Niko Niko Bento Bento
I’m a guy who likes to try a little bit of everything when I’m eating out. I love menu items with the word “sampler” in them, and my friends graciously tolerate my wandering fork at meals. Given my predilection for variety, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I love bento boxes. They’re the perfect way to get a little bit of a lot of things, and I wish every world cuisine had their own take on the bento.
For Japanese bento, though, Niko Niko on Pearl between Wall and Pine will treat you right. They serve up good bentos at reasonable prices in a large, glossy space. It’s probably not the best food or the cheapest, but the good balance between quantity, quality, variety, and price will have me coming back.
Niko Niko’s address is on Wall, but the entrance is on Pearl. When you enter, a stylish window box full of plastic food greets you:
The window box and the sign are pretty much all that’s on the first level. Right up a flight of stairs is the main counter. The line is fast, and there’s an assortment of tasty snacks available for purchase with your meal. Has everyone tried sriracha peas? They’re awesome.
There are probably a dozen bentos on the menu to choose from featuring beef, chicken, shrimp, or salmon, deep fried or sauteed in any of a number of sauces. In addition to the bentos, there are noodle dishes and rice bowls, but I was in a sampling mood and went for the chicken teriyaki bento ($7.95). I ordered at the counter and my food was ready in about three minutes.
Here’s what I found when I got back to my office:
The seaweed salad is tasty, but I’d advise you to be more careful carrying your bento box than I was. I would up with teriyaki seaweed salad, which is an item I don’t think will catch on anytime soon. Had I avoided that mistake, this would have been delicious.
The shumai were quite good. They also got the teriyaki treatment in transit, but it suited them better than the salad. The pork filling was well-cooked and well-seasoned and didn’t form that gross hard ball you sometimes get in shumai.
The california roll is very standard but I was happy that the box contained wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce. This seems like it should always be the case, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten a bento box home and found one or more of the above missing. It’s the little things…
The rice is good, but nothing to write home about, unless you live with rice fetishists. It just gets the job done. At first I assumed the pickles were daikon, but I think they were actually ginger. Exciting story, no?
The main event: The chicken itself is very good, if not as good as the teriyaki I had recently at Bento Nouveau. The sauce actually might be a bit better – it’s slightly less sweet – but the chicken is tougher and not as flavorful because they only use white meat. I know this will make some white meat fanatics happy, but the truth is that this kind of dish is just better with dark meat.
The broccoli looked pretty pale, but actually tasted surprisingly good. It’s nice to be able to eat a vegetable or two with your enormous box of food, just to trick yourself into thinking you’re being good to your body. There was also a single baby carrot in there that was even better, and I would have loved to have a couple more.
In the end, this bento box wasn’t a home run. There were definitely no losers in it, but there were no real standouts. But Midtown Lunch spends a lot of time trying to find the best of one particular thing, so it’s actually nice every once in a while to enjoy an assortment of pretty good things.
That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be thrilled to find a bento box full of amazing food for under $10. It just means that until I do, Niko Niko will keep my business.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Bento box offers a great variety of good food at a reasonable price.
- The portions are very generous.
- A lot of other menu options that look promising along with a nice selection of Japanese snacks and desserts.
- A nice and clean place with lots of seats, a surprising rarity down here.
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The chicken is all white meat, and therefore too chewy.
- Not enough vegetables in my teriyaki, and the ones that were there were a bit on the pale side.
- Imperfect box design combined with incautious transport can lead to teriyaki everything.
Niko Niko, 80 Wall Street (entrance on Pearl btw. Wall and Pine), 212-232-0152