Friday, August 1, 2014

Asian Box: Farm to Table Fast Food. Non-GMO, Non-Boring.

by: guest blogger @iam_robot

Growing up in Southeast Asia, it’s been my longtime wish to see a finer fast food joint where I can get a bowl of rice with meats that are cooked to order and vegetables fresh out of the wok.  I mean this is my very definition of fast food growing up in Asia – street stalls flooded the entire nation while American fast food joints (Mcdonalds, KFC) were few and far between. More importantly, these street stalls’ cooks take their jobs very seriously – competition is stiff and there’s no shortcut – ingredients are always freshly prepared, meats are marinated and cooked thoroughly, and cooking techniques are borderline intricate/ old school.  Imagine how much carbon monoxide you’d be inhaling in your lifetime if your job were to grill chicken satay on a charcoal grill for over 30 – 40 years? Yes, those peppery smokes that permeates the streets of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, burning your eyes and nose, is the doing of a diligent cook fanning smokes off his precious charcoal grill. 

When I got the invite for Asian Box, a Palo Alto-based quick serve dining concept, I was very intrigued. Not only organic ingredients and naturally raised meats are featured, the ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques are very much influenced by Southeast Asian cooking. Similar to Shophouse (the Chipotle owned Asian fast food joint), you can pick what goes into your bowl – starting with rice, noodles or salad, then add protein such as lemongrass pork, six spice chicken, garlic beef, and curried tofu, finally throw in some vegetables or caramel eggs along with their homemade sauces.  Their meal comes packaged in a box similar to what you’d get in the streets of Asia – fyi, Asian Box pride themselves in using eco-friendly, compostable boxes and utensils – Love it!

Today I opted for brown rice with soy-garlic beef along with a hodgepodge of veggies (pickled veggies, bean sprout, jalapeno, peanut, lime, shallot, scallion oil) and caramel egg topped with Miss Jones’ Sriracha plus their super secretive hot sauce called as “Hot Box It”.

I thought my combo was pretty good. Ingredients were fresh and portions were generous. Caramel egg was definitely the star. However, a couple of concerns here – First, the beef was definitely tender, however, it didn’t pack a ton of flavor and strayed on the drier side. I thought cooking the beef on the medium rare scale would do justice to this meal. Second, I wasn’t impressed with their hot sauces – the Miss Jones’ Sriracha or the Hot Box It sauce – they tasted like the regular bottled Sriracha and Sriracha Sambal Oelek. If I may suggest, I’d definitely prefer a fresh sambal or Indonesian sambal terasi (shrimp paste based). 

Overall, other than a couple exceptions, I thought my dining experience here was very good. Sure, it’s a quick dining – but when you start looking into their sustainable ingredients, their made to order cooking, and their unabashed approach to flavors – I thought this is fast food with some fine-dining sensibilities. I look forward to a different variation next time.  

Asian Box
116 E Palm Ave
Burbank, CA 91502
(818) 563-4269
Asian Box on Urbanspoon


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