Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eating out: Asian Box

I've been thinking of a way to add more interesting (hopefully) content to this blog, and I've decided to start a new segment of mini-reviews of places I eat at.  I don't always bake (hence the 3 month intervals between new recipes) but I do eat out quite often, and the suggestion that I write up reviews came up in conversation with some friends.  These posts are just my (humble) opinion based on what limited experience I may have at these eateries.  I am also by no means a food critic, and while I like to try new things, I also tend to veer toward certain types of food--though maybe this new venture will force me to do something different.

Yesterday, I began my kitchen remodel--which means a new oven(!), but which also means I won't be able to cook or heat up (which is more often the case) food for the next week and a half or so.  As I was driving to Panera to pick up dinner last night, I had an epiphany.  Why not try a new place every night while my kitchen is out of commission?  If there was ever a reason for me to branch out, this would be it.  (I still ended up going to Panera last night though.)

Tonight I thought I would ease my way in.  Asian Box is one of the latest in the food truck or food truck-style food movement--portable meals served by a vendor that specializes in just one thing.  (BTW, I haven't quite placed my finger on why the food truck thing is so fascinating--maybe it's the idea that they're mobile and your food is prepared in an impossibly cramped space.)  Asian Box takes the food in a box you'd get from a food truck and puts it back in the brick and mortar establishment.  

My first thought stepping inside was how stark, hermetic and industrial the surroundings felt.  A single elongated table occupies the center of the dining area with metal stools.  The walls included signs touting the use of locally sourced ingredients, where possible, and that *almost* everything is prepared in-house.  The noodle cart logo is a little kitschy but also minimalist and kind of cute.  Also, their utensils and containers are environmentally friendly.  The menu requires the diner to choose from each of the categories: 1) starch, 2) protein, 3) vegetables (steamed or "wok tossed"), 4) toppings, and 5) sauces.  Come to think of it, I think Chipotle actually pioneered this ordering process.  I ordered brown rice, shrimp (lime basil topped), wok tossed vegetables, ALL the toppers (including the egg, which was an extra $0.95), and a combination of "Ms. Jones Sriracha" and "No Oil Fish Sauce".  Clearly, Asian Box is geared toward those who are not Asian.

As I waited for my food, a steady stream of patrons of different age groups came into the shop, most doing take-out.  I would also say 75% of them looked like they had just worked out.  Strange ethnic sounding music in languages I could not recognize was blaring, which also gave me the impression that they didn't want their customers to sit around inside for very long.  I had nowhere else to go, though, so I tried to block the music out of my mind.

I was actually surprised by the food when I got it--the ingredients did indeed look very fresh, and my shrimp were nice and plump.  This was not your average rice bowl.  Portion size was more than enough to fill me up (though I may not be the best measure for this), with a nice balance of the different elements (rice, vegetables, protein, toppings).  I really thought the crispy shallots and jalapeno made the meal.  I did, however, find that the sauce was a little overwhelming; but I think that can be remedied next time by requesting that they go a little lighter on the sauce.  Overall, I liked it enough to want to come back another time.  I should also probably mention the price.  My total came out to something like $10.50.  It is a little on the high side for what is essentially a rice bowl, but not prohibitively expensive if you're craving a Southeast Asian style healthy-ish quick lunch or dinner.

One side note.  They serve something they call "VC iced tea".  This is terrible branding, in my opinion.  I do not think of "venture capitalists" when I see "VC" in a Vietnamese/Asian eatery.  I automatically think of Viet Cong, the communist organization that eventually won the Vietnam War.  I won't take this personally but I think they should name their iced tea something else.

Asian Box is at the Palo Alto Town & Country Center   

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