Monday, November 15, 2010

Out to Lunch: Bonsai Japanese Restaurant

There is one thing I've learned from writing restaurant reviews, and that is that politicians apparently love to eat out. Last week, it was Sands Point Mayor Leonard Wurtzel at Livorno, this week it was Sen. Craig Johnson at Bonsai Japanese Restaurant. Who might I run into next week?

Bonsai is an attractive restaurant with a variety of seating options, including regular tables with padded chairs, more traditional Japanese booths where guests remove their shoes and sit on mats, and a sushi bar. My companion and I opted for a regular table, but I did see other patrons in the traditional Japanese seating area. The restaurant is dimly lit, with soft Asian music playing in the background, punctuated by the sounds of chopping coming from the chef behind the sushi bar.

My friend and I started with hot tea, which was unusual tasting — almost fermented — but good. Bonsai has a lunch menu, valid from Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Options include Japanese standards such as teriyaki, tempura, and udon (noodles), as well as bento boxes and sushi. Most entrees are served with miso soup and rice, and range in price from $7 (for vegetable teriyaki) to $13 (for some of the sushi lunches). There is also an option for ordering sushi and sashimi by the piece.

I ordered the chicken teriyaki and my friend ordered one of the bento boxes. The waitress quickly brought our salads and miso soup to begin our meal. The salad was a small bowl of mostly iceberg lettuce with a piece of tomato and cucumber drenched in a ginger dressing. The dressing was good, but the salad was a bit pedestrian. The miso soup however was a joy — rich and salty with cubes of silky tofu, bits of scallion and dark green seaweed floating throughout.

My chicken teriyaki was served with a bowl of white rice, and exactly six string beans, two baby carrots and one piece of broccoli — all very lightly steamed. The chicken (two thin chicken breast pieces) was broiled and cut into strips then coated with a slightly sweet teriyaki sauce. The chicken was tender, tasty and well-cooked, but I would have liked a few more vegetables to go with it.

My companion's bento box was a sight to behold. Beautifully presented, this meal is quite a value for $10. It included shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings), gyoza (pan fried shrimp dumplings), a California roll, and chicken teriyaki, plus dipping sauces, wasabi and pickled ginger. My friend proclaimed the shumai to be "warm and delicate," the California roll "good, but a bit dry," and the gyoza "good, but possibly was frozen originally." She said that neither the gyoza nor the shumai appeared to have much in the way of shrimp inside.

As a nice touch, lunches include a scoop of ice cream for dessert. I chose the green tea ice cream, which was interesting and unlike "American" ice cream in that it wasn't particularly sweet. My friend had the chocolate ice cream and said that it wasn't particularly sweet either. Other choices included vanilla and red bean.

During our time there (on, I must add, one of the worst weather days we've had lately), the restaurant was doing a pretty good business, with about six tables filled at all times — including the one with Sen. Johnson. Service is quick and polite, and we were in and out in an hour — with leftovers! Chopsticks were provided at every table (ask if you'd prefer a fork).

Bonsai is appropriate for a business lunch as long as reading isn't involved (lighting is quite dim). Total cost for two, including tax and tip — $24.

* Note: This article was originally published on Port Washington Patch.

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