May 28, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bento

Since opening in 2002, Bento Cafe has become a staple in the Gainesville culinary community. It offers affordable & delicious Pan Asian cuisine including rice & noodle bowls, sushi & boba tea. I can't count the number of times PDubbs and I have ventured to Bento in the past 3 years - it's -our go-to dive for any occasion from a mid-week treat or an anniversary dinner. It's also our favorite place to bring family & friends from out-of-town! I documented our most recent excursion to give you a glimpse into why we love it so much.

As per the website & personal experience, Bento Cafe's concept is to bring a unique way to serve authentic Asian food fast and efficient. Between its extensive menu, fast service and cool, modern atmosphere, it definitely delivers!

The menu varies slightly between locations but it can basically be broken down into "Sushi" dishes and "Kitchen" dishes. The sushi dishes are prepared in the actual restaurant in front of patrons at the sushi bar. Kitchen items are prepared fresh in the back but come out smoking hot. They also specialize in Bento boxes, hence the name of the restaurant! You can order any of the sushi or kitchen items as a box. The boxes come with a side salad with their special ginger dressing, wakame (seaweed) salad & a dessert.

After visiting so often, we've tried almost everything on the menu but we each have our favorite.

PDubbs has recently been ordering the Szechuan Chicken Rice Bowl. It always comes out before my roll but it's probably a good thing because it's always steaming! It consists of spicy chicken, stir-fried with snow peas, julienne carrots & scallions, all served over a bowl of white rice. Yum!

Once I had the Rainbow Roll, it was game over for me. It's the perfect sushi roll in my humble opinion. It's a basic California Roll with fresh tuna, salmon & tilapia draped over. It also comes with a small mountain of pickled ginger & fresh wasabi. I like it because it's cool & fresh with lots of different textures & tastes. I like to give mine a bath in a little dish of wasabi-infused soy sauce. Double yum!
The Boba Tea is also amazing. Boba is a milk tea made popular in the 1980's in Taiwan but has recently become hip here in the States. The menu has tons of flavors and offers combination suggestions. My favorite is chocolate + coffee = Mocha Magic!

The atmosphere is definitely unique in that it can be a good place for a casual weeknight meal or a fancy dinner date depending on what you make it. After walking in the door, you are immediately directed to stand in line to order. The line can be out the door on a busy Friday night or completely empty on a Sunday afternoon, just like any other restaurant in a college town. But once you get past the mob of people ordering by the door, the restaurant opens up into a spacious dining room. They recently renovated it and added twice the floor space so there is even more room to spread out now. The ceilings are high with dimmed lights that totally add to the modern ambiance. During the evening, a single candle is lit on every table, setting up for a romantic dining experience. Or not, whatever floats your boat. There are also extra seating areas outside, both on the back patio & in front of the store. Or you could sit in front of the sushi chefs and watch them prepare plate after plate of sushi using only the freshest of ingredients.

There are currently 5 Bento locations, all are located in Florida.

1. 3832 W Newberry Rd
The original Bento Cafe. It's called Bento Blue because the interior is dominated by "cool blue dragon colors".

2. 3841 SW Archer Rd
Our favorite! It's also called Bento Red.

3. 151 S Orange Ave

4. 7335 W Sand Lake Rd

5. 4860 Big Island Dr

May 23, 2011


Last week, I mentioned my Littles, Rachael & Kristen. I said I was so very proud of them for toughing it out through the initiation process to become Brothers of Phi Sigma Pi, a national honors fraternity. What I didn't mention was how awesome each of these girls are in their own unique ways.

I met Rachael at one of the first meet nights and we instantly hit it off. She's a freshman studying nursing (yay nursing!). She's tall and beautiful and could totally be a model. But she's also incredibly smart and kind. She genuinely cares about everyone around her, which is why she'll be an amazing nurse. Homegirl also knows how to have fun. She has a carefree & crazy spirit that sends her on some wild adventures. She's got spunk and I love her for that.

Kristen actually played soccer with J way back in the day. We reconnected at a rush night and talked like we had never been apart. She's one of the most loyal and determined people I have ever met and truly wants to change the world for the better. She's also incredibly intelligent and a great converser. Seriously, she could have a rousing conversation with a rock. She's compassionate and driven and I love her for that.

My reaction. Needless to say, they are pretty awesome.

As with other sororities or fraternities, Phi Sig upholds the tradition of the paddle exchange where Littles make paddles for their Bigs. The paddles represent the relationship between the Big and the Little. They are a gift of appreciation for helping them throughout the initiation journey. Plus, they're pretty freaking adorable to hang up on your wall! The exchange happens at banquet at the end of the year with a big reveal.

Like my Littles, their paddles are so different from one another yet they each represent them perfectly.

Rachael put her quirky spin on it and through everything she had into it. I love all of the details that she incorporated. Details that only a good friend would know.

A bull-fighting nurse? How cute!

Kristen took a different route and made her paddle a piece of art. A perfectionist at heart, she said she LOVED decorating it, which really showed in the final product.

She glued on each and every one of those little bedazzlers. Beautiful details.

I was completely blown away by these paddles. These girls never cease to amaze me. Both of them were creative and unique and personal. Even if they had given me a slab of wood, I would still be proud to be their Big. These are great girls who will go on to do great things in the fraternity, in college and in life. I'm honored to be a part of their journey and can't wait to enjoy my last year of college with them as Brothers.

May 22, 2011

Sunday Brunch - Plan B

Last week, Erin and I were on a mission to try a restaurant that couldn't be found anywhere else but Gainesville. We relied on our best friend, the Internet, and came up with a bunch of options. But we finally decided on City Crepes.

Best. Decision. Ever.

We knew we chose correctly when we saw a prosciutto crepe on the menu. Yes, please! It was fresh, delicious and only $6!

