I get some pretty interesting emails at times.....and as many of the other food bloggers can attest, about a good third of them are press releases, free stuff (which really isn't free if you think about it), and all of the other PR driven spiel. I even get my share of emails from folks.... whom I shall affectionately call "shills". Don't take this the wrong way, some of these folks are endearing as heck...and others, well, I'm thinking it's a single, or perhaps a small group of folks are plain persistent. I'd been getting emails for almost six months, at a pace of about one every two weeks, from different email addresses, all with pretty much the same writing style, telling me about their "favorite place".....with the rather strange name of Bentowich.
Yes, I get it.....bentos and (sand)wiches. I thought the location a bit odd; at the outskirts of Old Town....but in retrospect, I think it's a pretty good idea, Japanese Fast Casual among the scores of Cantinas and tourist traps.
So I finally made it down on a bright (and hot) Saturday, finding parking on a side street. The interior looks efficient and spartan.....
The outdoor seating area is quite nice and bright, if a bit too hot this time of the year. Still, when things cool down it'll be a great place to have a meal.
The concept is a lot simpler than the name would suggest; you pick your protein, determine the context (bento, sandwich, yakisoba, salad), add a couple of toppings/sides, sauce, soup or salad(and dressing), and your on your way.
The assembly is pretty much fast-casual, the food is already prepped/sliced, you deep fry or saute adding some sauce, take it to the Kelvinator where it's put together, and you're done. The key high lite of all of this is that everything is made fresh to order, a key component of "fast casual" type places. There are some unique touches, like having my bento served in a nice bento box.
As you can see, I went with the Sliced char Siu Roast Pork ($8), bento style.
You can chose white rice, brown rice, or onigiri, which is what I choose. You might as well go with white rice as this onigiri is truly white rice scooped into an onigiri mold, other than some furikake on one and some nori on the other, it's not really flavored (i.e. I grew up with onigiri seasoned mildly with salt.
The two "sides" I order were the pickled daikon and carrots and the Asian cole slaw. The pickled daikon was way too sour and salty, while the cole slaw was rather unremarkable. I selected the green salad with Miso Caesar dressing which was watery and weak.
Having seen that the pork was pre-sliced and portioned off, I expected it to be dry and tough, but it was cut thin enough for it to be tender and sauteed quickly keeping it moist. The "teriyaki" sauce was very mild, a hint of sour, more of a glaze, without much sugar, which actually worked in its favor as the flavor of the pork came through nicely.
I thought this was decent in terms of value and quality, so I decided to drop by again when driving back from a meeting in Hillcrest. The pickled daikon came to mind. While being way to sour and salty eaten solo; I thought it would be a great compliment to a sandwich. So I decided to get the Yakiniku Sliced Prime Rib in a sandwich, one of the more expensive items on the menu.
This was a nice sandwich. The roll held up well. The sauce, which tasted the same as what was on the pork kept things moist. The pickled daikon and carrots really added a nice refreshing component to the sandwich, a la banh mi.
I got the green salad again, this time with the wasabi ranch; which was again very runny and lacking in flavor. Sadly, it seemed that the dressings here are watered down.
Overall, the prices were decent, the folks working here, the low-keyed, efficient, and polite young lady, along with the very polite young man.....I'm still trying to pin down the exact time in my life when I became "sir", were very pleasant. So a few weeks later I decided to drop by on a Saturday.
I ordered a Chicken Katsu sandwich, something that I like, though will not get at most bento places because it's that awful combination of dry (the katsu) and mushy (the bread). But since they make the stuff to order at Bentowich, I really couldn't go wrong, right?
When it arrived I thought two things; both of them incorrect. First, the portion size looked quite small, but after opening the sandwich, the portions looked decent, if not especially large. Second, the breading looked really dark, so I thought this was going to be very dry, which it was not.
After my previous experiences with the salads...well, to be more precise, the salad dressing, I was going to get miso soup even though it was hotter than the sun's surface on this day. But after seeing the not so great looking soup on another customer's table, I relented and went with a salad again.......and finally found a dressing that I liked here, the Jalapeno Cilantro. Just enough zip and flavor for my taste.
Frankly, I'd be eating at Bentowich every so often if they were in my neck of the woods.....even though they won't make me forget about my favorite Japanese lunch places, I still prefer this to Chi-poodles and Ba-HA Flesh. The staff here is nice; even to the kind of "ticky" woman who I've seen here on two of my visits, who sits on the table right in front of the counter and has the kind of stare that gives me the creeps. I'm wondering, could she be the one who is...nah, couldn't be.
2367 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110
Ok, whoever you are, you can quit with the emails now!