Restaurant Review: Asian Box
Why would anyone order cold, pre-made Chinese food? This question has been tormenting me ever since my visit.
Restaurant: Asian Box
Address: 120 Coulter Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003
Rating: ★ out of 5 stars
Style: Prepared Foods
Atmosphere: Farmer’s Market
Parking: Parking Lot
Price: Under $10
Unique Feature: Asian Box will microwave your order for you, if you choose to eat it at one of the tables.
Last week, I visited Suburban Square. There are so many great little stores and shops, but I just had to go back another time to the Ardmore Farmers’ Market. I entered near DiBruno’s, wandering past the meats and cheeses. I passed banks of beautifully arranged produce, cases of perfectly decorated cakes and even a stall with Smokey Cheesers, the awe-inspiring pig-in-a-pretzel-blanket snack made fresh by the Amish.
While hunting for an ATM, I passed delicious looking pizza, at the ready to be warmed in a brick oven. There were prepared Italian specialties, begging to be brought home and served alongside a loaf of fresh bread.
Pretty much everything in the Market made sense. Pick it up fresh or choose something that’s pre-made, serve it at home or enjoy it right there on the spot.
And then there was Asian Box, this week’s destination. In theory, its theme matched the rest of the market. Prepared foods, available to take home and enjoy, or eat at one of the tables. Its menu items are all laid out in a refrigerated box. They offer an array of pre-made tofu, chicken and fish filets, all there to be paired with an assortment of steamed vegetables, dumplings, rice and slaws. There are also pre-portioned choices, for a grab-and-go.
My friend and I had opted for a variety of what Asian Box had to offer. I chose a veggie dumpling skewer, sweet and sour meatball skewer, a ready made portion of chicken pad mai, and a plate comprised of organic brown rice, baby bok choy and ginger chicken. My friend went with a pre-packaged order of steamed pork dumplings, and a plate of vegetable fried rice, steamed veggies and sesame chicken. Grand total: $31.
The first sign I had that things were about to go terribly awry was when I watched in horror as my lunch was systematically tossed into a pair of microwaves.
I’m not food snob, I swear. I enjoy a good meal, and I’m not too good for microwaved leftovers. But when I order food, I’d presume to have had it heated in a more appropriate manor. Too bad for us, presumption is assumption’s ugly cousin.
We headed for a table and began to unwrap our nuked lunch. I began with the organic rice. Though it was only lukewarm, it had a really nice flavor. I could see picking up a container of this to accompany something I’d bought fresh elsewhere in the Market.
Unfortunately, as I moved on to my bok choy and ginger chicken, the meal took a turn for the worse. The ginger chicken was dry and its glaze still coagulated—it wasn’t heated up nearly enough. Had I been at home, I would’ve thrown it back in the microwave for another minute or two. The bok choy, an Asian veggie favorite of mine, had taken the worst of the pre-steamed-microwave prep, rendering it limp and somehow giving it a plastic celery type flavor.
I moved on to the chicken pad mai; thick rice noodles topped with a few pieces of chicken. The dish reminded me of overcooked, microwaved leftover pasta, which I love, so in that light, it certainly wasn’t the worst of my lunch. Had it been freshly prepared, it would probably have been one of the best dishes I ordered.
The skewer of vegetable dumplings wasn't half bad. I do enjoy a leftover dumpling that’s been nuked. But the sweet and sour meatballs were a travesty; dense, chewy and coated in a heartburn-inducing goo.
My friend’s veggie fried rice tasted like canned green beans, and the steamed vegetables suffered the same limp fate as my bok choy. Similarly, the sesame chicken wasn’t very flavorful or moist; just another cold, glazed, coagulated variation on the theme. I was told that the steamed dumplings were quite good, when they were hot, though I couldn't attest to this claim. They were already cold when I got to them.
The fatal flaw in Asian Box’s concept was pretty simple to identify. They are serving cold, pre-made Chinese food. And while malls have been serving Chinese food for decades, quenching that last-minute Asian craving, Asian Box really missed the mark. Truth be told, a couple of steam tables would do them a world of good.