First Impressions: Bento Box opens midtown location

03/08/2013 12:00 AM

03/07/2013 1:37 PM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Bento Box

1600 K St., Sacramento

(916) 706-1286

We've been keeping an eye on this prime midtown location for months, wondering who was going to open up shop. Now we know.

If Bento Box sounds like humble, affordable Japanese cuisine, that's the idea, with a few dynamic twists – such as sushi, a full bar and upscale decor.

Open for just a few days, here's the big question for Bento Box, which has two other locations in Sacramento: Can it do enough to distinguish itself from all the tough competition nearby, including Mikuni, Sapporo Grill, Firestone Public House and P.F. Chang's?

Menu: For lunch, there is a combination special for $9 that rotates each weekday. Monday, for example, it's chicken teriyaki and gyoza. For dinner, there are bento box combinations that include chicken teriyaki, tempura, sashimi and four basic sushi rolls. There's a small selection of noodles, three salads that can be a meal for lunch, nigiri appetizers such as hamachi, and a long list of sushi offerings.

There are no desserts.

Price point: Lunch under $10. Most teriyaki plates are less than $10 for dinner, and sushi rolls are $4.99 to $13.95.

Ambience: Large, bright and open, with seating at tables spread throughout, along with the sushi bar and regular bar. Large windows are good for people-watching along busy 16th Street, though the view otherwise is a parking garage and a car- rental business.

Drinks:A small selection of domestic, imported and craft beers, wine and sake, along with a full bar featuring mixed drinks.

Service: Friendly host and experienced service at the table.

Special features: Good location and it's a potentially lively room if it fills up.

First Impression: We went early on a weekday evening and received a very friendly greeting. Given the intense competition, it was understandable that the happy crowd had yet to find its footing at Bento Box.

We ordered from throughout the menu. Our salad with thin, tender strips of beef and a creamy dressing was decent, though dominated by bland iceberg lettuce. The teriyaki salmon was nicely cooked and succulent. The No. 1 bento box with chicken teriyaki, mixed tempura and four sushi rolls was well prepared, though the chicken was nothing special.

Since I had a choice of sushi and was drinking a hoppy beer, I went with something hot – the "Spicy Chop Chop" featuring scallop, tobiko and avocado.

It was a fun roll, highlighted by the pleasant burst of heat.

Given the premium location and the significant investment in the build-out of the restaurant, Bento Box is serious about making its mark in the very competitive midtown dining scene.

One thing it's not doing consistently is answering the phone. We called five times before someone answered.

What if we wanted takeout? We would have called the competition.

A website for the new location? There isn't one.

These days and for this kind of restaurant, that's a major misstep. So far, Bento Box's best bet appears to be as a wallet-friendly, stylish and relatively healthy lunch destination. How it stacks up in the evening hours remains to be seen.

Try it if: You're looking for something new and affordable in lively midtown.

Forget it if: You're not thrilled with teriyaki, aren't into chop sticks, and think Sacramento already has too much sushi.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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