Thinking Outside the Box for Novel Bento Boxes

Remember when you were a kid and your boxed lunch was your lifeblood? Well boxed lunches are hot again, and it's thanks to a roster of restaurants serving up bento box lunches that go far beyond the Japanese standard. These precious contraptions are a great, affordable way to sample an array of flavors and preparations from esteemed restaurants such as Lockwood Restaurant and Bar, Sepia, and Sumi Robata Bar. The best part is now that you're an adult, you don't have to grapple with hair netted lunch ladies or dodging wedgies. And per usual with bento boxes, each element is contained in its own tiny compartment, like a doll house filled with food instead of Barbies. This is wonderful for borderline OCD diners such as myself, who used to keep every element on a plate separate and eat in an orderly fashion so as not to mix things. I don't do this anymore, but I'm due for a relapse.

Just because the restaurant is not Japanese doesn't mean it can't borrow inspirations from Japan. Lockwood's chef Joseph Rose recently revamped the lunch menu, implementing a Japanese-inspired bento box that is perfect for travelers and workers in the Loop, aka Land of Lunch. When you were younger, your boxed lunch probably contained peanut butter and jelly with a side of fruit. LOL. Lockwood's rendition of boxed lunch is decidedly more classly, featuring a fillet of roasted salmon, a mound of sticky rice, housemade pickles, and tempura-fried vegetables.

Lockwood bento box
(Lockwood bento box)

At Sepia, chef Andrew Zimmerman takes his bento boxes down the runway. The "Pinto Boxes" are named after local clothing designer Maria Pinto, who happens to be a good friend of Sepia, and contain a lineup of chic ingredients perfect for the high heel crowd and the people who love them. Diners have options for each of their three compartments, starting with a tabouleh salad or market-inspired soup, a butter lettuce salad with buttermilk vinaigrette or pasta a la chitarra with Pecorino and spring vegetables, and for dessert, a selection of cookies or fresh and dried fruits.

True to its name, Sumi Robata Bar offers a truly special bento box filled with robata-grilled fare. Guests can customize their boxes with their choice of vegetable, seafood, or protein cooked on the robata grill and served over rice. Asparagus, shiitake, and onion comprise the veggie component, teriyaki-glazed salmon is the seafood option, and sansho peppered skirt steak or chicken with tare are on deck for meatier appetites. Each box comes with miso or chicken soup, which I hear is good for the soul, plus a mizuna green salad and a seafood croquette. It stomps all over your childhood boxed lunch memories in the best, most delicious way.