Guests will soon know the answer to the question “What’s in Your Box?” when San Francisco’s FK Restaurants & Hospitality debuts its innovative Asian Box concept in Palo Alto, California, in February 2012.
Inspired by Asian street food carts, Asian Box will showcase traditional cooking methods and recipes made with fresh and local ingredients.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Grace Nguyen–formerly of Charles Phan’s acclaimed Slanted Door and Out The Door–Asian Box effortlessly fuses Western locavore cuisine with the colorful, flavorful foods found throughout Southeast Asia.
Setting a new bar within the quickly growing fast-casual category of restaurants, Asian Box’s menu and facility are completely gluten-free, fulfilling CEO Frank Klein’s desire to offer guests an authentic dining experience that is fun, exciting, healthy, and quickly dtam sang, or made to order.
Klein and his partners will open two additional Asian Box locations in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012.
“I love Asian cuisine but have always found it challenging to find places offering fresh and authentic menus, especially in the fast-casual sector,” Klein says. “Asian Box evolved from the idea of the kind of restaurant I’d want to eat at and introduce to my family and friends.”
Asian Box’s approach is summed up in its playful tagline: “What’s in Your Box?” These four words refer not only to the compostable packaging in which the cuisine is served, but also reference the importance of knowing how the food gets to the plate.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in a fine-dining restaurant or a grab-and-go shop,” Klein says. “More and more, people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s being prepared.”
Asian Box is not only completely gluten-free; it is also a green restaurant using compostable materials and energy efficient practices.
“It’s people-healthy and earth-friendly,” says Klein.
Bringing influences from her Vietnamese heritage to the table, Nguyen has worked with FK Restaurants & Hospitality’s Culinary Director Chad Newton to craft a menu that focuses on flavor and fresh ingredients with fast execution.
“Quickly served food remains in high demand, but there has been a shift in diner preferences,” Nguyen says. “They want food that’s raised responsibly, sourced locally, and prepared fresh.”
Authenticity is also an important aspect for Nguyen, who learned traditional cooking methods and recipes from her Vietnamese grandmother.
Asian Box’s exciting menu offers a variety of tasty options that feature items guests might find at a street cart, while simplifying the ordering process. With menu items starting at $7.25, Asian Box allows guests to create their own “boxes” by selecting from a number of ingredients.
Diners are invited to choose from the Asian Salad, Noodles & Savory Vegetable Broth, Brown Rice Bowl, or White Rice Bowl, and add main events such as Range Raised Coconut Soaked Pork, All Natural Six Spice Marinated Beef, and Cornmeal and Herbed Baked Tofu.
A selection of steamed vegetables, broths, vinegar-soaked peppers, eggs, and more than a dozen complimentary condiments allow guests to create a box based on their preferences and experience a different combination every time they visit.
Housemade condiments include Asian Box Housemade Sriracha, Asian Box Tamarind BBQ Sauce, and Asian Box StreetDust, a top secret blend of exotic herbs and spices.
The crown jewel of housemade sauces for Asian Box is the “HotBoxIt” sauce ($.75), made from California-grown Asian peppers. Nguyen’s explosive wok blend of peppers, peppercorns, and chili oils, “HotBoxIt” sauce is not for the timid and is guaranteed to add some fire to the dish.
These sauces, along with Asian Box StreetDust, will be bottled and available in-store, online, and at local retailers.
For guests who want to expand on the traditional boxes, specialty sides include the Shrimp or Tofu Spring Rollwith sweet and sour or spicy red dipping sauce ($1.95); Asian Slaw ($1.95); a selection of pickled vegetables ($1.95); and Dried Fruit and Lemongrass Oil ($2.95).
Asian Box will also offer a selection of housemade artisanal beverages such as Lime Soda with Lemongrass, Thai Iced Tea, and Iced Vietnamese Coffee($2.95). In late 2012, guests will be able to imbibe from a special menu of wines and Asian beers, all of which will be gluten-free.
Located in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village, Asian Box appeals to a broad demographic of diners, from students at nearby Stanford University to corporations and medical centers.
“The partners chose Palo Alto as the first location for many reasons,” Klein says.
“The interest by Venture Capitalists in the concept showed that we had struck a chord. The fast-casual segment is on fire and we felt that Palo Alto, the birthplace of so many creative concepts and the center for education and technology, was the right environment in which to change the way people think about Asian food in the U.S.”
Designed in partnership with San Francisco’s Rubber Design, Asian Box combines the inviting atmosphere of a neighborhood dining spot with the exciting, visual touches of a food cart in a bustling metropolis.
The restaurant’s interior is both fun and energetic while comfortable and welcoming. This balance of elements is also reflected in the materials used in construction and design. The dining area is juxtaposed with recycled steel elements, vintage Asian light fixtures, and pressed bamboo along the counters.
Guests can get the feel for eating at a street cart by enjoying Asian Box items at stand-up communal tables or at 25 outdoor seats while listening to the sound of Asian pop music playing from vintage megaphone speakers.
A variety of other cultural elements are utilized throughout the space, including Vietnamese food-related slogans on the walls and doors covered with more than six Asian languages for “enter” and “exit,” hand painted in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more.
Asian Box in Palo Alto is currently pursuing green restaurant certification from the Green Restaurant Association. For more information, please visit www.asianboxpaloalto.com , www.facebook.com/AsianBoxEats , or follow @AsianBox  on Twitter.