It was an "inspiration trip" to Japan last fall, says Daniel Asher, that gave him food for thought. Asher, the culinary director of Linger and Root Down, says part of the journey stemmed from "wanting to be infused with a new perspective on cuisine, especially street food," the mission being, he adds, "to bring back ideas to Linger."
Enter the bento box.
"We found that there was an elegant simplicity in Japan when it came to cuisine -- the food over there was some of the best I've had -- and the bento evolved on some level as an idea that it's a meal that represents efficiency, a quick business lunch," explains Asher. "You sit down," he adds, and "you ask yourself what you can order that's all encompassing, clean, healthy and nourishing? -- and what makes for a fine-dining experience but is still casual enough to be affordable?"
And it was the bento box, continues Asher, that was the answer to his questions. "In Japan, the bento is a way of expressing a multi-course meal experience in a moment, and here, it's our way of wrapping all of those concepts into one idea," says Asher, adding that "visually, a bento box is exactly what food should be: a stunning way to honor ingredients."
All the boxes are comprised of blistered edamame beans and wild mushrooms glossed with a citrus-rice wine vinegar; a ginger-miso dressed organic arugula and carrot salad; a mound of multigrain rice specked red and black; and a duo of terrific ginger-coconut macaroons. Each box is also stamped with a choice of a protein: sustainably-fished, miso-glazed and roasted cobia; Korean-style barbecued beef tenders; chicken breast slicked with a sriracha-teriyaki glaze; or a vegan box with squares of deep-fried katsu tofu sourced from a company in Boulder. And the boxes, all of which are gluten-free, come with a small drift of organic pickled ginger.
"We initially tried this at Root Down DIA, and people loved it," says Asher. "They wanted something that was fast and slow -- as in slow food, and whether you're a vegan or an omnivore, there's a bento that works, plus it's a great way to represent our ingredients and present them in a way that jives with what Linger is all about: a clever re-imagination of street food that works for Denver."
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The bento boxes, which rolled out this week, are available between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. "We had them as a special every day for the last few weeks, so time will tell how they evolve and what different incarnations we come up with," concludes Asher.