Bento in the sky
Seen enough Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald's and the like in the Downtown skyway system? Here's a welcome chance to taste some original fast food. Zen Box, 607 Marquette Ave. in the 6 Quebec building, is an independently owned Japanese eatery specializing in bento -- a Japanese box lunch usually consisting of meat or fish, rice and a side dish of vegetables.
The bento set has a playful American influence apparent in such items such as the Tonkatsu with cheese ($5.99): a pork cutlet stuffed with cheese, coated with panko and deep fried, and the Japanese Hamburg ($5.99): two beef patties, first seared, then baked.
The focus is Japanese food, but there is a touch of Korea in the Zen Box beef ribs ($6.99), seasoned with a sweet and savory marinade. Owner Lina Goh says the ribs were popular in a restaurant that her husband/business partner worked at in San Francisco, so they decided to include them.
Evening diners on the hunt for a bargain can also grab single-portion dinner sets on the way home from work; they start as low as $2.95. Or, grab sushi rolls for as little as $1 each. The special items are available from 4:30-6 p.m. only, while supplies last.
Connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine will appreciate Zen Box's true Japanese-style rice -- the short-grained, sticky variety. Says Goh, "I was surprised when people commented on the rice. When you are used to eating rice with every meal, you take the rice for granted. But now I have remembered the type of rice is really an important part of the meal. We don't serve jasmine rice because it is not traditionally served with Japanese food. We really wanted to be authentic."
After abruptly closing its doors last June, the Amsterdam restaurant left a vacancy in Downtown's Warehouse District. Along came Isaac Becker and his wife Nancy St. Pierre to open 112 Eatery in the 112 N. 3rd St. space.
The duo has slated a mid-January opening and plan to appeal to the after-work, dinner and late-night crowd at first, then open for lunch later in the spring.
No doubt Becker's trademark, elevated comfort food, will distinguish the 112's menu. He said he and St. Pierre were inspired by the comfortable and unpretentious atmosphere of New York City's Blue Ribbon, another haute comfort food spot so popular that it has reproduced itself in multiple locations with lines out the door for a table.
Surdyk's to the rescue
Here's a little entertaining secret for this holiday month: you don't have to do it all.
Surdyk's Cheese Shop, 303 Hennepin Ave. E., already renown for its selection of over 350 domestic and international cheeses, recently expanded its gourmet to-go menu.
Among the beauties you can place on the holiday table are rosemary and garlic-infused leg of lamb, root vegetable gratins and a variety of pita-friendly spreads, from carrot-cashew and beet-goat cheese to garlic-laden baba ghanouj.
For vegetarian or health-conscious eaters, there will also be daily meat-free staples, including soups and salads, and fancier veggie fare like the mushroom pat/ -- served on toasts with mustard and cornichons.
Mary Richter, general manager and recent staff addition, said she plans to use as much local, organic produce, meats, poultry and dairy products as possible.
"I want to offer my guests what I like to cook for my own family -- something for even the pickiest eater," Richter said.
Also being welcomed to Surdyk's staff is Executive Chef Renee Faucher, formerly of Caf/ Brenda (300 1st Ave. N.), Table of Contents (formerly on 13th Street & Hennepin Avenue South) and Lucia's in Uptown. Faucher said she looks forward to adding more new menu items to the cheese shop. Mediterranean, Asian and Indian are among her most loved cuisines.
Surdyk's will change the takeout menu with the seasons, so check back in the spring for Easter, Passover, Mother's Day and Father's Day offerings.
Murray's, 26 S. 6th St., will continue its annual tradition of holiday afternoon tea through the end of December. Happily, for the discerning tea drinker, Mrs. Kelly's tea from local purveyor Mindy Kelly is being brewed this year.
A selection of six loose-leaf teas is brought to your table so you can smell each of them first, including a Murray's holiday blend with cranberry, orange peel, cinnamon and vanilla.
Teatime is 2-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and the cost is $12.95. Crustless tea sandwiches (such as smoked salmon and cucumber dill), scones with jam and Devonshire cream, teacakes and lemon icebox tarts accompany the tea.
Brit's Pub, 1110 Nicollet Mall, will also be serving a traditional afternoon tea Fridays and Saturdays, 1-3:30 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 18. Reservations are required and the cost is $18.95. Brit's teatime features a selection of Taylor's of Harrogate teas, fresh-baked scones with fruit preserves and Devonshire cream, assorted tea sandwiches, imported English cheeses, a traditional Christmas log and English trifles.
Rossi's open for lunch
Rossi's, 80 S. 9th St., has expanded its hours. the steakhouse and jazz joint now opens weekdays at 11 a.m.
The lunch menu is an abbreviated version of the evening menu plus a daily special -- such as meat loaf or prime rib with mashed potatoes and vegetables for $15.95. Salads, sandwiches and appetizers are served in addition to steak and seafood, with most items in the $9-$16 range. After 2 p.m., you can nibble on appetizers in the tavern until dinner begins.
Murray's starts happy hour
In an effort to bolster its bar business, Murray's has also recently introduced a happy hour and a new bar menu with lower cost items for the after-work set. The tenderloin tidbits are a particularly good find; weighing in at 8 ounces for $8.95, this bargain is served with a horseradish sour cream.
Bobino's Sunday night deal
What can you get for $24 at Bobino (222 Hennepin Ave. E.) each Sunday night this winter? How about three hearty courses and a glass of house wine? The chef prepares different seasonal selections of appetizers, entrees and desserts for each Sunday's menu. Resist the temptation to stay in as the weekend draws to a close because this is a significant savings from Bobino's regular menu prices.
Send food-related tips and Downtown restaurant news to Tammy Sproule Kaplan at email@example.com.