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Best Bites: Koto Restaurant

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792 Shelburne Road, South Burlington 660-8976

Look, I know this is going to ruin my Japanese culinary cred, but I can't help it. Just as even the most hardened, braised sea-cucumber-and-Phoenix-talon-muncher sometimes craves some General Tso, there are days that I crave a little Koto. Just because it's Americanized Japanese food doesn't mean it's not well prepared.

And when I need my fix, I always hit the Shelburne Road kimono-and-koi-crusted fortress for lunch. It's not just because I'm cheap — it's the only time you can get bento boxes.

Lunch boxes include soup, salad, California roll, gyoza and melon along with choice of entrée. Last week, I ordered the Beef Teriyaki. To my surprise, my waiter asked how I would like the meat to be cooked. Even more impressive, the tender steak actually arrived medium-rare and in a gingery, not-too-saccharine sauce. This well-prepared, gut-busting meal came in at only $11. And that's the most expensive lunch boxes get. The crisp, satisfying tonkatsu (pictured) is $9.

For a comparative splurge, I occasionally require the comfort of the $12.45 hibachi chicken. Eaten at the regular table, of course. I have no patience for sitting through "The Volcano" and the chef's attempts to make me catch a piece of chicken with my mouth. Someone in my hometown died attempting the feat a few years ago. That would be me.

Somehow, though, the sesame-flecked, soy sauce-drenched noodles with zucchini, onions, mushrooms and mustard and ginger dipping sauces really hits the spot. Want to go really go Euro? End the meal with a decadent slab of Klinger's chocolate mousse cake, buried in a mountain of whipped cream. Just keep in mind, it's the Alps not Hokkaido.

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