Chow Bella

Pork Belly and Chawanmushi for Bento Box Brunch at Nobuo at Teeter House

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As you might imagine, Fukuda's obento is stunning, arriving in a heavy lacquered box containing two levels and five compartments. Taking off the lid to see what's inside offers the same little rush of expectancy as opening a birthday present.

Most obento box lunches contain meat or fish, rice and something pickled, but the variations are endless. Fukuda takes the same approach, offering protein and starch and veggie and anything else that strikes his fancy. You may get some of the dishes I'm about to describe here or you may get something else entirely, Either way, it's a safe bet you're going to be happy.

In the top compartment, I find charred and fatty pork belly with rice, earthy shiitake and delicate shimeji mushrooms, the whole fragrant thing served on a banana leaf. Fukuda says the rice gets a little douse of the ginger-garlic marinade used on the pork, which has been fried, then steamed for three hours and finally baked with the rice and mushrooms. It's Japanese comfort food, elegant and hearty at once. Lightly pickled carrot and celery make tart counterpoint.

One of my favorite Japanese dishes -- the savory steamed egg custard called chawanmushi -- contains New Caledonia shrimp, a glistening bead-like overlay of ikura (salmon roe) and an elegant top-knot of gold leaf. Right beside it, a slightly thicker foie gras egg custard, given a crunchy bruleéd top. Heavenly.

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Nikki Buchanan