By Todd Barron @ FoodieCuisine.com
I haven’t had good Korean BBQ in over 11 years since I lived in Philadelphia. There was a place in New Jersey that a group of us from the Software Engineering used to pack up and drive to. It took us two hours to get there but was worth the trip (although we only went once every few months.) They had the best Bi Bim Bap around and the kim-chi was to die for.
As it so happens I was in Bentonville, AR the other day and had read on Urbanspoon about a sushi/korean place with a 93% rating. I used Sprint Navigation on my Android phone and drove to Samurai Sushi & Korean BBQ on 14th street. At first look it is not someplace I would normally eat at. They have huge pictures of sushi covering the windows and it’s located in a strip mall that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1970. I love dives but I detest pictures of food used in restaurants. I figure that if you need a picture of it, you don’t need to sell it. I actually paused in the parking lot and re-looked it up, just to make sure I was at the right place. Luckily I ended up going in because as you will read, the experience was wonderful.
The interior is on the funky side with pictures on the wall of the owner/workers with customers (all appearing to have a good time,) football on television screens around, and a dark wood theme with a large sushi bar on one side of the room. It’s a cross between an old-school pizza place, a bar, and a sushi restaurant. It’s very casual and welcoming. I was seated immediately and the waitress took my order promptly.
I ordered the Dolsot Bibimbap ($10.99) in the hot clay pot (you can order the cold version as well,) along with an iced-tea to drink. They had several lunch specials that were cheaper but I wanted what I ordered and wasn’t looking to save money. The tea could have been more fresh but I wasn’t being picky that day.
The waitress brought me a taster of cooked sushi. She went out of her way to tell me it was cooked so I’m guessing some people react negatively to receiving sushi. It had a nice texture to it although the rice was a bit on the dense side for my liking. The fish was cooked and tasted fishy but I attribute that to the breed and not the freshness of it. Overall the taster (of two pieces of sushi) tasted good and I appreciated them bringing it out.
On her next trip my waitress brought out six small bowls of kim-chi and other prepared vegetables. If you haven’t had Korean food before, this may seem odd to you. Typically Korean food like Bibimbap comes pre-served with many small dishes of pickled and marinated vegetables. You can think of them as the tapas of the Korean world but not large or very filling. Each one was very tasty and I really liked the jalapeno dish. I saved about half of each one for my Bibimbap that was to come.
My Bibimbap came out next in a large black clay pot and I could hear the rice sizzling. She served it with two squeeze bottles of sesame oil and chili paste. Bibimbap is a dish made of rice, topped with various piles of finely shredded vegetables, and steak cut into small pieces over the top. The whole thing was topped with a perfectly soft-fried egg that broke apart when I poked it. As you are supposed to do, I mixed everything together before eating it and put on a generous amount of chili paste and some sesame oil. I also mixed the six vegetable dishes into the bowl for extra layers of flavor.
The rice had time to sizzle against the edges and formed a nice cripsy texture. The vegetables were sliced perfectly and the egg added a great richness to the dish. The chili paste I added gave the dish the right amount of heat and the seasame oil perfected the texture. The dish reminded me of the place I used to visit in New Jersey and the Bibimbap is the best I’ve had in over a decade. I recently had a version of the dish at Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some restaurant and although it was good, it didn’t come close to this version. I do wish the dish had a bit more flavor on it’s own but I’m guessing they give you chili paste to do this to your liking. Overall the food was great and the next time I’m in Bentonville I’ll be stopping by. A great find!
Samurai Sushi & Korean BBQ
1100 Southeast 14th Street
Bentonville, AR 72712-6808