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Good Bento, Baaad Bento

Join Paul on a Bento Bonanza

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Du's Grill

5365 NE Sandy, 284-1773

Bentorific

826 SW 2nd, no phone

Du's Grill. Bad. Bad like Michael Jackson. Mean, nasty, bad-assed bento. Trolling along Sandy Boulevard like a tarted up woman of the night. Sweet, chewy, and sinful. Grilled so masterfully as to produce crisp carcinogenic corners. Vegetables? Fuck 'em. A sorry little salad of lettuce and milky white garlic dressing will suffice. Try it with half chicken, half pork, or maybe even some old fashioned iron-rich beef--but then again, maybe not. Go for a whole portion; you can use the extra protein to go out and kick someone's ass.

At Du's you'll run into policemen, fire fighters, construction guys, and (hold on to your hazelnuts) native Oregonians. These people have been around the block, and they know instinctively where to find the best teriyaki chicken in town. The sauce, which you apply yourself, is housemade and lighter and more complex than the standard syrupy sludge found elsewhere. If you choose to diversify, go with the pork. The beef is substandard and gristly.

Downtown, and at the other end of the bento spectrum--Bentorific. Good bento. Light bento. Healthy, fresh, clean bento. With the best brown rice I've ever tasted. Bento for the lean gym bunnies from the nearby Bally's. Try it with a smooth, generous portion of steamed pacific salmon, or delicately sauced silken tofu. The vegetables provided are lightly steamed, and you'll be delighted to find asparagus, summer squash, cauliflower, and red cabbage in the mix. It's good for you! Besides, where else in the civilized world can you get a perfectly wonderful hunk of pink, moist salmon for $5.95? As Martha Stewart would say, "Salmon bento, it's a good thing."

I erred at first by ordering Bentorific's chicken bento. What a disappointment, in light of the splendor of Du's Grill. It was flavorless, overcooked, and apparently broiled instead of grilled. But that sweet, crunchy brown rice was absolutely divine. I knew if I gave it a salmon tiara it would be queen of the bento scene. And so I ordered the salmon bento, but I decided for the sake of variety to get the yakisoba noodles instead of the rice. They were sweet and chewy, and properly oily, which is contrary to the healthy focus at Bentorific. But it just goes to show that the bento chef, a cheery and personable dude, will not serve something bland and awful simply because it is healthy. Yakisoba noodles need to be oily, or else they'll stick together and taste like crap.

Mmmm, bento. It'll cross party lines. It'll please both thick and thin. And I believe it to be the most Pacific Northwestian of foods. I often ask (and no one answers back), "How did this bento stuff get here, and why is it so darn popular?" If you can provide answers to this most harrowing of quandaries, please send them to me at paul@portlandmercury.com. Whoever comes up with the most logical and/or bizarre answer wins a trip to a cool little ethnic restaurant of my choice, where we will discuss the mysteries of the universe, e.g., why most people in Portland don't have any friends; or, how to convince the Oregon legislature that stuffing iceberg lettuce inside a burrito should be a class A felony, punishable by a three-hour force-feeding at Izzy's Pizza Bar.

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