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

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