As the start of school approaches, parents, in particular, appreciate the value of a lunch container where everything has its place. Sandwich goes here, apple goes there. So it is with Japanese bento boxes. But forget about the PB&J. Bento boxes brim with sushi, salad and hot fish, beef or chicken. Sorry, kids: This is your father’s lunchbox.
At Asaka Japanese Restaurant, in an Aventura strip-shopping center, boxed lunch specials keep it simple. No need to scour a long menu; just pick a main course (fried or grilled chicken, teriyaki salmon or fish of the day, shrimp and veggie tempura or sliced beef). Accompanying each dish: an eight-piece California roll (avocado and faux crab), salad or miso soup and three pieces of sushi (tuna, salmon and whitefish).
The takeout bento “box” at Asaka is more concept than reality. There is no decorative wooden or plastic container for those on the go. But we soon knew what matters most: the contents in the universal foam tray. Two long shrimp, battered from head to tail, kept company with deep-fried broccoli, zucchini and green beans. Sweet teriyaki sauce bathed the grilled salmon and the cute, flavorful Beef Shogayaki (“delicious little rollups sent from heaven,” said one of our girls) stuffed with lettuce.
The main-course portions are dainty, but there’s plenty to fill up on in the other compartments. Nothing special about the California roll, the salad or the salty miso soup, but the three pieces of glistening sushi with a rice ball stuck to their undersides are a nice touch. So are the pickled sprouts on the side and fresh orange sections for dessert.
Our family isn’t wild about raw fish, so we stuck the white, pink and gray pieces in a baking tray, shoved it in the oven for a few minutes, and added it to the hot section of the box. Ordering for your family? Get one of everything, lay it all on the table and have a picnic. If all this food is a bit too much, Asaka offers lighter boxes that omit some of the sides. Also available: a full menu, plus whiteboard lunch specials, which included spicy ceviche, chicken wings, a sushi sampler and a tuna nacho on a recent day.
Asaka, nestled between a Winn-Dixie and a Marshalls at the busy nexus of Ives Dairy Road and U.S. 1, has been around for years. And it shows. The cashier greeted us immediately, got a complex order perfect, and included plenty of napkins, forks, spoons and chopsticks. And most important, the Asaka staff tied it all together tightly in plastic bags so the food stayed in those treasured boxes.