Good, Quick Sushi and Teriyaki at the Newly Opened Bento

Bento Sushi is new to Midtown East, but not to Manhattan. We’ve covered the Canadian chain over the past few years, enjoying their rice and noodle-based dishes while shrugging at their sushi. Let’s face it, MLers just aren’t the type to go wild over packaged, refrigerated sushi. So how is Bento’s new outpost on 3rd Ave. (btw 43rd+44th)?

The location itself is very nice – clean looking with Asian-inspired art – and lets you see the sushi, destined for plastic packaging, being prepared. My one complaint is that it’s difficult to navigate the line. Let’s say you want to order some noodles. You have to get past other customers perusing the sushi before getting to a cashier, then making your way to back to pick up your food. Once you get to the cashier, though, you do move quickly.

It being too hot for noodles and I wanting to try a few different things, I opted for a bento box, which seems to have the best value on the menu. For about $7.50 before tax, you get a choice of protein (or vegetable, if that’s your thing), including beef sukiyaki, chicken or salmon teriyaki, and more, plus a side salad, gyoza, and your choice of two pieces of salmon nigiri or four pieces of California roll. I chose chicken teriyaki with the nigiri.

My gold standard of chicken teriyaki is Glaze, so notwithstanding the differences between Japanese and Seattle teriyaki, that’s what I compared it to. The chicken, which appeared to be all thigh meat, was tender but didn’t seem to have been grilled. There wasn’t really any color on it at all, so it wasn’t as flavorful as you’d hope. Thankfully, the sweet, salty teriyaki sauce at Bento is pretty good stuff, so overall the chicken was good.

The same can’t be said for the gyoza. I think it was supposed to have pork in it, but the wrapper was green so I suspect it was plain vegetable instead. Anyhow, it was bland and the only way to describe the texture of the filling is mushy.

The salad, mostly lettuce and shredded carrot, was actually the most flavorful item in the box, thanks to a nice dressing that tasted of ginger and soy.

And what about the sushi? I thought the salmon was pretty good, although it also felt maybe just a bit mushy. Still, for a place where the sushi comes in plastic, it wasn’t bad. I especially liked Bento’s soy sauce, which is specially made for them by Kikkoman. It’s a bit sweeter than traditional Japanese soy.

As far as Bento’s other sushi offerings, there’s a good variety, but it’s definitely sushi for North American palates. You won’t find much that doesn’t have salmon, tuna, shrimp, or artificial crab. It all looks very appetizing though, and with the high turnover (at least in these opening days) it’s a step above typical packaged, refrigerated sushi.

When all is said and done, Bento makes a nice addition to the Midtown East landscape, especially for those MLers looking for something quick and affordable. Once New York stops feeling like a humid swamp, I’ll be back for those noodles and a sushi roll or two.

Bento Sushi, 3rd Ave. (btw 43rd+44th St.)


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