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[Photo: Kathy Chan]

Last week's visit to EN Brassserie's bento lunch special triggered a craving for more lunch bentos around the city. So this week, I hit up Tea Box Café at the Takashimaya department store in Midtown. Step in the Japanese emporium, head into the elevator and down to the absement. There you'll find a dimly lit, secluded oasis from the hustle of midtown.

And, of course, a bento box—after the jump.

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The bento runs $21 ($19 for vegetarians), changes on a daily basis, and includes lunch and dessert, another $5 for hot tea. Four compartments: salad, meat, starch, and a quartet of mini-bites. Foil-baked salmon was the meat of the day, tender and cooked alongside julienned vegetables. Simple and clean. To pair, corn steamed with white rice, and a field green salad dressed in a light vinaigrette and slices of house-smoked duck. (That duck, sandwiched between sliced of Japanese white bread with a bit of mayo would be killer.)

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The corner with a quartet of single bites is always the most exciting part of the meal. A previous visit brought tiny bits of warm egg custard, pork gyoza, curried tofu, and miso grilled chicken. This particular visit surprised with tempura sweet potato, shrimp marine (shrimp with a savory mayo-based sauce), a peppery cut of potato omelet, and finally, my favorite of the bunch—simmered tofu, pictured at the bottom left. Cubes of cold, dried tofu cube are soaked in a potent pork broth overnight; the tofu acts as a sponge, absorbing all the broth. One very powerful, very juicy bite.

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For dessert? Soft coconut jelly with raspberry sauce. Dessert too, changes on a daily basis. My favorite thus far was a wedge of tangerine jelly set within the actual fruit skin. At $21, it's not your everday lunch bento, but worth the occasional indulgence—celebrating the end of a busy work week, guests in town, a place to relax your heels after too much 5th Avenue shopping. But for everyday dabbles in the world of first-class bentos, stick with EN Brasserie, substantially more affordable with higher quality food.

Takashimaya Tea Box Café

693 5th Avenue, New York NY 10022 (map)
212-350-0100
takashimaya-ny.com

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