Burning Rice, 520 Grapevine Hwy, Hurst. 817-576-2776. 11am-10pm every day. All major credit cards accepted.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that running a restaurant requires paying near fanatical attention to every aspect of its operation. And while Burning Rice, the Korean barbecue and bibimbop eatery, is well served by its dot-the-i’s desire for quality food and solicitous service, its blatant need to control every facet of a critic’s coverage ended up curdling what began as a winning dining experience.
And “winning” at Burning Rice begins and ends with the food, whether it was the bosky flavor of the seaweed soup or the seductively crunchy rice lining the bottom layers of my four hot stone bowls.
Indeed, my “winning” experience began before I stepped up to the counter to place my order as I studied the wall-hanging primer of what “bibimbop” means: “Rice mixed with meat and assorted vegetables … is served in a bowl (hot stone or regular) of rice with a variety of seasoned vegetables, your choice of marinated meat, seafood …”
When it came to selecting either the hot stone bowl or the regular one, I soon discovered the hot stone preparation produced the gentle charring of the bottom layer of rice, whether brown, vegetable, or kimchi-flavored varieties. And having beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp form the centerpiece of my bowls was also an effortless choice. And when the courteous Burning Rice counterman suggested I take every side topping offered (from spinach and zucchini to carrots and the ever-present kimchi – all for free), that completed my trifecta of easy fast-casual dining decisions.
All that remained was to glide across the polished concrete floor, as Ella Fitzgerald scatted at me from some faraway speaker, to a booth done in shades of avocado and wait for my food to arrive – which it did in a mere five minutes.
My four hot stone bowls, each planted snugly into a square wooden pedestal, boasted temperatures somewhere between sizzling and solar. It was as if the kitchen intuited my serious aversion to tepid food.
My hot stone bowl protein-palooza began with razor-thin slices of marinated rib-eye, known as bulgogi (“fire meat”). The tender beef sat atop an “everything” hillock of sides: textured spinach, zucchini, bean sprouts, mushrooms, carrots, and crimson kimchi contributing a taste marriage of pickle and umami.
The barbecue chicken hot bowl allowed the grilled flavor of the chicken slivers to shine through, coated by the duvet-comforting yoke from a fried egg. And often forgettable brown rice was brought to vivid life by its charring at my bowl’s bottom.
Proof of how enormously successful the hot stone bowl vehicle was came in how much its various elements thoroughly compensated for the meh treatment of the spicy pork (spices gone AWOL) or the barbecue shrimp that showed little evidence of having been anywhere in the vicinity of a grill.
And then I had my taste-bud epiphany. The cure for these protein blahs would come from the four condiment sauces from the salad bar. Not even verve-less pork nor pallid shrimp could resist the spice revival from a dab of sauces, from zesty barbecue and fermented-marinated soy sauce (ganjang) to smoky red chile paste (gochujang) and the amped-up “super spicy sauce” –– whose potency could rouse slumbering King Tut.
The unadvertised stars of all the hot bowls sampled were the single fried egg, ever poised to release its golden yoke over the rest of the bowl’s ingredients in a shawl of deliciousness.
Meanwhile, acting as the buried treasure in a culinary Pirates of the Caribbean sequel was the crispy rice at the bottom of each hot stone bowl. These burnished kernels were the Korean equivalent of what the Spanish dub “socarrat” or the crusty rice lining the bottom of a paella pan and what some foodies revere the most about that celebratory family-style dish.
So inspiring was this rice that I found myself diving my chopsticks well past the upper layers of protein and veggies in a fevered pursuit of the bottom-dwelling bronzed nuggets of starch.
Despite its humdrum strip mall digs, Burning Rice delivered authentic Korean food with advertised speed and quality. They just have to learn how to relax and trust their food and service will persuade patrons – and persnickety food critics – to come back for more.
Hot stone bowl with bulgogi $10.95
Hot stone bowl spicy pork $10.95
Hot stone bowl barbecue chicken $10.95
Hot stone bowl barbecue shrimp $10.95
Salad and soup (miso and seaweed) bar Free