforementioned confusion crept up a little. What arrived at the table was kinda/sorta/almost what she wanted, but not quite. She had asked for extra chili sauce assuming there would be some sort of chili in the dish itself, but the dish came with just plain old fish sauce on the side for topping. Not a chili to be seen. She was, needless to say, very thankful for that extra side of chili sauce in the end. Anyway, we didn’t push the point:

rice vermicellie noodles and soy chicken noodles

This classic noodle dish comprises beansprouts, cucumber, lettuce, carrot, mint leaf and roasted peanuts. A side of fish sauce comes on the side, but Wendi bemoaned the “strangeness” of the soy chicken, lack of accompanying chili, herbs, and condiments, and just the overall blandness of the dish, She wasn’t too happy with the dish at all really, wistfully longing to be at Cindy Lee’s for their far better rendition.

I went with the Tonkatsu ($12.00):

rice tonkatsu

For the price, I felt it was a generous serving, especially considering it also came with a free bowl of miso to boot. I don’t think I even made a dent in the rice and veggies. The tonkatsu itself was ok, again nothing astounding. It filled my craving for fried pork at any rate. It would have been nice to have had a side of the dipping sauce. The pork was on the drier side and needed more kick than the provided drizzling afforded.

Even at 10:00 p.m., and in a practically deserted restaurant, with our waiter seemingly exclusively ours, obtaining the bill took more than the odd impatient glance in his direction. This is a big pet peeve of mine. When the bill did arrive, we also noted that our free appetizer had not been applied. We could have asked, but by this time we just wanted out, so decided to slink our way home as quickly as possible.

I don’t think we will be back based on this experience alone. For the area, we have deemed Sapa far superior in every regard, albeit commensurately more expensive. For what it’s worth I feel Rice would do far better in cutting some of the selections from their menu and familiarizing the staff with the dishes that are left. You really can’t be all things to all people. I mean really, Indian Roti bread amongst a sea of sushi and Thai dishes; traditional Chinese dishes described as fusion; it really seems just plain odd. I will concede that prices were decent and maybe our server might just been having a bad night. I’d love to hear from others who have been too, maybe it was just the wrong night and the wrong dishes.

Rice: Asian Fusion Cuisine And Sushi Bar
1158 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111
(801) 328-3888

Hours: 11am – 10pm daily

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6 thoughts on “Rice restaurant review”

  1. I had a similarly distracted service experience when I visited some weeks back. I am always suspicious when a restaurant tries to serve food from several cultures and ethnicities. The old phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none, ” comes to mind. I was not all that impressed with Sapa, either, although they have a beautiful restaurant space. Fortunately, lousy food and lousy service have a way of rectifying itself. I predict Rice won’t last to see 2010.

  2. Rice
    For Q Magazine
    Going to RICE was quite an experience. Located at about 15th South on State Street this new restaurant is in a beautiful new building. The entrance is thru the back and there is ample parking in a new and nicely designed lot. I wish I had felt more welcomed by the layout, but first, there is a long, sterile hallway with high ceilings and a lot of stone work—very nouveau bistro and certainly lacking the traditional ambiance in an Asian Restaurant.
    I’d like to get right to the food because I thought it was very good–I do have some comments and constructive suggestions to cover at the end.
    In an attempt to really see what RICE is all about I spoke with Alice who was in charge of the service the night I was there. Alice is a darling, California girl with sparkling eyes and a really great knowledge of Sushi and other Asian cuisines. She was delighted to know that I just wanted real, authentic stuff and just as soon as the food started arriving I was so glad I had talked with her.
    First I received a deep-fried Spring Roll which had a crunchy topping–a part of Alice’s “Fusion” idea. It was yummy and had a great, spicy Thai dip to go along side. It was cut into sections so you could easily handle it with chop-sticks and nicely presented too.
    Then I asked Alice if she made what I call “Heavenly Rolls.” These are Thai or Vietnamese
    Summer rolls which have crisp veggies rolled up in an uncooked rice crepe—in California many non-Asian restaurants are serving these as an appetizer. Usually summer rolls have fresh mint or basil in with the veggies. Alice’s version had very nice chucks of shrimp in with the veggies but I missed the fresh herbs. (The dipping sauce here was not as good as the first one.)

