Grain Bowls of Your Lunchtime Dreams, at Srasa Kitchen
- Jacqueline Raposo
- 3 Min Read
Chef Brandon Poon’s first restaurant, Buffalo, had a loyal following. Diners adored his menu of upscale takes on burgers, steamed bao buns, and craft beers. So, it seemed counterintuitive to close that restaurant, but that’s what Poon did. After a quick redesign of the space, he reopened it as Srasa Kitchen, a fast-casual, pan-Asian restaurant that serves quick, one-bowl meals of fresh ingredients.
Why the switch from Buffalo’s fine dining to Srasa Kitchen’s grab-and-go meals? Brandon Poon’s business instinct kicked in. He realized that Buffalo’s full-service model was so involved it slowed down service. He could not turn tables around fast enough to significantly grow business. And, because the rented space was small, his staff could only wait on a limited number of customers at a time. Something had to give. So, Poon developed a new concept and adopted a fast-casual model that allowed diners to eat excellent food, fast.
The fast-casual model is quickly becoming an industry trend, the Washington Post reports. Even “chefs and restaurateurs with fine-dining pedigrees have entered the fast-casual trade.” Operators like Brandon Poon are realizing that people have less time for lengthy dine-in meals. People want to dine at a casual environment and they want their meals to be excellent.
The term “fast-casual” conjures familiar chains and cafeteria-style restaurants like Chipotle Mexican Grill. But now chefs of more pedigreed backgrounds are delivering that model with unexpected flavors, photogenic food, and trending ingredients, according to the Washington Post report. Chef Brandon Poon falls in that camp.
“I built this concept from a perspective of temperature, texture, and flavor,” Poon said of Srasa Kitchen’s Southeast Asian menu. He uses the grain bowl (a one-bowl meal full of chewy grains, salad, or noodles) to deliver the beautiful sweet, savory, and aromatic flavors typical of the cuisine. “But it’s not what you expect when you get a bowl of food,” he said.
Srasa Kitchen’s signature one-bowl meal layers your choice of hot jasmine rice, salad, or cold vermicelli noodles with meat or tofu, vegetables, and pickles. (Poon says the cold noodles contrast the hot toppings and also stay firm). The customizable bowls can be topped with grilled beef short ribs, tofu, or lemongrass chicken. The bowl then gets a drizzle of soy-ginger vinaigrette or curry. Raw vegetable toppings add color, textural contrast, and tons of flavor. A garnish of peanuts provides crunch.
Brandon Poon’s other recipes complement his signature one-bowl meals. Succulent, crispy pork belly is marinated, slow roasted, and flash-fried before it’s tossed in hoisin, a sweet Asian sauce. The curry on the menu is his mother’s recipe—a thick coconut cream is imported specifically for the dish.
The flavors of Srasa Kitchen are uniquely Southeast Asian. The kitchen freshly pounds and juices lemongrass. They grind fresh herbs and use aromatics typical of the cuisine, such as sour kaffir limes and warming galangal, a member of the ginger family. Chicken is marinated overnight with these ingredients to develop complex flavors. Every item at Srasa Kitchen is made in-house by employees, many of whom have been working with Poon for ten years.
“We don’t skimp [on quality] because of price, even in our fast-casual setting,” Poon explained. “What keeps our business strong and in high demand is that we do everything from scratch.”
For those who want Srasa Kitchen’s refined flavors for the office, the restaurant also offers business catering. On its catering menu, you’ll find one-bowl meals and other items suited for board meetings and office parties and lunches.
Poon says Srasa Kitchen makes great catering because items like its grain bowls can travel well and sit on a buffet table without losing integrity. Its customizable one-bowl meals are a great option for people with food allergies or dietary restrictions, too. Poon adds that building a freshly cooked grain bowl is a whole lot of fun.
While Brandon Poon may “eventually go back into the field” of fine-dining concepts, he’s pretty happy where he is now: in a family business, with dedicated employees, cooking chef-driven food at breakneck speed. It makes people happy to eat at Srasa Kitchen. A fine concept, indeed.
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