When I stop in Bento Xpert one summer afternoon after the lunch rush, co-owner Samuel Yin is manning the counter at its food court location (Eleven25 at Pabst, 1125 N. Ninth St., 414-935-2823). The lunch special is a good deal – $6.99 for one entrée from the buffet and one side. But I’m not here for the buffet. It’s the Taiwanese specialties cooked to order and listed on the menu board that I’m after.
“If you were here an hour ago, I would have said, ‘No, we’re too busy,’ but now it’s OK,” says Yin with a warm smile.
I slurp a bubble tea (also a Taiwanese invention) while I wait for my order, which includes two of the menu’s classic Taiwanese dishes: three-cup chicken and breaded pork chop. Both come with steamed jasmine rice and an egg roll or a soy-marinated boiled egg, which has a subtle sweet-spiciness. Three-cup chicken gets its name from the three ingredients in the sauce – soy, rice wine and sesame oil. It’s simmered for a long time, creating an exquisite dark-caramel-like sauce that coats the firm yet tender hunks of chicken. The egg is absolutely an essential try, too, with its subtly floral flavor of Chinese five-spice powder. The same sweet-umami flavor of five-spice comes through in the boneless pork chop’s breading. It’s tender and crispy and so delicious.
Yin and his wife, Lydia Tai, are Taiwan natives who opened their restaurant two years ago with the intention of offering authentic flavors not readily found here. It’s absolutely one of my favorite finds.