When I was younger, I had no sense of nutrition. I ate terribly unhealthy things—tons of fast food—all the time. Taco Bell and Denny’s were freaking delicious to me. Cringe. Then, I got older and realized that, for one, most fast food is not actually food, and two, healthy stuff is more satisfying in the long run.
Who would have thought?
That’s not to say I don’t indulge. As demonstrated frequently on this blog, I can be a major grubber. I love burgers, ice cream, most anything involving bacon, and other food stuff that sins are made of. I’m just more balanced now, and I mostly steer clear of the over-processed mumbo jumbo that they’re allowed to call food these days.
Restaurant eating is also something that I try to keep in check. It’s tough because it happens to be my favorite pastime, but it also happens that I like my arteries. A chef I know once told me that if most people saw the amount of oil used on even “healthy” dishes—even in the best restaurants—they’d be shocked. Let’s not even get started on salt.
Lucky for us, places like Shojin exist. The Downtown LA restaurant specializes in traditional Japanese-inspired vegetarian food, but not in a bland, boring way. The dishes at Shojin are simple, for sure, but also flavorful enough to give you that delicious happy feeling. Okay, not a bacon-happy feeling, but certainly one less fleeting.
Shojin offers a huge menu that includes ramen, sushi and decadent appetizers like gyoza, spicy fried tofu, and okara cakes, so you can still get your deep fry on. When I was there I tried the Ume Sea Vegetable Roll wrapped in soy paper. The avocado was plentiful and added good balance to the tart ume paste. I liked that the roll wasn’t overrun with rice. They also do vegetarian takes on caterpillar, rainbow, and tempura rolls.
I also really enjoyed the Barbeque Seitan. The presentation is really beautiful at shojin, but as delicate as this dish looks, it was actually somewhat hearty—the “wheat meat” is pan fried and doused with soy barbeque sauce.
The Raw Appetizer Trio was right up my alley. Who knew marinated tomatoes on onion crisps could be so scrumptious? And the crimson beet sandwich with orange cashew cream was surprisingly substantial. The meaty Portobello hid a sizeable pile of pickled cauliflower so tangy that it hurt. In the best way.
I hope I convinced you to give Shojin a try. It won’t kill you.