Think Inside the Box
By Ashley Bennett
Touché to the tray—discover flavor and variety served up nostalgically at Bento Box
It was an evening for adventure. The kind where you strive to break a monotonous food routine by trying something new rather than settling for mediocre fast food or the same-old home-cooked meal. On a night like this one, it’s wasn’t a journey to L.A. or Palm Springs that I sought; it had to be local. The thrill of the hunt (which was really just intense hunger fueled by Yelp images) led me to Bento Box Japanese Grill, less than 15 minutes from my home.
It’s a tiny little restaurant that sits in a shopping center that has probably seen many other businesses prior to the Bento Box’s arrival in 2005 (the first of two locations). It might be small but the vision of the Bento Box wasn’t seen as another fast-food sushi stop. Complete with a host(ess), diners are assisted via sit-down dining fashion. It’s better this way, (albeit by preference for some) giving me ample time to mull over the menu rather than approaching a counter and staring at a large poster for 10 minutes.
Luckily this adventure began during happy hour and while the various appetizer and sake prices were enticing, I went the Buttermilk Shrimp route. Boldly described as “to die for,” these golden-brown, hand-breaded shrimp bites were perfectly fried treats. Light crispiness meets buttery infused interior, a mash up further sweetened by a side of cocktail dipping sauce. Sure it’s simple enough and something I could attempt to make at home, but it would never be this delightful.
The sushi menu conveniently marks all choices with a small picture, so there wasn’t any rhyme or reason to my choice of the Dynamite rolls other than appealing looks. Contrary to what the name suggests, the Dynamite is more of an explosion of flavor rather than spiciness. A single order includes six rice-wrapped crab treats covered in an orange cream sauce with cucumber and avocado. The flavor wasn’t quite as combustible as I expected but the pleasurable mix of sweet sauce and seafood at the heart of each morsel made quite a delicious meal.
I also explored the options of the Bento combination menu which offers the choice of two main dishes (from 20 different options) that come with two Gyoza Dumplings, a decent portion of salad and a huge ball of white rice. All that food arrives on a cute serving tray (in Japan, a bento is basically an adult-size lunch tray) that separates each side and entree individually. If only school cafeterias offered something like this instead of the nasty stuff I had to endure eating when I was younger. Among various sushi rolls and other main entrees I chose the Volcano Chicken and Vegetable Curry. The Volcano Chicken has a surprisingly strong spicy kick that mixes with the tender and juicy grilled meat. I’d recommend this only for those who get a pleasurable rush from eating food that singes the senses. But, really, the best part is that the chicken arrives already cut up in slices. That’s cute. Thanks, Bento Box. The side of Vegetable Curry on the other hand was a surprise. From looks alone it’s deceiving; it looks like a scoop of baked beans (minus the beans). The thick, soupy consistency is actually littered with bits of carrots and other veggies but the recognizable presence of mildly spicy curry is definitely there. The spice doesn’t match the chicken by a long shot in terms of heat, but the taste makes eating veggies a hearty experience, to say the least.
Nobody wants to pay money for food they might end up hating. With the resolve of a foodie Indiana Jones I took a chance and came out with a positive experience and satisfied appetite, making my short trip to the Bento Box totally worth it. Too bad other restaurants don’t serve their eats on adult-size nostalgic lunch trays.
Bento Box Japanese Grill, 2910 S. Archibald Ave., Ste. C, Ontario, (909) 923-2323; www.sushibentobox.com. Mon-Thurs, 11am-9pm. Fri, 11am-10pm. Sat, 12pm-9:30pm.