It’s far too often that eating out becomes a sneaky way to help yourself to a greasy meal. Deep fried items and sugary sauces taste far better than anything we could have conjured up at home, and the lack of nutritional information makes us feel like we’re in the clear for ordering once-healthy items that arrive at the table drowning in fats and excess seasonings. Does treating yourself really have to be about risking your health? What if eating out was less about gluttonous gorging and more about cleansing your system?
Enter Souen– a NYC-based macrobiotic restaurant that’s been serving up Japanese inspired clean-cuisine since 1971! Souen boasts three separate downtown locations in the city and each one features a slightly different menu. If a bento box of Tofu Okabe, brown rice, hijiki, and homemade pickles is what you crave, make a pit stop at Souen Union Square. If stir fry or stew sounds more up your alley, hit up Souen Soho. We decided to cozy up to the East Village Souen for some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and the East Village location specialty– ramen.
Souen feels hip inside. The restaurants are softly lit, and not too fancy, with modern wooden detailing that acts well against the handwritten chalk board specials mounted on walls and folding signs. Come meal time, Souen fills up quickly with in-the-know neighborhood dwellers of every age looking to catch a fresh meal at a realistic price.
When Souen began, macrobiotic eating was considered a fad diet. In reality, this way of thinking about food just needed to catch on. According to the Souen website, the macrobiotic, or large/long life diet, is all about eating well-balanced meals of unprocessed foods.
“But what does unrefined and unprocessed mean? It means for example, eating whole foods such as vegetables together with their skins and stems. It means not eating husked, processed rice but whole grain brown rice. It means, we living people should eat from a living land – taking food in season, in its entirety.”
The cuisine is often local, in season, and vegan with the exception of fish. The dishes feel pure and the ingredients are celebratory and colorful. The low amount of seasoning used in each dish allow the ingredients to be savored in their true form rather than manipulated into being something they are not. All in all, it’s a really beautiful way of eating.
We started our macro meal with two hearty slices of Gluten Free Cornbread with Apple Butter ($3.50). The bread is warm and nutty with whole pieces of fresh corn throughout. Mildly sweet, the hearty taste is complimented by a tang from the apple butter. This untraditional appetizer is perfect on a cold night, and makes for an affordable and filling snack any time of the day.
Our White Sesame Ramen ($12.50) arrived in a heavy ceramic bowl piled high with japanese vegetables and seaweed, plus cabbage, carrots, and leeks. The dense wheat noodles curled beautifully at the bottom, and the peppery watercress garnish was both delicious and decorative. Souen offers over 10 kinds of ramen with wheat and gluten-free noodle options, and a list of add-ins including tofu, beans, fish, and extra vegetables, making this a highly customizable meal option. The ramen broth is of course msg-free, but don’t be afraid to ask for table salt if the flavor is too light for you.
The real star of Souen’s menu, however, is the Macro Plate ($8.75). The menu describes the dish as “An ideal balance of steamed green kale, steamed vegetables, brown rice, beans and seaweed w/ choice of dressing” and that it is. Macro Plates are served up at all three Souen locations and, despite their simplicity, they remain a cult favorite among the restaurants enthusiasts. A typical Macro Plate includes brown rice, seaweed, a slice of tender kabocha squash, a couple chunks of steamed carrot, steamed broccoli florets, a pile of steamed kale, and a rotating bean of the day. The variety of dressings lend just the right amount of flavor to this uncomplicated dish. The meal leaves you feeling nourished, energized, and clean. For an extra boost, take our tip and add on steamed tofu.
To cap off the meal, we split a fruity slice of blueberry tofu pie. A wheaty crust and a jam-like filling made for a not-too-sweet treat that didn’t weigh us down. Also available in strawberry or chocolate, look for it on the specials menu.
Souen is a lovable NYC staple that has been winning over health food lovers for decades. If you haven’t visited yet, why not give it a try tonight?
Location: New York City (210 Sixth Ave at Prince St / 28 East 13th Street / 26 East 6th Street)
Price: $$ ($15-$25 average per person)
Cuisine: Macrobiotic, Japanese
Special Diet: pescetarian, vegan, gluten-free
Atmosphere: hip, comfortable, modern, traditional, home-like, clean, stylish, busy
Pay: cash and cards accepted