FIRST LOOK:Nuri Grill -- Upscale Steak Goes Korean in Dallas
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
by Andrew Chalk
I was intrigued by the opening of Nuri Grill, a Korean restaurant from husband and wife restaurateurs Ben Lee and Minji Kim, each with 14 years experience in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, whose flagship location has held a Michelin Plate (L’Assiette Michelin) the award below a star that signifies possible promotion to a star in the future. In 2018, for some reason, they decided to up sticks and move to the United States. The result is a collaboration with Wan Kim, CEO of Smoothie King and brains behind the concept, to open Nuri Grill, a Korean steak house in an elevated setting.
Opening day was less than a week earlier, so on an unannounced visit the service was still shaking down and is not the subject of this first look. Also, this piece is the result of only one visit, so may include things that were just anomalies. At this stage, the concept is the main subject.
Nuri Grill aims to provide a setting as plush, and restrooms as clean, as a major steak house. In this it succeeds with lots of pale wood, brushed metal and cool signage. It doesn’t have the automatic bathroom lighting of Tei An, and that is nothing to poop at, but the bathrooms are nonetheless very clean. The music was way too loud on our visit and it was hard to hold a conversation so that should enamour Nuri to divorcing couples who don’t want to converse and millennials umbilically tied to their phones who never learned the art of conversation anyway.
You had better love steak. It dominates the menu and the mind share of the chefs. Perhaps a good way to sample several types is to order the Chateaubriand ($46/pp, whole table must order) which gets you a butcher’s board of four types of beef: tenderloin, sirloin, hanger, and bulgogi, to cook on the grill in a hole in the center of each table. The self-cooking thing is fun, although I did not notice any Michelin inspectors eyeing my technique while I tried to get each cube of meat perfectly medium rare. I already have four Michelin tires on my Kia so I will consider that as good as an Assiette for current purposes.
My take on the meat: The tenderloin is just as legend cast it -- beautifully tender and melt-in-the-mouth smooth. Do coat it with the truffle salt, sweet sauce, and ssamjang before eating to wrench out the flavors from the inner beef sinews. The sirloin, likewise, was very tender. The hanger steak I would pass on. It was chewy and less refined in its taste than the other meats. Lastly, the ssamjang-bathed steak was of unclear type, but the most committed in flavor. The sear imparted to the paste by the grill was like the taste of bark on Texas brisket.
There were nine starters and we tried Crab Fritters ($12). Despite the price, there were only three fritters but they did look exquisite sitting in a base of piquant sauce that appeared to be built around tartar. Each one in a little nest.
Beverages are slanted heavily towards the high-margin ($12) cocktails that are so heavily promoted nowadays. The paltry 28-selection wine list is targeted at expense account label buyers and horribly overpriced. For example, in the sparkling section the lowest-priced example is Ruffino Prosecco at $11/glass. Retail is $13/bottle. The lowest-priced white is New Zealand’s Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc at $11/glass. It retails for $15/bottle. There are no Texas wines on the list nor a sommelier on the staff.
Under these gloomy circumstances I settled for a Come And Take It ($6) which I was told was a German beer, but it actually came from the German end of the Dallas Design District, where it is made by one of Dallas’ best local breweries, Peticolas Brewing Company.
For dessert we got a substituted Earl Gray Crème Brulée ($7) and it was one great idea. The tannins from the tea distinctly resonated in the creamy paste of the brulée.
Overall, Nuri is using some great quality ingredients, they have a clearly defined niche in their sights, they have a mountain of service problems to solve, and a ready audience in Dallas which is already beating a path to their valet parking. Young people, especially, are a big part of their clientele.
Whether Nuri would get that Michelin plate is less likely. With their current menu the food is not complex enough (after all, I cooked our meat and my culinary skills end with spelling the word ‘chef’) nor is the concept iconoclastic enough to be in that league. With time, things can change, so given the latent talent Nuri is a restaurant to watch.
Note: Two fact-check calls to the restaurant were not returned so please excuse any factual errors that crept through.
FTC Disclosure: I paid my own bill and dined anonymously. I have no business connection with this establishment.