Eat Local: Asian Box

March 20, 2015 § 3 Comments

I realized yesterday that I’d put off writing about one of my Birthday Week Indulgences because of the hook. (For non-writers, “the hook” is the attention-grabbing first sentence of an article or post. A good hook creates enough intrigue or curiosity to engage the reader and keep him or her reading.)

Every time I sat down to write about this place, which is one of my favorite lunch spots, I swear I could hear a bunch of 12-year-old boys guffawing and snickering in the background. Why? The restaurant’s name, of course. Yesterday SF Eater posted a brief article addressing exactly the thing I was dealing with. So thanks to SF Eater, I’m pushing forward.

For my Friday Birthday Week Indulgence I ate Asian Box. And I’d do it again.

Yeah, just try not to snicker like a 12-year-old

Yeah, just try not to snicker like a 12-year-old

Ok, there, I said it. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what really matters: the experience.

“The Box” or “Box” as the three-year-old business refers to itself, is headquartered in Palo Alto, where it opened its first location (they’re now up to five total, including two in Southern California). The restaurant style is casual and family-friendly; customers are greeted with a rousing “Welcome to Box!” from the counter staff when entering the small restaurant.

Asian Box’s niche is Vietnamese-style street food, paired with California influence. Ingredients are free of hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, and sourced locally whenever possible. Not only is Asian Box following a model in which they’re part of the local food system, but they’re also looking out for the environment. The containers in which food is served are either compostable (box bottoms) or recyclable (plastic tops and containers).

So, how can you get yourself some Asian Box? In the 650 you can find an Asian Box restaurant in Palo Alto or Mountain View. Place your order at the counter “for here” or “to go” using the above-counter menu, which makes ordering a box your way as easy as 1-2-3-4. If you’re indecisive or overwhelmed by too many possibilities, try one of the four House Favorites. I’ve noticed that “The Workout” seems to be a popular choice with regulars at the Palo Alto location.

Four easy steps to a fresh, fast meal customized to your taste

Four easy steps to a fresh, fast meal customized to your taste

If you’re so hungry that you need to get something in your mouth ASAP, or are just looking for a grab-and-go option, the cold case at the counter has pre-packaged Tofu Spring Rolls, Shrimp Spring Rolls, and Green Papaya Salad, as well as bottled water and non-alcoholic drinks. FYI, the rolls are about 3″ long — just enough for an appetizer, snack, or very small lunch.

Tofu Spring Rolls from Box's cold case: tofu, vegetables, rice noodles in a rice paper wrapper. Served with cabbage salad and dipping sauce.

Tofu Spring Rolls from Box’s cold case: tofu, vegetables, rice noodles in a rice paper wrapper. Served with cabbage salad and dipping sauce.

When your box order is ready, counter staff will call out your order number; usually the wait is about 10 minutes. (Note that wait times can be longer during core mealtimes.) Takeaway orders are packaged with utensils and napkins so that you can be on your way. “For here” orders at the Palo Alto location are delivered to your table by friendly Box staff — which is a nice touch if you want to grab an outside table and watch the usual T&C parking-lot shenanigans while waiting for your food.

What I love about Asian Box (hehe) is that they offer something for every diet. Whether you’re paleo, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, carnivore, whatever — Box has got you covered. And you can change it up every time! My current favorite combo is rice noodles with tofu, caramel egg, all toppers — except bean sprouts (yuck) and jalapenos (overkill with the sriracha, in my opinion) — peanut sauce, and sriracha sauce on the side.

A closeup of my box

A closeup of my box

The vegetables are fresh and crunchy, the texture of the tofu is firm, but not hard, and the toppers and sauces add so much flavor to the mix. Ok, so the peanut sauce is green, but it’s still got that flavorful, sweet-spicy-salty thing going on. (And, by the way, all of Asian Box’s sauces are made fresh, on-site. No bottled or pre-made sauces from these guys!)

As indulgences go, this is one I won’t limit only to birthdays. In fact, writing this post has given me a craving for Asian Box, so I might have to venture out to the Town & Country this weekend for some satisfaction.

Have you tried Asian Box? Wanna share your experience? Tell all in the comments below or on 650Food’s Facebook page, where you can also check out photos of the other Birthday Week Indulgences.

What: Asian Box
Where: Town & Country Shopping Center, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-391-9305
42 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone: 650-584-3947
Hours: 11am–9pm daily
Parking: Free lot

Eat Local: Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View

March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Happy Monday! The sun is shining, the trees are blooming, and it’s Birthday Week — aka, Week of Indulgence. alexanders-tarts

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines indulgence as “the behavior or attitude of people who allow themselves to do what they want or who allow other people to do what they want.” That pretty much sums up how I’m approaching Birthday Week  (oh yeah, we’ve moved beyond “birthday” and “birthday weekend” to full-on Birthday Week).

Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m having cake and champagne for breakfast every day. But I am giving myself permission to enjoy whatever strikes, whether that’s taking an extra swipe at the snooze button in the AM or savoring a pre-dinner glass of wine on my porch while the sun sets. And when it comes to food and drink, I’m keeping my indulgences local — whether homemade with local ingredients or revisiting some of my favorite spots on the Peninsula.

Yesterday’s indulgence was homemade on-the-fly Crab and Sweet Potato soup that I threw together using a rich crab stock I’d made and frozen in January. With our crab season on the wane, it seem liked a good idea to enjoy one of my favorite foods while I could. (Sorry, no food porn for that one, but take my word for it, the soup turned out really well: stew-like and so flavorful.) Indulgence doesn’t have to be about big, sweet, fatty, or boozy. It can be any or all of those things, but sometimes a healthful homemade meal can be an indulgence — especially if you’re constantly on the go and skimping on homemade goodness.

Today’s indulgence, however, is all about sweet. This morning I had my heart set on cannelés from Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View. These wonderful little French pastries — also known as canelés and cannelés de Bordeaux — have a thick, crunchy, sweet (caramelized) exterior and a soft, custard-like center. They’re small and not too filling or sweet, which makes them perfect for breakfast or afternoon caffeine break. The ingredient list for cannelés is simple — similar to that for any cake — but the skill is in the technique. And Alexander’s is the only place I know of on the Peninsula that makes them. At first, cannelés don’t look like much — they’re about an inch high and the shape of a skinny, fluted mold with dark, caramelized exterior.

Don't be fooled by the plain exterior, there's creamy-textured, baked-custardy goodness inside!

Don’t be fooled by the plain exterior, there’s creamy-textured, baked-custardy goodness inside!

But, ooooh, when you bite into a cannelé, be prepared for a soft, luscious, custardy interior.

Once you get through the thick, carmelized crust, there's a soft center

Once you get through the thick, carmelized crust, there’s a soft center

If you have the willpower to eat just one canelé, then you’ll have room to try some of the other classic French pastries Alexander’s produces. Two to try: the kouign-amann and the hazelnut roll.

The kouign-amann was a lovely surprise! It has the rich, buttery, “breadiness” of a croissant, but the light layers of a sweet puff pastry. The skill here is making sure that the layers are light and flaky, not gummy and dense, and Alexander’s pulls it off.

Kouign-amman: When you just can't get enough flaky, buttery layers

Kouign-amman: When you just can’t get enough flaky, buttery layers

The hazelnut roll is a yeasted pastry: danish dough filled with cinnamon, sugar, and candied hazelnuts. It’s what’s also known as a “snail” pastry (or “escargot,” in French) because the dough is rolled around itself, in a shape much like a snail shell. The hazelnut roll is finished with a pretty powdered-sugar fleur de lis.

Inside the deceptively plain danish is layer after layer of sweet cinnamon and candied hazelnuts

Inside the deceptively plain danish is layer after layer of sweet cinnamon and candied hazelnuts

If it’s chocolate you MUST have, then try one of Alexander’s petits gateaux. L’Orange is a dome-shaped dessert with a candied orange slice on top and crispy dark-chocolate pearls around the base. Inside the dark-chocolate-glazed dome is a flourless chocolate cake layer topped with Grand Marnier ganache.

Classic combo: dark chocolate and orange

Classic combo: dark chocolate and orange

I loved the Chocolate Pillow, a small but decadent chocolate experience. Inside the 85% cacao chocolate glaze is a layer of chocolate mousse, a thin layer of chocolate cake, another layer of chocolate mousse, and a crispy hazelnut praline feuilletine layer. The “pillow” sits on a grown-up chocolate rice crispy layer. Definitely a birthday-worthy indulgence!

Chocolate Pillow: Crispy, soft, rich, and chocolatey

Chocolate Pillow: Decadent chocolate indulgence

An elegant, ambitious shop, Alexander’s Patisserie is part of the Alexander’s Group of dining establishments that includes The Sea in Palo Alto and the Michelin-starred Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino. If you’re looking for well-made, French-style baked goods and confections in an elegant setting, this is it! All items are available to eat in or take away. The shop also serves coffee drinks, loose-leaf teas, and hot chocolate (again, to enjoy at one of the cafe’s marble tables or take to go).

What: Alexander’s Patisserie
Where: 209 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone: 650-864-9999
Hours: Mon–Fri 6am–10pm; Sat 8am–10pm; Sun 8am–8pm
Parking: Street or lot

Have you discovered Alexander’s Patisserie? Share your experience in the comments below.last-bite

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