Sushi! by Bento Nouveau Is Surprisingly Solid
Zach decided to give the Midtown branch of Sushi! by Bento Nouveau a pass after this post on Food in Mouth, and I can’t blame him. Had I seen that picture before I went, I think I’d have given it a wide berth as well. But SbBN (as I’ll call it from here on in to save time and to avoid typing that stupid exclamation point) actually came recommended to me after my post about Tokyo Kitchen by Lunch’er John D., who said it was his go-to place for udon.
I always prefer following up on recommendations to just trying places blindly, particularly because I have a sense of what to try when I go. I think that served me especially well at SbBN, where I really enjoyed my udon and my sushi, while avoiding the curry and rice dishes that have received pretty negative reviews elsewhere. SbBN didn’t blow me away, but its food is better than solid, and the prices much more reasonable than I would have guessed.
Without ever having read anything about SbBN, positive or negative, I was leery of eating there just because of its chaininess. It feels very corporate from the outside, and things don’t change much once you get inside:
There’s a refrigerated case by the door with pre-made bowls, bento boxes, and sushi galore, along with a few tasty-looking Japanese dessert treats. The sushi all looks fresh, but there’s only so much the eyes can tell you when it comes to raw fish. The curry/katsu/teriyaki options in the case looked really unappealing, and most of the negative reviews floating around about this place focus on those. I have not tried one yet, so I can’t pass judgment, but caveat eater.
Then there’s a bar for hot food that’s made to order. There’s ramen and udon soups, as well as more curry/katsu/teriyaki options. I don’t know if there’s stuff in the refrigerator case that you can’t get made or if the pre-made stuff is just there in case you’re in a huge hurry.
Per John D.’s suggestion, I got the beef udon, and I was quite pleased. The noodles were perfectly cooked, tender but still with a bite. The udon and broth base definitely came out of those packets you can buy at Asian markets, but this bowl is all about the beef. It was not the tenderest meat I’ve ever had, but it was deeply flavorful. There’s just enough fat to make it tasty, but it’s not gristly in the least.
There’s not much happening in the vegetable department. In fact, scallions are the only thing happening in the vegetable department. There was plenty of beef, so I didn’t mind so much, but if you really like vegetables with your udon, this is not the soup for you.
That aside, though, I’d definitely go back for this beef udon, and at $6.69, it compares favorably with other options in the area.
I generally steer clear of refrigerator case sushi, as it tends to be unremarkable at best and inedible at worst. SbBN’s tuna roll came in just a bit better than unremarkable, but I was surprised at how reasonable the prices were. Keep in mind that I’m talking about reasonable for sushi in the financial district, not reasonable in an absolute sense. This roll was small, but it only cost $3.19, which is much less than I would have expected. There’s a wide range of sushi options here, and though you could easily spend $8 on a box, I was surprised to see how much food that would buy you.
I also really liked the little take-out soy sauce dish they gave me. I’d never seen one of these before, but I’m definitely a dipper not a pourer, so I appreciated it. I guess I’m a sucker for the small things.
Speaking of small things, here’s what I got for dessert:
It’s a red bean cake (sweet red bean paste, wrapped in mochi), and it’s delicious. SbBN didn’t make it of course, so I can’t give them credit for the deliciousness, but it’s the first place I’ve seen these south of Chambers, so they’re a good reason for a trip to SbBN, even if you’re not interested in the rest of the food. At $1.50, it’s a steal.
So, Sushi! by Bento Nouveau is not a restaurant to get too excited about, but I definitely think they fill a nice niche down here. Their udon and sushi are definitely better than any I’ve had in a deli, and their prices compare favorably. If that doesn’t sell you, at least dessert should.
(Postscript: There are online rumors of half price sushi after 7 pm. Can any Lunch’ers confirm or deny?)
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Better-than-average udon and sushi for average prices.
- Very tasty beef in the beef udon.
- Delicious Japanese desserts.
- Lots more to try.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I don’t eat sushi from a refrigerator or udon from a packet.
- Not a single non-scallion vegetable to be found in my udon.
- This place is clearly a corporate venture, and I prefer to use my lunch hour to stick it to The Man.
Sushi! by Bento Nouveau, 32 Broadway @ Morris (212-747-0994) or 173 Broadway @ Cortlandt/Maiden Lane (212-437-8744)