By JENSEN LIM LEONG
A new restaurant opened at Campus Plaza called Asian Box in October 2016. It is an Asian fusion of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese food, plus a bit of Mexican ingredients. The restaurant lacks authenticity and is nothing more than a pretty place to eat.
Asian Box models its restaurant very similarly to the format of Chipotle. It takes the same approach by asking each customer to select a starch (rice, noodles or salad), protein (chicken, pork, beef, tofu or shrimp), toppings (bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, jalapenos, shallots, scallion oil, peanuts, herbs and lime) and then one of six sauces. However, it lacks the visual appeal of Chipotle because the food is not “prepared” (even though Chipotle also does very little to prepare their food) in front of the customer, but rather in the back. The odd thing is many of their freezers are visible from the register, destroying any illusion that the food is fresh.
I ordered jasmine rice with beef, crispy shallots, fresh lime squeeze, pickled vegetables and no-oil fish sauce. For a drink, I ordered the Vietnamese iced coffee which altogether cost $12 not including tax. First off, the dish is obviously prepared without any thought or care; it is almost insulting. Dumped into a box, the vegetables fought for my attention but the poor shallots were hidden in a corner because they were seared and burnt like cinders without the smokiness; hence, I almost did not notice them. The beef was extremely chewy, almost like gum. To add insult to injury, the beef was overshadowed by the blandness of the toppings and rice. The fish sauce was tasteless; normally, fish sauce is very pungent with a robust flavor and smell, but the no oil fish sauce was entirely flavorless. This was not the anticipated subtle complex flavor, but a weak one-dimensional mystery brown sauce. I assume this was a marketing ploy to pander to the dietary conscious in order to shave off calories. And to widen the choices, there are five more sauces, which I suspect are just as umami-less, to choose from. It was a meal that was bland overall with a lack of distinct flavor that would compel one to return. On one positive note, the Vietnamese coffee came with free refills, which is great for any caffeine addict.
The restaurant’s design intended to make its customers feel the authenticity of the food. In fact, on its takeout menu, the Asian Box touts that its food is made with “genuine street cart spirit.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. The atmosphere is far from any food that can be found on the streets of a bustling and crowded city in Asia. Asian Box presents a more stylized urban look with a modern feel, more Western than Asian. Their logo has a stereotypical street food cart to emphasize that they are the food of the people as opposed to the elite to lend some authenticity to the image. Everything about the Asian Box is presented with cliché décor, with ingredients typically attributed to Asian cuisine to create the “authentic Asian experience” for the consumer. Instead of this false authenticity, Asian Box should attempt to more accurately respect the culture of the places they advertise.
In my opinion, Asian Box fails to deliver on the promise of an authentic Asian fusion flavor.