U-Dist. oasis dishes up satisfying bento boxes

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You have to admire the sheer chutzpah of a restaurant that serves you a box of various dishes representing the cuisine of no less than four countries, especially if at least half of them are smartly executed. The charmingly confused Kanadala Paradiso, which opened last year in the U District, offers up such boxes of delights with a smile and a bow.

Kanadala Paradiso

5211 University Way N.E.,






Hours: Mon-Sat: noon-10 p.m. Sun: Closed.

Major credit cards/no obstacles/no liquor license.

Kanadala is an oasis on an undistinguished block of upper University Way. It manages to evoke the tropics without any palm fronds or other kitsch, just a coat of understated yellow paint and beautiful blue and yellow tablecloths in a high-ceilinged room. A handsome brass telescope stands by the entrance; perhaps it's powerful enough to see over the horizon to the various nations from which Kanadala culls its menu.

At lunch, patrons trickle in and out, some lingering for hours to banter in Korean or Japanese with the staff. They eat beef stew, pasta or the breaded Japanese pork cutlet called tonkatsu. The latter, our waiter explained, was marinated for two days in chicken broth and red wine.

All bento meals are served with an embarrassment of side dishes, everything from asparagus with melted cheddar to spring rolls. Soups include a glorious miso made with the broth from poached salmon. "This is the best miso you'll ever drink," promised the waiter, and he was close. Later, the chef came out to make sure that we liked his food.

Service is sometimes slow, but in such relaxing surroundings, who would feel like rushing?

The menu itself exists as both a huge piece of poster board standing outside the restaurant, and a yearbook-sized tome brought to your table. The full menu is printed on page one, but the remaining pages contain color photos of certain selections, to illuminate such points as the difference between the "Japanese-style" and "French-style" tonkatsu.

As it turns out, the Japanese version is topped with a gossamer nest of dried fish shavings. The waiter must have sensed my apprehension, because he brought a small bowl of these for me to taste, but they were smoky and mild and disappeared on the tongue. The French-style cutlet is served unadorned. What makes it French is unclear, since I'll bet you've never heard anyone use the phrase, "The French, they sure love their tonkatsu."

Be forewarned that aside from the main dish, what you get in your bento box may bear no relation to the picture, although it will include rice, salad and vegetables.

For dessert, there are a couple of respectable-looking cakes in a bakery case up front. We didn't leave room, but the dense chocolate decadence cake looked foolproof.

The most idiosyncratic aspect of the service would have to be the check, which comes tucked inside the cover of a children's book. Ours was "Winnie the Pooh." A neighboring table got "Madeline." No explanation was offered, but at Kanadala Paradiso, surprises are free with every order:

Beef curry: Two small but tender pieces of beef are stewed in a brown curry sauce with carrots and served with rice and a small pile of yellow pickled radish. Add a soup or salad to this inexpensive dish for a full meal.

Japanese fried-chicken bento: Small chunks of chicken are fried without breading until juicy and chewy, then basted with a tangy sauce. Served in a bento box with a plethora of extras, some of which (tiny spring rolls, perfectly cooked rice with black sesame seeds) are delicious, others (macaroni salad, carrots with cheddar cheese) questionable.

Tossed salad: This otherwise unremarkable green salad was elevated with a shot of sesame-miso dressing, poured from an urn.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Beef curry, $5.99

Japanese fried-chicken bento, 8.99

Tossed salad, 2.69

Pot of tea, 2.99

Tax, 1.88

TOTAL, $22.54