Shophouse Kitchen is the newest brainchild of Steve Ells, who founded the hugely successful Chipotle chain. He’s now taken the same formula (vessel, filling, toppings) and applied it to Southeast Asian cuisine. The prototype is in Washington, DC and though no expansion plans have yet been announced, I would be shocked if that’s not where this is headed.
The concept is oh so clever..and obvious. It begs the question of why no one has done this before. This is the natural progression of Ells’ original idea..and it works beautifully.
As with Chipotle, diners go through an assembly line and tell the server what they want at each step of the process. Bowls are filled with chilled rice noodles, brown or white rice, or lettuce. A bun for a Banh Mi sandwich is the non-bowl option.
Vegetable choices include spicy charred corn, asparagus, blistered green beans, or eggplant and Thai basil. If you want to try more than one vegetable, they’ll gladly give you two half-portions, or you can pay a little extra for multiple full portions.
Sauces include red curry, green curry or tamarind vinaigrette, the latter of which is presumably for a salad or to drizzle on a sandwich. The server warned us before ladling on the red curry that it was quite spicy, and she was right. I LOVE spicy food and, though this wasn’t too spicy for me, I think it would be for the majority of consumers. I had no need for one of the bottles of sriracha sauce that was so artfully displayed on the wall.
Pickled vegetables, papaya slaw and fresh herb salad add some crunch and, finally, you can complete the bowl with one of several toppings— toasted rice, crispy garlic, or crushed peanuts.
The restaurant itself is quite narrow so seating space is rather limited, but we found a seat without delay, as it was a Saturday and undoubtedly less crowded than during the week. We wasted no time digging in, albeit without chopsticks, which is the only thing that could have improved the overall experience. As my husband pointed out, every mouthful had different flavors and textures, and since the combination of ingredients is almost limitless, it’s practically inconceivable that boredom would ever set in even after multiple visits.
Steve Ells, if you are reading this–please come to Kansas City. Our residents have sophisticated and adventurous palates, and we would embrace your new venture wholeheartedly.