The sushi place in the World Financial Center wasn't always Yushi. It used to be Itsu, the sushi chain perhaps best known as the restaurant where the late Russian secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London.

Talk about bad P.R.

Not surprisingly, the WFC Itsu has closed, and Yushi, another bento bar, has taken its place. It may not be the best sushi in town, but it wins serious points for fresh flava and style.

There's something so cool about bento boxes. It's like a lunchbox! For grown-ups! And the things inside - mesclun, seared fish, beans, and seaweed - are not fattening! Yushi's pretty packaging, cute names, and beautiful food styling can bring on a Hello Kitty-like reverie. It appeals to a childish urge for lunch box dining, but at the same time it's modern.

Not to mention healthful. In some neighborhoods you have to walk ten blocks for a good salad made with fresh ingredients and dressing that isn't sugary and fake. Examples of the former: Chop't and Tossed; examples of the latter: Cosi and pretty much every fancified NY deli. But even the good salad places operate at a pace that induces panic attacks - how can you make a rational decision about dried cranberries when the counter people are shouting "Next!" and the starving beatch behind you keeps sighing exaggeratedly? Unlike Mangia, Yushi operates on a Zen plane.

The salmon that looked so pretty in this "Tickle Me Pink" bento box didn't taste like anything much. Midtown Lunch had the same complaint about the Park Avenue branch of Yushi. But the accompanying wakame seaweed was firm, chewy, and nicely briny, and the muki beans were quite toothsome. There is a bit of a DIY aspect to Yushi: if you don't douse the bento box contents with dressing, they'll taste pretty much as is. Pickled ginger dressing was fantastic, with hints of sesame and miso flavor, and the Indian inflection of coriander dressing induced a flashback to the delicious dosas at Hampton Chutney Co.

Indian flavors also abounded in the Peking duck roll with "duck sauce." Cardamom, cinnamon, and again a little coriander gave this roll all the spice it needed without the necessity of an additional dip in the sauce. Miraculously, it does taste a lot like Peking duck pancakes, but in a roll. The label on the crab maki promised "fresh crab from California." Was this a "real" California roll? The crab may not have been reconstituted seafood in this case, but it was intensely flavored, giving new credence to the word "fishy" as a synonym for "suspicious."

As for the spicy tuna roll, whoa, they ain't kiddin'. This one should come with a warning label, "Not For Whiteys." The tuna was coated with a very spicy granulated chili pepper sauce and sandwiched next to chives. It makes you wonder how some of the sneakered tourists visiting the WTC site from the Mall of America would react if you popped one of these in their mouths.

Perhaps most blessedly and miraculously, Yushi serves excellent unsweetened iced tea - four giant dispensers of it in different flavors like pomegranate. In a recent focus group survey for a new mass market green tea product, dozens of questions were asked about packaging, brands, and flavors, but nowhere were respondents given a chance to recommend unsweetened tea instead of sugary, Nutrasweet-y, or Splenda-y tea.

Why is it so hard for food companies and restaurant entrepreneurs to discover this untapped market for food that is low in calories, nutritious, delicious, and not fake? We have no idea, but Yushi takes a step in the right direction.

4 World Financial Center at Vesey Street
New York, New York

245 Park Avenue at 47th Street
New York, New York