Wednesday 30 July 2008

At Bento Cafe, You Can Watch TV and Crap at the Same Time, Sort Of

Bento Cafe
121 S Orange Ave
Ste 130N
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

This restaurant is shaped much like a fat "L," in that the entrance and order line form the thin top to the letter and the dining area forms the fat bottom or base.

To find the bathrooms from the entrance, head right, into the dining area, and then turn left down the center of the dining room, heading towards the back wall. Once there, look for a small opening to an enclave containing a wall with several ornate cutouts in it -- the cutouts are all illuminated with blue light, making a decorative design. The toilets are to each side of that light pattern wall -- men's to the left, ladies' to the right.

What's it like?

This hip Japanese-inspired hot spot boasts a slick interior filled with glowing blue lights, pumping house music, ornate wall hangings and lamps -- in many ways it feels like a dance club crossed with a Vegas eatery.

And that's certainly the vibe: While there is a full menu and the place draws thick crowds at lunch, the emphasis here seems to be more on socializing than dining -- think of it like an ultralounge take on the sushi restaurant. Visitors line up at a counter to order, find a table and then get their food delivered to them. The line-up is reminiscent of the line you enter to enter a dance club, if you think about it.

The food here offers both unique and traditional Asian fare, with an emphasis on noodle bowls and -- as the name suggests -- bento boxes. Dishes range from Thai-inspired curries to sushi to udon to bulgogi to boba tea and then some. The food itself is decent and well-priced, considering the portion size, though I must admit it's not outstanding -- certainly not in the league of, say, Nona Sushi, Shiki on the Beach or the wonderful Rangetsu -- and in a way the place feels more like a spot to hang out than eat. Still, for a moderately priced lunch with fresh ingredients, I was satisfied by the offerings.

The toilets are indeed some of the most stylish I've seen outside of Vegas. While they do not rival the design, artfulness and luxury of Sensi or Okada, they do provide a unique, almost nightclub-inspired atmosphere filled with hi-tech touches. This is the sort of bathroom I expected Shari Sushi to have, really. However, like Shari Sushi, it also has a few misgivings -- resulting mostly from trying to hard to make it stylish and not hard enough to make functionality its core.

The facilities are roomy one-baggers. The sink is to the far right of the room, the toilet in the back left corner, a trash can in the front right corner and a red door separating you from the dining room (a la Anmol, only not quite as stately).

It's a dimly lit (though not as dim as Shari Sushi) and clean environment, though I did find some mis-thrown paper towels here and there, including one on top of the trash can lid. Clearly the person who tossed it didn't want to bother himself with picking it up and actually opening the trashcan to dispose of it properly (clearly, the beautiful people can't be bothered with beautifying anything but themselves), and as a result I got to perform that wonderful duty. Thanks, man. I hope one day I can return the favor.

The walls and floor here are covered in black tile, the toilet, sink and urinal are white porcelain and seem to work a similar decorative angle as what you'll find at Sensi or Okada, only the set up is much homier here and not nearly as Zen-like. There is an automatic paper towel dispenser set above and to the right of the sink and a soap dispenser nearby.

The walls are bare, save for one important item, which is the bathroom's highlight: There is a small flat panel TV set into the wall near the toilet.

I like the inclusion here as it offers you something to look at while you're doing your business. Sadly, because the TV is in the front left corner of the bathroom, it makes watching it difficult since, for example, if you're on the pot you don't have a direct line to the TV, since it's to your right and up some. Thus, to watch it, you would have to actually lift yourself up from the pot, which of course makes for an unpleasant experience.....

Marks out of 10:

8. Very stylish, clean environment marred only by a few design flaws in its attempt to reach the next level.

Comments to the Management:

Consider moving that TV to the same wall as the door. This would align it perfectly for the visitor using the toilet. Whether or not that's possible, I can't say. But it's certainly something to think about and isn't too hard to do, given a little tile work and some wiring.

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