I knew I had to get the word out about this place. And ever since then I've been waxing rhapsodic about these crepes on Twitter, Facebook and telling all of my friends. I knew right away that Stacy would totally dig it.

Stacy and I go way way back, about 13 years now. We've been able to stay so close because we have so much in common. And one of those common interests is our love of food.

We thought crepes would be a perfect fit for a lazy Sunday brunch. So Stacy, her roomie, Leslie, and I decided today would be the day to get our French on. We set out with high hopes and empty bellies. Crepes, here we come!

Minor detail: City Crepes is closed on Sundays.

Oops! Probably should have checked the website. But our bellies were still rumbling so we came up with Plan B - drive around downtown Gainesville until something struck our fancy.

Within 2 minutes, we stumbled upon Frresh Cafe. It's a new dive adjacent to the (old?) Common Grounds space. Having never heard a peep about the place, we decided to be adventurous and give it a shot. I'm so glad we did!

Love the mason jar glasses!

It's billed as a Latin Organic Fusion Cafe (whatever that means) but the menu was even more diverse. The restaurant consists of just an outdoor patio and an indoor kitchen. That's it. There was one waitress on duty and one cook in the back. When the orders were ready, the cook yelled out through a window - "Order up!". If we weren't the only ones there I think it would have been a really cool vibe.

We each ordered a different type of stuffed French toast. I went for the Guava Cream Cheese, Stace got the Berry Blend and Leslie went with the classic Peanut Butter & Banana.

This picture does not do it justice. But the plate sure is pretty!

We sampled each others' variations and agreed they were all equally delicious. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something different and affordable. I'm so glad our unexpected adventure turned out so perfectly. I can't wait to go back and try their dinner menu! The Marsala Churrasco wrap is already making my mouth water.

I wonder what Dr. Brother would order...

May 21, 2011

Rapture Blueberries

If you're reading this, you made it through the EST Rapture - Congratulations!

PDubbs and I decided to enjoy what could have potentially been our last day by picking some fresh blueberries.

We saw an ad in a local newspaper about All U Can Pick Blueberries. Who could resist some fresh blueberries on a perfect early summer day?

Just grab a bucket and start picking!

Yum yum yum!

We spent about 20 minutes roaming around the property, picking berries and sampling along the way.

These blueberries are as fresh as they come. And so delicious! But we realize now why they're usually so expensive in grocery stores - it takes a lot of time and effort to pick through the bushes to get to the good ones!

Morgan Farm is located about 4 miles south of Gainesville down 441. It's owned by a lovely couple, the Morgans. They have acres of land devoted to these blueberries. Ms. Morgan called them hybrids because they have a thin skin but keep their sweetness. She also suggested looping the bucket through a belt. That way you have both hands free - one to pick blueberries and the other to snack with!

They are opened Wednesday through Friday from 8 am to 7 pm and on the weekends from 8 am to 1 pm. The price of the berries depends on what day of the week you pick. Weekdays are $1/lb and weekends are $2/lb - still a great deal! It was definitely something fun and different to do while supporting local business.

Now all we need are some good recipes to use up all of these fresh berries!

May 20, 2011

Picnik Love

Now that school is out, I've had some spare time to do two of my favorite things - take pictures and edit them!

I'm no expert by any means but I love experimenting. I don't have an fancy camera or expensive editing programs. Just a good-quality point-and-shoot and a premium membership to Picnik. With these two things, I can do just about anything.

PDubbs and I went on an excursion this past Sunday to enjoy the beautiful weather before it gets too hot. We stopped by a student-run garden along the way where I snapped this photo.

I liked how it looked straight-out-of-camera so I thought it would be fun to play around with on Picnik. A few hours later, I had 15 different versions of the photo that I was happy with.

This one was made with the "Sepia" feature and then faded to about 35% to let in the natural colors of the original.

This version was made using two of my favorite features: "Ortonish" & "Vignette". For Ortonish, I get rid of the "Bloom" aspect to keep the original sharpness. Then, I applied a Vignette over it to give a more finished look. This combination is also great for posed portraits.

This is one of the many "Texture" overlays available with the premium membership. I bumped the fade down to about 35%.

I love this feature! It's called "Pantography-ish". You can control the number of boxes, the background color, even the "kookiness" of the orientation of boxes. So fun!

The free version of Picnik offers a lot of unique editing features that would usually require an expensive software program. The premium membership costs money but it gains you access to many more fun features. Plus, you can store pictures online so you can access them where ever you have internet access. This makes it easier to make cool collages like these:

May 19, 2011

Lazy Sunday

This Sunday, PDubbs and I spent a lazy afternoon walking around campus. We started by Lake Alice and saw some typical Florida wildlife.

Go Gators!

I like turtles but not mean, creepy ones. They were scaring the gators away!

The iconic bat house across from Lake Alice is surrounded by an eclectic garden that is tended to by students. The garden consists mostly of vegetables but there are also some beautiful flowers popping up throughout the lots.



I love that the garden is a hodge-podge of plants. Nothing is perfectly trimmed or orderly. Everything is allowed to grow in its own natural way.

Curly Q's

Heirloom tomatoes


Next, we headed to the main part of campus to enjoy an afternoon carillon recital at Century Tower. During the fall and spring semesters, the bells toll every 15 minutes with a tune played on the hour. The UF Music Department offers a carillon class in which students learn how to play the massive bells. The students climb the 124 stairs to the top to play 2 15-minute recitals a day in between classes. Since all of my nursing classes are out of ear-shot from the bell towers, I never get to hear the recitals. I especially miss the Christmas songs that start playing in December!

And who could say no to some Mochi and people-watching? Then it was back to Jacksonville to get back to the grind.