I love sushi yet I’m very skittish about diving head first and trying some obscure sushi joint without knowing that there have been survivors. I’m adventurous and I love to try new restaurants, but not when it comes to sushi. I learned that lesson years ago when I dined at an anonymous sushi restaurant and found myself hovering over the commode for nearly three days. When it comes to raw fish, I want to hear firsthand about cleanliness, preparation and lack of incident.
I have heard nothing but good reviews about Bento Box, located like a sleeping dragon at one end of The Forum Shopping Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Entering the restaurant you’re encapsulated by the chic, inviting décor that is reminiscent of the warm, laidback vibe of the Pacific Coast. Swashes in hues of blue create a very hip, comfortable atmosphere. Actual polished surf boards adorn the walls behind the sushi bar.
Bento Box offers a variety of Asian entrees, but my ultimate focus is always on sushi. The man behind many of the titillating, mouth-watering creations is Chef Lee, former executive chef of Echo, from the renowned Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
On most visits to Bento Box, I find myself gravitating toward the wave-like sushi bar, undoubtedly the focal point of the restaurant. I’m always awed by the quick precision of the sushi preparers as they chop, slice and dice ingredients with a hint of aloofness but yet still very ready to engage in conversation, should the chance arise.
I always begin my sushi adventure by choosing a wonderfully crafted cocktail from the drink menu. I’ve enjoyed the Lychee Martini which incorporates the sweetness of lychee nectar, vodka and coconut sake. I’ve ungrudgingly welcomed a Mai Tai, or two, made with a blend of pineapple and cranberry juice, Bacardi and Myers Dark Rum. Curiosity has led me to try the Plum Sake Martini, a combination of Choya Plum Sake and vodka – not as sweet as you’d imagine, but tasty just the same.
Appetizers to try are the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, deep fried, crunchy treasure troves oozing with a mixture of pork and shrimp, carrots, wood ear mushroom and glass noodles served with fresh herbs and a tangy chili-lime dipping sauce. On one occasion I enjoyed the off-menu Soft Shell Crab Appetizer, delicately seasoned tempura soft shell crab wantonly poised upon a bed of cucumber and whimsically dotted with a creamy Sriracha type sauce.
Some of the signature sushi rolls worth special mention include the Salmon Delicious, an inside/out roll of salmon and seaweed salad mix topped with wasabi tobikko, crunchy tempura crumbles, sesame seeds, and avocado flanked by two salacious spicy sauces. Another to-die-for roll is the Wicked Lobstah, succulently broiled Maine lobster mingled with a spicy Szechuan sauce atop a Gourmet California roll and sprinkled with fresh scallions. Mouth-watering, indeed. One of my very favorites is the Tropic Thunder roll, a panko encrusted asparagus concoction yielding flavors of the Caribbean, replete with mango, avocado and scallions wrapped in a paprika soy sheet and drizzled with a honey glaze, chili oil and cilantro. Oh my – an island unto itself. The juxtaposing flavors come together as a tropical sensation that is simply divine.
Creative elegance is certainly served up consistently at Bento Box. I’ve never once been disappointed with the sushi or the service. Chef Lee runs a tight ship, presiding over a great staff, and with reverence for outstanding customer service. Chef Lee brings a level of sophistication and conscientiousness that spill over into the overall ambience of the restaurant and certainly into his deep devotion for his craft.
If you’re looking for phenomenal sushi and a top-notch dining experience Bento Box is highly recommended. Visit www.bentoboxsushi.com for hours and directions.