Nothing says "Los Angeles" quite like an all-vegan, macrobiotic, Japanese restaurant that spent last weekend hosting a St. Patrick's Day performance by a drag queen with a Hispanic name (Tia Wanna).
Add these to the reasons to venture downtown to Shojin Organic & Natural. Another one is that the dishes coming out of the kitchen at Shojin are unlike anything you'll find at most restaurants - not counting Shojin's Culver City location, of course.
For starters, there's the gluten- and onion-garlic-free spicy "tuna" on crispy rice. Finding vegan fish on a restaurant menu is not unlike having a bag full of money falling through your roof and onto your couch - you want it to happen, but the odds are seriously against you.
Except at Shojin, where that eight-piece appetizer really exists. A fried brown rice cracker serves as the base while an avocado slice, the spicy faux tuna and jalapeno create an unusual-yet-delicious blend of crunchy smoothness with a kick. This potential conundrum pretty much defines Shojin, a word in Japanese that must mean "you can do that?"
Adventurous types should order the Yellow Magic Orchestra because it's not everyday you get the chance to taste curry and pumpkin in the same bite, at least in something other than a traditional curry. The gluten-, -onion, -garlic and sesame-free plate comes with pumpkin tempura and curry spiced tempeh atop a green vegetable roll with karashi mustard and sweet soy sauces.
If that's too many ingredients to read, imagine what it must be like to eat. For the unimaginative, it's a lot of flavor to process at once. The curry hits almost instantly, but the pumpkin comes in right when you think, "Hey, where's the pumpkin?" What any of those ingredients has to do with a "yellow magic orchestra" is your guess as much as ours.
The back page of Shojin's menu is a list of recommended dishes, which is handy, but there's no better way to know what to order than asking a server. Do so and you'll probably be told to get the Crunchy Tiger, Hidden Dragon roll. The menu claims this meal is named after "a classic movie," but one bite of the barbecue seitan, tempura asparagus and avocado with crunchy tempura batter, wasabi-mayo and sweet soy sauce and you'll wonder if the film isn't named after the food.
About two pieces in, you'll remember your server telling you most people are stuffed by the time they complete it. That said, finish the friggin' thing because it's really, really good. The wasabi-mayo walks you up to the edge of "ohmygawdthisistoodamnhot" but never pushes you off the cliff, which is exactly what any sort of hot sauce/spice/mayo/etc. should do, while the combination of the avocado and seitan is filling with a captial F.
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Shojin also boasts an impressive list of booze, but you know you're in a special restaurant when you don't want to give away precious stomach space for a buzz.