Gluten Free Palo Alto California Asian Box Restaurant Review

March 11th, 2012 yum Posted in Bay Area, Palo Alto, Restaurant Review, Vietnamese 2 Comments »

Asian Box
Town and Country Shopping Center
855 El Camino Real #21 Palo Alto, Ca.

The Celiac Bay Area Yahoo support group has been hopping lately with the news of a new restaurant in Palo Alto with a completely gluten-free menu. Not only is everything in the restaurant naturally gluten-free, but it is a vietnamese-influenced asian menu that is often off limits to gluten-free diners due to wheat based soy sauce. They use gluten-free wheat-free soy sauce at the Asian Box, and seem to be very dedicated to creating a safe and delicious dining experience for their gluten-free patrons. Their menu is the creation of “Executive Chef Grace Nguyen, formerly of Charles Phan’s famous Slanted Door and Out The Door’s Bush Street location.” (Asian Box Web Site)

They just opened recently, and the restaurant is not completely finished yet, with inside tables missing their counters at present. Do you see the big gluten-free sign on the wall? Small details like that really make me feel comfortable eating at a restaurant. Besides that, the staff is young, helpful and cheerful and the food is fast and absolutely delicious. Speaking of the food, the menu isn’t on their web site, which is currently as sparse as the inside of the restaurant seating area. However, I found a photo on twitter that shared the menu, so here it is for you to enjoy:
Asian Box Menu:
Pick a base :
Short Grain Brown Rice
Long grain Jasmine Rice
Asian Vegetable Salad
Rice Noodles
Pick a protein:
Chicken (6 spice)
Pork (lemongrass)
Beef (garlic and soy sauce)
Tofu (coconut curry)
Shrimp (Lime Basil)

Finally, Top with Vegetables (steamed or spiced), and pick as many garnishes as you like (jalapeno, bean sprout, fried shallots, scallion oil, chopped peanuts, fresh herbs, pickled veggies, fresh lime, and caramel egg).
Then pick a sauce from tamarind, sriracha, fish sauce, Asian street dust, hot box sauce, and peanut sauce.

A few of the toppings (caramel egg, peanut sauce) cost extra, but otherwise your meal price is based on the protein you select.

I picked the coconut curry tofu and paired it with brown rice, peanut sauce, and all the garnishes except jalapeno and caramel egg. I also had them add the “Asian Street Dust”, a spice blend.

This was the finished dish. When it arrived, I dove in enthusiastically and was not at all disappointed. As the DH said, this dish had some of my favorite flavors and could have been something I made at home, but with a little more variety added by the pickled vegetables and bean sprouts. The fried tofu was perfect, and I loved the combination of flavors. I have always been jealous of the DH when he goes to vietnamese sandwich shops here, not so much because of the sandwich but because of the yummy and interesting pickles that he gets to add on to his order. I was making “nom nom nom” noises just like the Youtube cat, and ended up having a friendly conversation with another diner who said she had heard from Vietnamese friends to “watch for Asian Box” because it will have really authentic and tasty food. She loved it too! You can also order slushee machine type vietnamese coffee (that some reviewers on Yelp said had a chickory taste), iced tea, and lemonade. We just stuck with water, though. I will definitely be back. One thing I would say is that I don’t know if the other dishes will be as perfect for me as this one was. However, I’m eager to try the different bases like the rice noodles, and can’t wait to try the side spring rolls, although I may be harder to impress with those because they are so easy to make at home. Although it isn’t my thing, other people on the Celiac Bay Area boards also raved about the (non veg) jerky.

Town and Country is turning into quite the gluten-free destination with Calafia and its gluten-free menu, Trader Joe’s, and now Asian Box. The latter is bound to turn into my go-to place to eat in Palo Alto. I will note that it isn’t the most filling portion ever, but actually, given the tendency of fast food restaurants to overload their customers with empty calories, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Wouldn’t you like to have some?

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Gluten-free Vegan Almond Kale Recipe and Calafia Palo Alto Review

February 5th, 2012 yum Posted in Bay Area, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Kale, Nuts, Soy Free, Vegan 11 Comments »

This winter has been a hard one for our family at the house of yum. It seems like every week, Toddler Yum comes down with a new illness. The most recent one resulted in my mom and then me coming down with a miserable case of pneumonia. I would certainly like to give my lungs a piece of my mind. What do they think they are doing, throwing in the towel and inviting buggies in to build a home like that? It did make me think a bit about what I should be doing, rather than what I have been doing, to maintain my health. For example… I have to admit, although I’ve never been that much of a sweets girl, ever since I got pregnant with Toddler Yum, I have developed something of a chocolate habit. I like the dark stuff, mind you, none of that nasty sickeningly sweet candy bar or drugstore chocolate box chocolates for me! But still, even though dark chocolate supposedly has some beneficial properties, it contains sugar that I know very well doesn’t do anything good for me. In fact, when I eat sugar, the crash makes me cranky and feel a little bit like someone is scratching my brain, ever so annoyingly. Do any of you ever get that feeling? Maybe it is just me.

But anyway, getting sick and not having the energy to cook good (or bad) food for myself did make me think about my diet and the things that I know are good for me and make me feel good. I stopped the chocolate habit cold turkey, and turned towards the good stuff. Kale is one of those things that makes me feel good. I like to buy it from Whole Foods because they have organic kale in all kinds of varieties, or even better, from the Farmer’s Market when it is in season. The other day, though, the DH took me to my follow up-checkup on my lungs (because he is a sweetie) and I was feeling so much better that we decided to get lunch out together.

