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Downtown Orlando date destinations: Bento Cafe and Mochi Frozen Yogurt!

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Downtown Orlando date destinations: Bento Cafe and Mochi Frozen Yogurt!

Big Bad Voodoo Lou | Jan 24, 2010 11:00 AM

I always try to plug good restaurants here on Chowhound, especially in the Orlando area. Here are two great establishments right next door to each other, which together make for a perfect date night. Bento Cafe and Mochi Frozen Yogurt are both in the Plaza Cinema Cafe complex in downtown Orlando, on Orange Avenue between Church and Pine Streets. You can grab a delicious meal and a fun dessert before or after catching a movie at one of Orlando's nicest and cheapest movie theaters. That's what I call one-stop shopping!

Bento Cafe is a cool, funky-looking Pan-Asian restaurant, all shiny black and silver with cool blue lighting, looking very much like a trendy New York City hotspot. There are other locations in Gainesville (which I first discovered back in 2003) and Jacksonville, but it is a welcome addition to the pizza parlors and yuppified watering holes of downtown O-Town. They specialize in bento boxes, which are like segmented school lunch trays featuring a variety of entrees with the protein of your choice, rice or noodles, a salad, soup, and even a cream puff for dessert. Most of the bento boxes are around $8-$10, so they are a great value.

They also have a sushi menu with many delicious and creative rolls, and I'd have to call it the best sushi I've had in town -- better than Ichiban, Fuji, Wazzabi, or Bikkuri (which are all still fine sushi places, don't get me wrong). My favorite roll is the Envy roll, which features salmon, tuna, crab delite, and avocado, topped with kiwi and masago and drizzled with a sweet chili sauce. The sweet and spicy work perfectly with the tanginess of the kiwi and the buttery fish and avocado. It's not "authentic," but it is amazing. My wife loved the Bali Hai roll with shrimp tempura, cream cheese, and eel, topped with mango and coconut flakes and drizzled with eel sauce. It was another great blend of sweet and savory, with crispy and creamy textures competing in your mouth.

Bento Cafe also offers a variety of bubble tea drinks, which are the best I've had anywhere in Florida. I got a "Creamsavers" drink with a blend of vanilla and strawberry flavors, and she went with an "Almond Joy" drink, combining almond and chocolate. Both were light, creamy, and refreshing, perfect for neutralizing wasabi-related heat. They have a machine that heat-seals plastic lids onto your cups, which you can then puncture with huge multi-colored straws. It's fun, trust me.

Here is Bento Cafe's website, with their extensive menu:
http://www.bentocafesushi.com/index.html

Our server was attentive and helpful as usual, and he also presented with a coupon for the newly-opened Mochi Frozen Yogurt, directly next door. This was pretty awesome, since we were planning to go there after dinner anyway. Mochi has only been open for a matter of weeks, but I hope they really take off. Full of bright pastel colors and minimalistic design, Mochi is obviously inspired by New York and California favorite Pinkberry, but there's a big reason why Mochi is better. It is self-serve!

There are six yogurt-dispensing machines along the back wall, and Mochi constantly changes the flavors. Last night they offered original (the Pinkberry-style tart yogurt), taro, peach, coco-nilla (a blend of coconut with the tart original flavor), chocolate, and cake batter. The cake batter was too sweet for me, but I love the tart yogurt, especially with fruit. Several friendly and patient girls were around to give out tiny paper cups for sampling, which was nice. Then you're allowed to take a full-sized cup and fill it yourself, with any flavor combination you want, add any toppings you want, and weigh it on a scale at the cash registers to determine your final price. Mochi only charges 45 cents per ounce, which is a real bargain. Unlike Cold Slab and Marble Stone, you're not locked into giant, expensive portions that cost more due to the manual labor of "mix-ins," so you can get more reasonable (and reasonably-priced desserts) with exactly what you want on them. And oh, what toppings! They offered candy, diced fruit, sweet cereals, your typical ice cream sauces, and three different flavors of mochi as well -- sweet, chewy Japanese rice cakes that make a surprisingly great topping for the soft, refreshing yogurt.

I can't say enough good things about Mochi. It was one of those rare pleasant surprises, especially since I'm not the biggest dessert guy in the world. I was a little concerned about how crowds of people would tend to mill around the yogurt machines trying samples and chatting, but were slow to move out of the way afterwards. It could definitely lead to bottlenecks during peak times (such as when movies at the upstairs theater get out), and I'd also be concerned about too many folks filling up on samples but not paying for real portions. But the place just opened, and I'm sure they'll work out the bugs and get more organized in the weeks and months to come. I love their variety, the fact that it's relatively healthy, and the ability to customize my own. I wish them well in their new location, and urge everyone to try them next time you're downtown. With Bento Cafe and Mochi right next to each other and a nice new movie theater directly upstairs, the Plaza Cinema Cafe complex would be perfect for any kind of date night or just hanging out.

Here is Mochi Frozen Yogurt's website:
http://www.mymochiyogurt.com/

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