Benton Cafe on 45th is Still Pretty Great

Two years ago, theĀ Cafe Zaiya formerly known as Oms/b on 45th Street became Benton Cafe and Chris reported how great it was. How has it fared with the test of time?

Plenty of signs all around – both outside the store and inside – tell you what you can expect each day of the week. One of ML’s readers alerted me to the amazing Friday chirashi special ($8.75) but warned that if I didn’t get there early, it would sell out. She was right – I got there at about 1:10pm and it was long gone, an empty space where the stacks of bowl probably were. Instead, I grabbed one of the pre-made bento off to one side when the cashier informed me there was also no curry udon to be had. Boo… but she indulged me as I questioned what each item inside the bento was.

My total came to $8.17, and I was surprised when she put a cup inside the bag as well.

Perfectly serviceable miso soup inside the cup – not piping hot, but still hot by the time I walked the 10 minutes back to an atrium near my office. A couple of cubes of tofu in the bottom, and I was happy on the chilly (when I went) day.

For $8.17, this is a pretty big bento with a wide variety of items scattered inside. Sure, the largest compartment – about 1/3 of the container – contains a fairly bland/mild ‘fried’ rice of sorts, but it serves as a great foil to the rest of the goodies.

A soft veggie and shredded pork ‘egg roll’ half sat on one side. Not the greatest, but that was definitely not the focus of this bento.

No, the stars were definitely this little cup of squid and the pork/chicken pieces in the back. If you have food allergies – especially seafood – I would double check what you’re getting before you pick one of these up, because I honestly thought those were potato chunks when I picked this up at first. The girl working the register said it was squid, and yes it was – chewy pieces of squid coated in an ever so slightly spicy sauce that was really nice against the rest of the slightly sweet, almost gloppy sauces. The little green cup with a small bit of noodles and cooked cabbage was fairly bland, too, but then the fried chicken and pork pieces were drizzled with a sweet soy-type sauce, meaty and delicious. Be aware that you can pick through the various bento – I chose one with bigger pieces of pork and chicken, though there were certainly others available with less meat if that’s your thing.

That lone piece of broccoli was almost decorative. Personally, I like more vegetables, but hey — I’ll make my own lunch next time if I want more veg. As it is, for $8.17… this is pretty freaking awesome.

There were a number of other items around the tiny storefront (no place to sit; everything is to go) that will be familiar to those who’ve been to Cafe Zaiya or any Japanese convenience store, like onigiri/rice balls, various pan/bread items. They also had a small station set up in the back with a sign that said soondubu but they were out by the time I got there; another sign by the register said “Korean seafood stew” for $5 and change, with rice costing another $1.50. What? Yep. I’ll have to go back and check that out…

BentOn Cafe, 156 E. 45th St. (btw Lex+3rd) 212-922-9788


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