Bentoss - Costa Mesa
Five dollars. The magic number that take-out joints and diners seem to be able to agree on. Any higher, as a customer, you'd balk that it's simply too expensive, verging on highway robbery. You might as well go to a sit-down, or heaven forbid, cook!
$5 is the sweet spot. Not for snacks, nibbles, or drinks. For full-on meals. A real dinner. Something that will satisfy your belly and make only a modest dent in your daily food allowance.
Five dollars, or $4.99 pre-tax to be exact, is the cost of the discounted bento boxes at Bentoss in Costa Mesa. There are exactly three offered at this price.
There's the teriyaki, which they advertise with a banner, because, let's face it, who doesn't know what teriyaki is.
But then there's there's the fried fish bento, a Styrofoam container stocked with everything you need for a balanced Japanese meal. Rice is layered in the main compartment, protected by a sheet of nori that becomes a resting platform for the panko-breaded filet of fish and a tempura-battered tube of fish cake.
Everything else becomes side dishes. In a foil doily: An umami-filled simmer of gobo shredded to sticks. Salad comes in two forms: macaroni shells and a ponzu-dressed clump of cut up iceberg. The macaroni is fortified with starch and mayo; the iceberg, briskness.
The chicken karaage bento feature balls of dark-meat chicken fried to a sublime and golden crispness outside, an absorbed sake-sweetness inside. Here, there's a scoop of potato salad and refreshing pickles. All are compartmentalized in a traditional Japanese bento box, cooked to order, and ready for a picnic (if you were so inclined and have a red-checkered blanket handy).
When you think about it, Americans have always been eating bento boxes. What are those Styrofoam containers that hold BBQ and fried chicken if not a cheap, non-biodegradable bento box? It is however, the Japanese that turned the entire endeavor of a packaged meal into an art, even when they use the same Styrofoam. They arrange it carefully, taking account color, contrast and balance. And at Bentoss, eventhough it’s technically fast food (an order never takes more than 5 minutes) the attention to detail would make a traditionalist proud.
You might recall that Mitsuwa Marketplace also does bento boxes. And that they discount them after 5 p.m. to clear out the supply left over from lunchtime. They still do that. But knowing that Bentoss offers three different choices for a lower price, not to mention that it's freshly prepared instead of just sitting around in a fridge, my opinion is that it's the better deal for your five dollars. I’d even pay six!
675 Paularino Ave. #3
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
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