    Next I had some REAL sushi. They called this the Rainbow Roll which I thought was amazing. It was an urimaki-style California roll filled with yam and asparagus but then topped with several strips of multi-colored fishes—smoked salmon, red snapper, hamachi, and red and white tuna. The roll was the cut and the pieces re-configured on the bias—I wish I had a picture to show you. The Rainbow Roll came with traditional wasabi and ginger accompaniments.

    The wine list at RICE is probably OK for this type of restaurant but when I asked for a glass of the house white and asked what it was—I was disappointed with a common box wine. There were two interesting wines available; I tried both and was delighted–the Arroyo Spanish Sushi Wine and Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl. There were also some decent Sake choices.

    For me, RICE, has some challenges to overcome: (1) The servers, at least the ones I talked to had no way of explaining the food to you—they need to be trained in this area. (2) The menu is a huge mishmash of good stuff with ho-hum stuff. It’s almost impossible to find out what is unique and well-made by looking at the menu. (3) I think the owners are too worried about catering to Utah tastes—Utahans are more sophisticated than people often think—Alice said, “People in Utah don’t like fresh mint!” (4) In an effort to please a lot of customers, I think RICE has way too many mediocre Chinese items on the menu which looked overly sauced and much like cheap buffet items. (5) A really cool and professional Maitre D or Hostess could smooth out some of the service issues and add some much- needed organization.

    There are so many sushi places in Salt Lake that are extremely busy—maybe Alice could check them out—she has all the knowledge and all the right ingredients to make her business work—I really want to come back soon to see how she’s doing. I give RICE an overall rating of 85 but still highly recommend the sushi dishes.

    Chef Drew Ellsworth, M.A., C.E.C.

  3. I had a similarly distracted service experience when I visited some weeks back. I am always suspicious when a restaurant tries to serve food from several cultures and ethnicities. The old phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none, ” comes to mind. I was not all that impressed with Sapa, either, although they have a beautiful restaurant space. Fortunately, lousy food and lousy service have a way of rectifying itself. I predict Rice won’t last to see 2010.

  4. I was impressed with the décor and atmosphere but had a very disappointing lunch experience. My service was terrible. The waiter was not familiar with the menu and could not make any recommendations. I was expecting “fusion” cuisine… something eclectic or unique. But the menu featured all standard Asian fair. There were Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai offerings, but the dishes where all common dishes like kung-pao chicken, orange chicken, pad thai, etc. Nothing that I couldn’t get at any other restaurant in town. Certainly nothing fusion about it other than that they were all on the same menu. I opted for sushi. The sushi is well prepared, but very bland and not terribly fresh. I took 45 minutes for the first piece of sushi to arrive and the place was basically empty. All told, it was nearly an hour before I received all my food. I had 2 maki rolls, 2 orders of nigiri sushi and a glass of wine and the bill came to $50.

  5. Wow. Really harsh reviews above. Surprising. I’ve eaten at Rice several times, and thought it was, without exaggeration, well among the best meals I’ve had in my life. Their sushi is fresh, creative and outstandingly delicious. The masaman curry, a red curry, was fantastic. The Phu soup is great; I’ve been craving it ever since. I thought the staff seemed friendly and attentive. And the restaurant itself is stunning — it seems like every single person who walks in has to stop as they enter the eating area to exclaim, “wow.” Rice is my new favorite restaurant. The food is just awesome. To the other reviewers, dang, if you’re in a bad mood, I don’t know if restaurants should be held liable for not pulling you out of your funk. When you go into a new place, don’t let your pre-conceived expectations of what you thought it would be like, color your experience of what it actually is. Maybe next time you’re out to eat — and in a good mood — you could try one of the many specials they update on their webpage, Save some money, have some great food. Maybe you’ll change your mind.

  6. I started going here mid-November and have become a regular customer. The sushi is amazing and I love the variety of choices.

    We have a very difficult time as a family finding somewhere we can all agree on, and Rice has become the place. The vegitarian food is wonderful; budah tofu has become a favorite for even the meat-eaters in the family. We have tried many different dishes and have yet to find one we do not like. The portion sizes are perfect and the price is very reasonable.

    I have seen nights where the service has been a bit slower, but the staff has always been attentive and polite. It may be good to note those nights were back in November and I have not seen one like it in a while. Maybe the first experiences these other people were from when Rice first opened and the problems have been ironed out.

    If you go, try the chicken wraps, any of the sushi, the Mongolian Beef and the Yakisoba.

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