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Bento: Today's Lunch Box Is Beautiful and Delicious

LAS VEGAS ( MainStreet) -- Can't figure out what to eat? Want to experiment? The bento box is the perfect meal for you.

What served as a type of lunch box as far back as Japan's Kamakura period is now considered a delicacy, albeit one sold at a reasonable price in restaurants spanning the country. These high-end lunch boxes, which include a variety of culinary delights, are not the Charlie's Angels or Six Million Dollar Man boxes you carried in school. Chefs are going over the top in terms of design in cuisine and vessel.

TravelsinTaste brings some of the most interesting ones to you here:

Juvia in Miami, where French, Peruvian and Japanese cooking styles coverge, offers a special lunch menu section dedicated just to bento boxes, including a Korean Box with short ribs, jasmine rice and tomato-avocado salad; the Tuna Box, in which seared tuna replaces the short ribs; the Chicken Box, with vadouvan chicken, mushroom onions and jasmine rice; the Pork Box, with braised pork belly, Asian risotto and papaya cucumber salad; and the Duck Box, with duck confit, jasmine rice and savoy cabbage. All are finished off with a seasonal cupcake -- blueberry, at the moment.

The boxes are a collaboration between executive chefs Sunny Oh and Laurent Cantineaux with pastry chef Gregory Gourreau and feature specialties that reflect Oh's training at Nobu (the tuna and short rib bento), Cantineaux's French and Latin American pedigree (vadouvan chicken and duck confit boxes) and Gourreau's high-profile pastry past with Alain Ducasse.

"The bento boxes were a chance for us to offer a quick healthy lunch with multiple options in one dish to local business people on the go and other lunchtime guests alike," Oh says. "They also offer flexibility for the kitchen, because Juvia's chefs can introduce new ideas and rotate them at our discretion. I like Juvia's boxes because they nicely marry our menu's cuisines in a compact, perfectly portioned midday meal that reflects the refined Japanese tradition of the bento. My favorite is the Korean short rib bento, because the short rib itself is slightly rich but the size is just right -- you get to enjoy it without going overboard in the middle of the day. It's also one of my favorite offerings at the restaurant."

Farther north in Philadelphia, Buddakan offers a "create your own" bento box in which you can select one item from each of three categories or three items from any one category for an additional $5. Appetizer-type items include: edamame ravioli, shrimp spring roll, chicken dumplings, char siu pork bun, a Kobe slider and barbecue ribs. The salads and soup categories, meanwhile, are varied with selections including Thai chicken salad, caesar salad, miso soup, egg drop chicken noodle soup and vegetable rice. Entree groupings include grilled lamb chop, garlic shrimp, cashew chicken and wasabi tuna tataki. But the bento boxes at Buddakan are not just savory; the Chocolate Bento Box is a sweet delight with a chocolate pagoda, cashew candy bar, chocolate pot de creme, white chocolate cheesecake, chocolate almonds and a banana tower.

Even farther north in New York, Iron Chef Morimoto has three types of bento boxes: vegetarian, fish and beef. Each box comes with soup, mixed greens with kabosu vinaigrette, tempura and sushi and your choice of entree: grilled wagyu beef, braised black cod or vegetarian. "Our lunch bento is an extremely popular item, as it showcases some of our signature dishes offered at a reasonable price," Morimoto says.

Namu, the Korean-fusion restaurant in San Francisco, serves a Korean-style lunch box called the doshirak. In it you get your choice of beef, chicken or fish along with a side of rice and a banchan (Korean for side dish) -- generally a combination of items such as kimchee, beansprouts and a seasonal vegetable.

If you'd prefer a dinner bento box, barMASA inside Aria in Las Vegas has an early evening menu featuring a bento box made up of wasabi chikuwa, wakame and cucumber salad, shishito pepper, chicken karaage, kobe beef skewer, nasu miso, four pieces of rolls and three slices of sashimi. Here chef Masa even designs his own boxes to ensure the ultimate beautiful and tasty experience.

Enjoy today's new and improved lunch box.

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