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Spiritland Bistro
updated: Aug 14, 2010, 9:45 AM

By Ms. Lemonjelly

Considering I have so many friends with assorted dietary restrictions - voluntary, involuntary, maybe a few imagined - it's a surprise I'd never made it out to Spiritland Bistro until just recently. I certainly walked by it enough and thought it looked very pretty outside. Maybe it's my fear that the menu options will list something like "I Am Abundant" when the dish is really a caesar salad, like some Bay Area healthy crunchy places do.

It also seemed like a big commitment to eat there for a dinner, and I rarely have lunch downtown. But I did find myself in the area for a business lunch and we walked over to Spiritland Bistro to check out their new lunch specials: bentos!

A bento is a homemade or packaged meal from Japanese cuisine, serving one. It's usually in some kind of box or container of compartments. I've been a fan of bentos ever since I got a box as a child from an asian relative, before I even got my first American lunch box (Charlie's Angels, in case you're curious). I now have a collection of bento boxes and sauce cups for my own lunches. They don't need to have Japanese food in them to be a bento.

An ideal bento does contain a specific ratio of food, though. It's 3 parts grain or starch, 2 parts vegetable, and 1 part protein. I didn't bring my measuring scales with me, but that seemed to be about right with the Spiritland Bistro bentos.

They offer five set combinations with a range of healthy carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, a healthy protein and a suace, and the price is $9. The proteins include things like tofu and tempeh, and for those with more meaty desires there's chicken and wild salmon for a $1 or $2 supplement. One of the bentos come with the salmon, so if you order that it's the set price of $9.

I had the coconut curry sauce bento, which came with tempeh and mashed yams. Another diner order the same, but with the salmon instead of tempeh. The third person got the salmon with brown rice and wild rice, while the fourth got baked tofu with brown and wild rice. All our lunches came with crisp-tender beans, zucchini and carrots.

Regardless if you eat in or take away, the lunch comes in the box with a separate sauce container. The boxes are biodegradable and the eating utensils are compostable birch. This is ideal for a quick pick-up lunch, especially if you order ahead by phone.

We dined in, and it initially felt awkward to sit at a table eating from containers some might compare to a soundly-packaged meal that's served on an airplane, but it definitely was NOT airplane food. Plus, the restaurant is just as pretty inside as out, with soft cushions, fresh flowers on the tables and a hint of exotic decoration. Just because you're eating from a bento box doesn't mean you need to be sitting by yourself in a cube. So if you have the time, dine in!

I really enjoyed my meal. The mashed sweet potato had a bit of ginger in it that brought out a little zing. The beans were dragon beans from the farmers market (see below photo), which I'd already been eating before coming to Spiritland Bistro. My curry sauce was thin, so it was easier to dip my food into it rather than pour it over. I did find the birch utensils to be a little flimsy for cutting and spearing the tempeh and dragon beans, so when I come here again, and get my lunch to go, I'll decline their utensils and use my regular spoon, knife and fork I keep at work. Reuse before recycling, right?

I understand that the soy options aren't to everyone's tastes. The extra dollar or two for chicken or salmon is very reasonable.

There's still other items available on the lunch menu and here are two standouts. First, try the butternut squash chili, $3 for an 8 ounce portion. Delicious! Everyone raved about it. Second, the fresh raw juice. Four ounces of juiced apples, beets, carrots, kale, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and olive oil for $2. It's not a big glass, you don't need it when all these vegetables are concentrated into a juice. And I don't think you could make this at home for that price. Note: the garlic and olive oil will be different to what a typical smoothie drinker might be expecting. But it's worth it!

Don't expect a gut buster of a meal, these are sensible, healthy portions. They're also sourced as locally and organic as possible, which makes the $9 a good deal. And the best part of my lunch? No food coma afterwards.

Spiritland Bistro
230 E. Victoria St.

Lunch from 11 am - 2 am, you can start phoning in for pick-up at 11 am.


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