Dining out: Rice restaurant is a little too bland

Restaurant's food is straightforward, but the service is spotty

Published: Thursday, Oct. 14 2010 5:47 p.m. MDT

If you want a decent meal of Asian food, you certainly could do worse than Rice, an attractive, comfortable and often crowded dining spot downtown.

However, the competent cooking and sushi handling at Rice never quite ascended to inspired on the evening my husband and I visited for dinner.

One of my favorite things about Rice is its exterior, which is Asian with a colonial-Vietnamese flair. The architectural fusion led this diner to believe the menu would offer true fusion, the blending of different culinary traditions into something new. You can get this kind of food at Murray's Yamasaki, which combines Japanese, French and American food into something unique.

Instead, Rice offers straightforward and generally well-made classics from various Asian traditions, from Vietnamese spring rolls and pho to pad Thai and Thai curries, a raft of Chinese favorites and Japanese food ranging from teriyakis and scallion pancakes to sushi.

We had a hard time picking a couple of starters: How to choose between, say, spring rolls and satay? Gyoza and seaweed salad? In the end, I let my husband pick one, while I chose another. He chose gyoza, pan-fried Japanese pot stickers with a fresh, savory filling and strong, tangy dipping sauce.

I chose the potato croquettes, two plump and crisp-crusted little cakes of savory mashed potato, peas, carrots and onions drizzled with sauce. They were a tasty change of pace.

I also tried a traditional sushi roll of yellowtail and scallion wrapped in rice and nori, nice-size little bites with great flavor, though the fish seemed a little soft.

Now might be the time to mention the spotty service we had during our visit.

Despite repeated exhortations by Rice's owner, who appealingly patrolled the dining space to make sure diners were happy and well-served, our server was slow and inattentive.

Dishes we planned to share and combine came out one at a time with longish waits in between.

The sushi, which I planned to start with, arrived after our entrées and then only because we asked about it. Its extremely prompt appearance after our inquiry led us to conclude that it had been sitting around in the kitchen for some time without being picked up.

For dinner, we shared some of our Chinese favorites, including one of my husband's standbys, beef with broccoli.

Rice's version is a cut above most others, particularly with regard to the quality of the meat, which often is overly chewy, stringy or even mushy (no doubt thanks to the over-enthusiastic attentions of a meat tenderizer).

Rice's beef, by contrast, was moist and flavorful, dressed with a well-balanced brown sauce and accompanied by crisp-tender broccoli.

The walnut shrimp also was well done, with big crisp-fried shrimp in sweet white sauce topped with honeyed walnuts on a bed of broccoli.

We also shared some combination fried rice, a fresh, hot and simple version of the classic, with veggies plus beef, chicken, red-rimmed pork and shrimp.

Starters $3-$7, salad $4-$8, soup $2-$10, sushi and sashimi $4-$35, entrées $11-$15, Asian dishes $8-$15, dessert $3-$6.

Rice

Rating: ★★1/2

Where: 1158 S. State

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.

Phone: 801-328-3888

Wheelchair access: Easy but crowded

Web: www.riceutah.com

Also: Private dining and lunch specials available.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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