Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Bento Box

In Japan, a home-packed or takeout lunch is called a bento.  It is served in a container that is divided into sections known in the US as a bento box.  A bento will typically contain rice, fish, or meat and at least one pickled vegetable.  There is a tiny restaurant (16 seats) in my neighborhood that serves bento boxes and is named (surprisingly enough) The Bento Box.  As it is close and it sounded interesting, I decided to go recently for lunch.  The place is done completely in dark wood with a row of seats against one wall and a few tables in the middle of the floor.  There is a small counter in the back of the dining area and in front of the door behind which is the kitchen.  A large cartoon mural of a samurai chef is on the wall between the door and the counter (above the door, the ceiling is pretty high.  The small menu changes daily and is listed on a chalkboard next to the the counter.  It is a BYOB place and there are generally 4 Appetizers, 3 or 4 entrees, and 3 sides.  While I did consider ordering something in addition to the entree, it was a good thing that I didn't because the entree, being a bento box, already came with several sides.  I ordered the Tempura Fried Oyster Mushrooms, which came with Chilled Soba Noodles, Kim Chi, and a small portion of Ginger Cole Slaw.  The mushrooms were great.  The tempura crust was very light and crispy.  The mushrooms themselves were very large and meaty textured.  There was also a light soy dressing on the mushrooms themselves besides the side compartment in the box that had soy sauce in it.  I had never had soba noodles before but from what I had gathered, they seemed to be the Japanese version of spaghetti.  This is true in that they are both long, narrow, and cylindrical noodles.  Soba though, at least the soba noodles that I had here, have a much more whole grain taste which I like.  The noodles had been soaked in soy sauce so were pretty dark.  Fresh cilantro was mixed with the noodles and, as the name implies, it was served cold.  While kim chi is the Asian version of sauerkraut, it isn't simply fermented cabbage as sauerkraut is.  While cabbage is a frequent contributor, it also may have carrots, peppers, radishes, onions, and a variety of spices.  I have had a variety of kim chis and while many are pungent, some are stronger than others.  The version I had here was pungent, had a lot of peppers, and was pretty spicy but was also pretty good.  I would expect fermented vegetables to be pretty soft, but there was something in this version that was still crisp and had a nice crunch.  The ginger coleslaw was exactly what it sounded like, coleslaw with a very healthy ginger flavor.  While the serving size was small, it did pack a punch.

I really enjoyed my lunch here and will definitely be back.  While the lunch that I had was vegetarian, I didn't miss the meat.  They do have several meat options on their rotating menu.  On the day that I was there, there was a fish and a chicken dish, and I frequently see a pork belly dish pop up.  The food was very good, and the staff was very friendly. 

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