An interesting new fast-casual concept has sprung up in a strip mall in Burbank. The Chipotle motif (based on the Subway motif) is continuing to gain traction in dining culture but mostly with Mexican-style foods. This restaurant, called the Asian Project or TAP for short, uses foods and flavors of Southeast Asia in their made-to-order bowls and buns. It's a healthy, filling and different fast-food lunch option.
The bowls are your best bet here. Following their 1-2-3-4 sequence, you start with your choice of brown rice, white rice, rice noodles, rice noodles or lettuce piled into a big cardboard bowl. Second choose your protein: chicken or steak satay, teriyaki meatballs, slow-braised five-spice beef or tofu in black bean sauce. Next comes the sauce: hot red curry (not really hot), peanut sauce, teriyaki, satay glaze, or one of two unique tangy vinaigrettes, tamarind or fish sauce.
The toppings are where TAP departs from the usual. Fresh mango slaw, curried corn relish, grilled zucchini and bell pepper, pickled cucumbers and red onion, Asian pico de gallo, julienned carrots and radishes, fresh cilantro and mint, and bean sprouts are piled on top in any combination you request with sprinkles of crushed peanuts and crispy noodles, if you like.
I've tried four different variations now and I'm clear on my favorite. The chicken satay with brown rice and red curry sauce (with shots of Sriracha) is satisfying and delicious. I get all the toppings. By the time I've reached the bottom of the sizable bowl I feel I've eaten my daily rainbow of fruits and vegetables and enjoyed every bite.
Teriyaki meatballs, another good choice, are sweet and tender. The steak satay is flavorful but some pieces are too chewy. Still it makes for a good steak salad when combined with romaine, cool rice noodles and tamarind vinaigrette with lime, ginger and chili.
Vegetarians will enjoy big slices of tofu steamed in veggie broth and black bean paste. Those concerned about purity will appreciate that all meats are raised without added hormones or antibiotics and most vegetables are organic. Bowls and plates are made of compostable or recyclable materials. Gluten-free eaters can eat pretty much everything in the restaurant. Except the yummy wheat and rice flour buns.
Delicious stuffed with their five-spice, hand-pulled beef, the puffy, soft, round buns are TAP's alternative to tacos. They come three to a plate with a salad alongside made from choices at the toppings bar. They further suggest wrapping each "taco" in fresh cut lettuce. Sauce comes on the side.
Sauces are made regularly throughout the day but they can be on the runny side. I'm not sure if this is a cost-cutting measure or a way to keep the fat content down (or both). In any case, the rice sops it up the best. With rice noodles or lettuce you can be left with a watery bottom of the bowl.
The environment is comfortable with a long communal table or seats at the window. Alternative music plays softly on the sound system. There is no drink machine but there is free cold lemon water as well as cans of unique beverages.
The owners of the Asian Project hope to expand their "Construct Your Own Project Bowl" concept to multiple locations. For now you can check out their one and only location in Burbank.
Where: 1001 N. San Fernando Road, Ste. 130, Burbank.
When: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: Bowls and buns $8.98
Contact: (818) 736-5037
LISA DUPUY has reviewed area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.