Sunrise Mart Bento Boxes Aren’t Bad for the Price
A few weeks ago, I noticed a coworker eating a lovely-looking Japanese style Katsu pork curry at his desk. I thought he might have gone to one of my favorites, Go! Go! Curry, but it’s a bit of a jaunt from our office. He had gotten it at “one of those Japanese places” across from the NY Public Library. Cafe Zaiya and Yagura have been around forever, but Sunrise Mart (41st btw. 5th + Madison) was most intriguing to me so I made a note to come back.
Last week, my friend was in the mood for sushi, and I was hoping to try out Sunrise Mart, so off we went. Sunrise Mart is a half Japanese restaurant half Japanese grocery store with an upstairs seating area. I’m going to tread into this post with the caveat that I’m not terribly knowledgeable about Japanese food. My husband doesn’t like sushi, and although he recognizes this as illogical, he can’t get it out of his mind that he also doesn’t like every other kind of Japanese food. So, I’ve had limited exposure to the cuisine over the last several years because it’s like pulling teeth to get him out to a Japanese restaurant. But, I’m seeing this new treasure trove as a way I can branch out during my lunch hour without any complaints from the fella.
The first thing I did when I walked in was beeline for the grocery section, housed in the back of the place. I love to cook, and I was hoping to find a place in the neighborhood to pick up groceries on the way home from work, but choices are few, as I’m sure you know. (By the way, does *anybody* actually live in Midtown? And where the hell do they go grocery shopping?) In the back, Sunrise Mart sells items like sushi grade fish, roe, beef sliced thinly for shabu shabu, shishito peppers, and POCKY! If you haven’t tried pocky, the chocolate-and-other-flavor-covered biscuit sticks, you should try them at least once in your life.
After I got my fill in the back, I explored the lunch items. The place was buzzing with customers but also with staff, always there to answer questions and help you out. They have several different sections. There’s one section that looks almost like a bakery, with muffins and pre-made sandwiches. There’s an area where you can get sandwiches to order that Clay wrote about last year. There’s an area where you can get soup bowls and the aforementioned Japanese fast food curries. But the section I’m going to focus on is the refrigerated section, where you can pick up sushi, sashimi, and very cheap bento boxes to go or to eat on the premises.
I’m sure many of you Japanese food connoisseurs would scoff at the idea of a refrigerated bento box rather than one prepared at home or purchased at a nice restaurant, but keep in mind these boxes were all less than $7. (None of them were labeled, by the way, so your guess is as good as mine as to what’s in the box). I’ve had them at restaurants before, but always for $12 or more. The traditional bento box is eaten at room temperature, and these were slightly below, so they supply microwaves to bring it back to where it needs to be.
I took a picture of a few of the bento boxes. They were heavy! The special for that day looked to me like fried chicken livers, and although it wasn’t labeled as that, I went for it. I know this isn’t the norm, but I absolutely adore liver. I understand the liver haters’ points of view. The texture is different and I can see how that can be unappealing. Unfortunately for me, it’s hard to find anywhere because of the seemingly universal distaste for this amazing offal. Anytime there’s an option of liver on the menu I have to take advantage of the opportunity.
My friend and I went upstairs to eat in-house. I heated up the box for about two minutes to try to bring it to room temperature, and it seemed just about right. The liver, that it indeed turned out to be, was nice but on the dry side. But the little cup of orange sauce mitigated that dryness with some tasty flavor to boot. Maybe mayo, miso, and… I’m not sure what made it orange. There was also a package of plum sauce that went well with the liver. All in all the bento box was incredibly filling.
Apart from the liver, the box also had a generous portion of rice, a thick slice of cooked acorn squash, a slice of carrot, a delicious marinated shiitake mushroom, a little rectangle of sweet tasting scrambled egg, and an unknown nugget of… something? It had a fish flavor but more of a soy texture and some chunks of color. It was delicious. Can anyone tell me what it might be? I’m curious.
There were many, many other options at Sunrise Mart I would like to try. I would love to expand my horizons in this cuisine. If anyone has recommendations for other Japanese dishes to try at Sunrise Mart or elsewhere, send them my way. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to try a Sunrise Mart bento box or any of the other Japanese treats, or to explore the grocery section in the back for your dinner ingredients or for some unique candy.
Sunrise Mart, 12 E 41st St, (646) 380-9280