I am very pleased to announce another new delicious addition to the growing roster of amazing vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles, Shojin. Shojin restaurant is set to open in Little Tokyo by the end of January, but three lucky little L.A. vegan food bloggers (with their bellies still full from the awesome brunch just hours earlier!) got a special invitation to Shojin’s sneak peak menu tasting. Lucky indeed, as this was no ordinary sampler type tasting but a full-on four course meal (with our pick from two options for each course).
From their website: “Located in downtown Los Angeles, Shojin restaurant offers organic and natural meals inspired by “Shojin Cuisine” Japanese traditional vegetarian food. We provide organic and natural foods utilizing seasonal vegetables to create unique and a new style of Japanese food.”
From the moment we arrived, we were treated like royalty. The staff was so nice and so genuinely eager to please. This, coupled by the fact that they had a photographer on hand documenting the event (and our every move), made us feel like we were rockstars. At first the photo thing felt somewhat intrusive (seriously, who want’s their picture taken while they are forking food into their mouth?) but the girl taking pictures was really sweet and after a while we just got used to it. By the end of the evening we had developed a strange sort of silently agreed upon diner-as-celebrity ignoring the paparazzi kind of thing with her.
As soon as we were seated we were presented with a “Welcome” drink of fresh squeezed sugarcane, ginger and cayenne pepper. It was marvelous, a true palate cleanser if I ever had one! Sweet, fiery and totally invigorating. There was also a wide assortment of beverages to pick from after that, and they kept our libations coming all evening long.
The first drink I ordered was the ‘Organic Matcha Genmaicha’. A special blend of Genmaicha with matcha powder, described as “a slightly sweet and highly aromatic tea”. Yes and yes. It had a full and earthy taste, warming and cleansing.
Here’s a picture of the organic iced green tea. These glasses were really cool and felt nice to hold in your hand. By the end of the night, after many refills, I was on a major caffeine buzz.
For the first course of soup, I had the ‘Sweet Kabocha Pumpkin Chowder’ made with soy milk. Sweet and mild, I loved it and left the bowl well cleaned.
For the second course appetizer, I went with the ‘Tempeh Bacon & Cashew Cheese Wrap’. Grilled tempeh, cashew cheese, potato salad, alfalfa and mixed greens wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. This had the potential of being run-of-the-mill but it was actually rather outstanding. The tempeh had the perfect smokey bacon flavor and the cashew cheese dip was just amazing. Nutty and cheesy but still light and fresh tasting.
While my tempeh wrap was the less Japanese of the two appetizer offerings, Your Vegan Mom had the more traditional ‘Shitake Mushroom Genmai Sushi Roll’ with avocado, and it too was most excellentl.
For the third course entree, I was very excited to try the ‘Okara Crab Cake’, “deep fried vegan okara soybean cake with cilantro sauce and kale salad”. I’ve never had real crab cakes before so I can’t compare these to the real thing, but whatever these were meant to taste like, they were amazing. There was no fishy taste, just a perfectly crispy-on-the-outside and chewy-yet-tender-on-the inside pattie of indeterminate yet delicately and screamingly good flavor. The cilantro sauce was exquisite. The kale salad too was wonderful, served with a citrus dressing and topping of oranges and walnuts.
I have since learned the following from the Wikipedia: “Okara or soy pulp is a white or yellowish pulp consisting of insoluble parts of the soybean which remain in the filter sack when pureed soybeans are filtered in the production of soy milk. It is part of the traditional cuisines of Japan, Korea, and China, and since the 20th century has also been used in the vegetarian cuisines of Western nations. On a dry weight basis okara contains 24% protein, 8 to 15% fats,and 12 to 14.5% crude fiber. It contains 17% of the protein from the original soybeans.”
For the last course of dessert I had the ‘Fuji Apple Tarte with Kinako Custard’ and Your Vegan Mom had ordered the ‘Chocolate Cake with Pecans and Walnuts’.
We all felt that both desserts had room for improvement, but while they weren’t our favorites we all also really appreciated their uniqueness and lovely presentation. I’m sure they’ll work out any kinks on the dessert front and offer some treats that are as outstanding as their main courses. As we were leaving we even each recieved a gift of a rose and a bag of healthy Japanese cookies to take home with us (I loved the cookies).
Overall it was such a lovely experience to get to be among the first try out the wonderful offerings at Shojin. I am certain that they are going to be wildly succesful with their approach of preparing fresh, traditional (yet unique) food and presenting it an elegant environment with outstanding service. Shojin will make a perfect destination for either casual lunches or more formal dinners, romantic dates, birthdays and anniversaries, or really any type of occasion where you want hearty, good and healthy food made by people who really mean it. Be sure to keep any eye on their website (or call) to find out when they’ll be open for business: www.theshojin.com
In a few months from now when everyone’s raving about Shojin on Yelp, Chowhound and the like, don’t forget who gave you the scoop first!