15119 NE 24th St
Redmond WA 98052
A 'Japanese Cuisine' That Isn't Much of Either
By: Steve G
Bento Box is located in the Bellevue/Redmond area a little ways off Microsoft row. Offering Japanese cuisine as well as Korean BBQ, the place was packed (suggesting something special was afoot). However, the best part about Bento Box is its value prices for its (surprise, surprise!) bento meals. Remarkably, ten dollars buys you three main items, a side salad, and miso soup; no doubt about it, it's a filling meal. The downside, though, is that the quality is a step below topnotch Japanese.
On the inside, Bento Box features lots of tables and booths for customers -- naturally, you would think this means ample seating right? Wrong. During the lunch hour, Bento Box is flooded with Microsoft workers and other professionals. The dining area is densely packed making it feel extremely crowded... almost claustrophobic. Several bits of decor and images with a Japanese motif dominate the walls, but most of it seems rather tacked on and scattered. And to top it all off, the extra large menu hanging from the front counter gives the place a fast food restaurant feel.
We ordered a Bento Box($10), Rainbow Roll($9), and a Curry Katsu($10) for lunch. Much to our chagrin, the meals came out lightning fast. Some of us were a bit concerned with the speed since it suggested that our meals were pre-made ahead of time, enhancing the fast food vibe. The Rainbow Roll was the number one suspect for this crime. At first glance, the fish seemed somewhat fresh, but the taste and mouthfeel was an entirely different story. The rice tasted like it had been sitting out for quite awhile and felt very stale. From an appearance standpoint, it looked like the roll was unskillfully made by someone who just got his or her certification from a sushi correspondence course. The avocado was the worst part of the sushi. Stale, rubbery, and hard, it had the true telltale signs of being unripe yet Bento Box decided to use it anyway. Not one of the best sushi rolls I've had, but certainly not the worst. (hint: Todai's)
The Bento Box meal came with three different main courses: Chicken Katsu, Vegetable Tempura, and Gyoza. It looked like a satisfying meal at first glance, but like the Rainbow Roll, the quality was not up to par. The katsu was more breading than it was chicken. Fried to a brittle, Tim Cascades chip-like consistency, it was excessively hard and crunchy. The Katsu sauce had a strong taste that was very sweet, but a little too much for Bryan's palate. The vegetable tempura was just disappointing. Soggy and cold, the tempura tasted like it had sat out for quite some time. The gyoza wasn't too problematic, but it was a bit skimpy on the filling. Much like the sushi roll, it appeared to be pre-made.
The Curry Katsu largely suffered the same fate as that of the Chicken Katsu. Overly battered and crispy, it seemed like it was more of a cracker than anything else. Though it had some taste to it, the curry was a big disappointment. The texture seemed off as well; instead of a pleasant, thick base, the curry was more like a watery soup
With its wide variety of options and costing only $10, the Bento Box is probably the best deal. All of the reviewers agreed that the prices were either average or a little bit above average for a standard lunch. Excluding the bento box, the portions of the other items were a little small. Now if the quality and/or quantity of food were high, we would say it was worth it. But unfortunately, for now Bento Box is best categorized as a quick take out place, not a destination.
The Chicken Katsu was a thin, small piece of densely breaded chicken fried to a brittle, unpleasant crisp. While the meat cut was decent and, thankfully, not grisly, it was over fried and somewhat oily. The katsu sauce was not to my liking; I found it to be overly sour. Also, the vegetable tempura tasted as if it had been sitting out for several minutes. For example, the normally crisp batter had become rather soggy with oil and condensation. The choice of vegetables was a bit odd and included a bit potato, which was like an extremely dense, chewy French fry.
The Curry Katsu had a thick panko breading fried at high heat. The end result was a katsu that was extremely crunchy, more akin to crackers than a soft, light katsu batter. The curry itself is a bit watery and while having flavor, it feels more like it was made from a powdered mix with processed veggies rather than real veggies.
The Rainbow Roll was very disappointing. Mildly fresh and somewhat thick, the fish seemed decent. We had our suspicions that it was pre-made before even ordering it. The rice tasted a little stale, but the worst part of the roll was the avocado. The sushi was a step up from stuff you would get at Sushiland but certainly not competitive with some of the better sushi places. If the Rainbow Roll is a standard of how the sushi is at the Bento Box, I'm afraid of trying the other kinds.