If there’s one thing downtown suits need more than a cutthroat attitude to sustain them in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America, it’s a quick and delicious noontime meal to sustain their hungry aspirations. And a trio of urban eateries I recently visited – Cool Blue Burrito, Bento Café and O’Naturals – allow ravenous workers an opportunity to work those canines.
Or, rather, did. Cool Blue Burrito has since shut its doors, but Bento, a neighboring noodle-and-sushi joint hidden near the loading zone of the Plaza office-condo building, still packs the upwardly mobile into its cool blue digs, many of whom gleefully join the snaking queue to the counter at high noon. Bento may not serve the best Japanese fare in town, but for the most part, it’s delicious and fairly priced. Handsomely presented torch rolls ($12.95), a special for the day, offered mouthfuls of lusciousness with scallops, conch, cuke and sriracha rolled with spicy salmon and white tuna, then garnished with tempura flakes and anointed with eel sauce. Three ample cuts of ruby-red maguro sashimi ($6) were simply served, and maki rolls of spicy red tobiko ($5) packed a series of pleasing pops thanks to a copious heaping of flying-fish roe. Bento boxes ($7.50) dish up pedestrian noodles, rice, lettuce, seasoned green beans and forgettable carrot cake along with your choice of meat – saucy Mongolian beef did the trick for me. Noodle bowls ($6.95) are delivered in timely fashion, and the varied broths, with your choice of udon or seasoned Korean noodles, are a slurp-
worthy lunchtime feast. Fans of boba ($2.75) will undoubtedly purr with content over refreshing watermelon- and honeydew-flavored teas with tapioca balls.
A couple of blocks away on Central Boulevard sits O’Naturals, a New England–based chain offering all-natural, organic fast food – sandwiches, salads, soups, flatbread pizzas and the like. But fast food sometimes lives up to its less-than-savory reputation, as was the case in the two sandwiches I sampled. The organic, unbleached, unbromated flatbread itself was good, but the fillings left me cold. On this visit, the Wild West sandwich ($7.39) was marred by scorched sections of bison meatloaf; the Wrangler ($6.89) was a humdrum combo of free-range, grass-fed roast beef with onions, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and horseradish mayo. The use of humanely raised meat is commendable, but Anthony Bourdain may have been right in his book The Nasty Bits when he said: “I like grain-fed beef. When talking about beef, I don’t want some muscular, over-exercised animal with delusions of liberty providing the steaks.”
You may not find any fatty, grain-fed goodness here, but you will find some damn hearty tomato-vegetable soup ($3.09) with chunky, not mushy, bits of zucchini, carrots, green beans, bell peppers and corn in a piquant broth. Also good is the five-spice udon, thick noodles ($5.89) with super-crisp snow peas and zucchini barbed by a pungent mix of cinnamon, anise seed, cloves, pepper and fennel.
Those of you who frequented the Vibe Ultra Lounge will likely be shocked at how the space’s once-swank interior has transmogrified into an impersonal three-for-one urban food court that includes Häagen-Dazs and City Java. (Note: Turkish coffee here is nothing more than a glorified cappuccino with brown sugar.) But aesthetics take a back seat to a greener calling, exemplified by high-efficiency fluorescent light bulbs, energy-saving AC, wheat-chaff cabinets and nontoxic stained-concrete floors. No doubt the restaurant does its part to minimize environmental impact; I only wish the food had made a greater impact on firstname.lastname@example.org