Calafia Cafe

Town & Country Village Suite 130
855 El Camino Real (at Embarcadero Road)
Palo Alto California
(650) 322-9200

I had read about Calafia Palo Alto being a good restaurant with a gluten-free menu, and I’d passed it numerous times in the Palo Alto Town and Country square, but I’d never actually eaten there. Half of the restaurant is a deli, and I’m easily intimidated by delis. However, the other half of the restaurant is a nice, sit-down restaurant with menus, and we decided to get a table. I was happy to see the gluten-free labeml on many of their dishes, but weirdly enough, I was even happier to see that they split the menu in half between vegetarian and omnivore options. They even labeled their vegan dishes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually that hungry because I had eaten a very full and nutritious breakfast (leftover Dal made my the DH the night before, my hero!). But I decided to order their Braised Greens with Almond Butter, which they describe on their menu as: “rainbow swiss chard, sautéed with shallots, glazed with cider vinegar and finished with a vegan turmeric scented almond butter,
dried cranberries and walnuts.” The small dish that arrived wasn’t very dramatic, but when I took a bite I could literally feel my blood being supercharged with nutrition. The funny thing is, I wasn’t completely in love with the balance of flavor. I could taste cayenne more than turmeric in the almond butter, and was a trifle spicy for me after years of cooking for a DH with a sensitive tummy and now a toddler who despises spiciness. At the same time, I felt so good as I ate it and I was ultimately very happy with it. It was also novel because it was both like something I might cook for myself but at the same time not with the exact balance of flavor I would choose. How often can you go out to eat and feel like you’re getting a more nutritious meal than you would have at home? That is why I fell in love with this restaurant and would go back in a heartbeat. They had an intriguing assortment of specialty smoothie beverages, and tons of entrees and other dishes marked gluten-free and vegetarian. The DH was also happy, although he ordered a gluten menu item of what he called a “salad pizza”- a pizza with goat and blue cheese with a gorgeous pile of arugula on top. (They don’t offer gluten-free pizza, but plenty of other places do so I didn’t mind.)

I did some reading and found out that Calafia was started by a chef named Charlie Ayers that was the head chef at Google for six years after being a caterer for the Grateful Dead. Not only that, but he has his own book called Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google. According to the booklist description, “Raw, organic, and fermented is Charlie s mantra, which is reflected in more than 90 easy-to-prepare recipes, whether it s a Kick-start Breakfast, a Power Lunch, or a Light, Bright Dinner. And, following the world-famous formula Charlie used at Google headquarters, the meals and snacks are designed to feed your brain exactly what it needs at different points throughout the workday.” It has been a while since I went to a restaurant that I found as exciting as this one, and after reading more about the chef I can understand why. It isn’t a raw-foods cookbook, and not even a vegetarian cookbook, but I was intrigued enough by the description that I ordered a used copy for myself. I’ll let you know how I like it!

Anyway, their braised green recipe with almond sauce was a delightful restaurant offering and also got me thinking about how I might try my own (very different) version when I brought home some tasty organic kale from the farmer’s market this weekend. Here’s my take on it, which met with approval from my omnivorous dad and allergy-sensitive mother. Toddler Yum found it to be too much green for her, but since she scarfs down raw broccoli, cauliflower, and roasted chickpeas, I think I’ll overlook this temporary disdain for kale. It took me some years to develop a love affair with kale, after all, and now it is my favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu item! I hope you enjoy this recipe for a vegan almond sauce kale recipe as much as we did.

Looking for more kale-almond recipes?
Addictive Vegan Kale Salad
Kale Almond Pesto
Almond Crunch Kale Chips
Chopped Kale Salad with Toasted Almonds
Just Plain Scrumptious Kale Recipes:
Cashew Creamed Kale Recipe
Kale and toor Dal
Kale in Puttanesca Sauce
Gluten-free Cornmeal Dumplings with Red Beans and Kale
Gluten-free Stuffing with Kale, Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms
Kale with Pine Nuts and Raisins
Vegetarian Lasagna with Kale and Cheese
Feta Breakfast Kale

Hey, I’m in the running for the Circle of Moms Top 25 Vegan and Vegetarian Mom Blogger Award!

You can vote once per blog every 24 hours until February 14th at 8pm EST. I’d love to make it to the final count!

Almond Butter Kale Recipe
2 tsp. grapeseed or olive oil
1 small to medium bunch of kale, rinsed and dried with spine cut out, chopped
3 tbsp. diced onion

1/4 cup roasted almond butter
2 tbsp. hot water or more for desired texture
1 tsp. agave nectar, maple syrup, honey (look for neutral flavored honey), or simple syrup
1 tsp. lime or lemon juice
herbamare or your favorite salt blend
dash cayenne pepper or paprika

Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet on medium high and add your chopped kale leaves. I like to pan fry them until they get browned and dry in patches, but you can cook them to your preference. When almost done, add your diced onion to the pan and saute until translucent.

Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Add more hot water if needed to have a sauce you can pour.

When kale and onions are done, put into an attractive bowl and drizzle generously with sauce. Fold sauce into the kale until evenly distributed and serve.

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