You could get a sandwich for lunch. You could get noodles, soup, or salad. You could even get a piece of grilled fish with crisp skin if you're feeling ambitious. And if you're feeling even more ambitious, or just plain hungry for thoughtful food cooked really well, you could get them all.
Depending on your ordering, all this could come in a bento box from Nobuo at Teeter House.
When summer comes, Nobuo Fukuda pares down his lunch menu. Gone is the okonomiyaki, a potato pancake bursting with pork, squid, and other seafood. Say sayonara, too, to neon house-cured salmon served sashimi-style with basil oil and a balsamic zigzag. Fukuda edits his eclectic menu to lunch dishes that make sense for the bento boxes he rolls out when the heat rolls in.
Several lunch staples stick around. When you order them for the $20 bento box, they come smaller than you'd get in fall, winter, or spring – meaning you can try more food.
You pick three staples. The box also comes with salad and rice. The salad (featuring greens from McClendon's Selects in yuzu vinaigrette) and rice ("Japanese lunch box" style with seaweed, dry eggs, and sesame seeds) are not afterthoughts. The salad has zing. The white rice has a salty funk that makes white rice better than it should be.
Deciding on how to fill the real estate of your bento box is no easy task.
Braised pork belly. Grilled tofu. Tonkatsu (cutlet-like) sandwich. Fried chicken. If you eat at Nobuo, you've had some of these before. The right approach might be to close your eyes and point. You can't go wrong here.
The other day I maxed out my box with mackerel, a soft shell crab sandwich, and short rib "salad."
Fukuda says that mackerel is a staple of bento boxes in Japan. He grills his with salt, tops it with pickled ginger long and thin like shoelaces There is crisp skin and a marine salinity that tends to come with mackerel, an under-loved fish.
The legs of a soft shell crab spiral out from a bun. The bun is house-made focaccia. The crab's thin carapace gives out from under its panko breading, and fragrant juices rush.
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The best part of my bento was a salad of short ribs and rice noodles with Vietnamese flavors. Fukuda hits this "salad" with bright flavors like lime juice, basil, rice vinegar, and mint. The noodles are so glassy, thin, and fresh that they almost seem to be spiralized cucumber. The short rib on top is melting tender from being cooked sous vibe to a tuna-pink in the middle, and grilled to finish for some exterior brown goodness.
Check out this bento box for a serious summer lunch.
Nobuo at Teeter House. 622 East Adams Street; 602-254-0600.
Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m.; closed Monday.