What’s Japanese, macrobiotic, organic and totally yum (except for the desserts)? If you answered Souen Ramen, well… you’re right. :D
This restaurant is the perfect place to take a date or even just to hang with the girls/guys. With an aesthetically pleasing interior, warm muted lighting and an immaculately-kept bathroom complete with toothpicks, Souen impress the eye and the senses.
The service at Souen is not always speedy quick, since the St. Marks location is quite popular during the nighttime dinner service. During one visit, one employee was manning the register, waiting on tables and addressing the needs of each customer, with about two other waitresses. This turned out to be a bit disconcerting since he attended to another table in the middle of taking our order. This I think was highly unprofessional. Please hire some more capable staff! However, he was at least polite, if not a bit worn thin from the stress of it all.
St. Marks Location interior
This dish came straight from the Lunch Menu, which is available from opening to 4 PM. It comes with a choice of one of four side dishes (I always pick the Kale with garlic) and one of three noodle options (you can pick what kind of noodles you desire: ramen, soba, udon, etc), all for $10! Very reasonable.
The kale is tenderly cooked and lightly sauteed with garlic and sesame oil.
I chose the green curry option. The soup base was light, with just the right amount of spiciness (you can adjust this) and curry flavor. There was an acceptable amount of noodles, not too generous, but not skimpy either. There were plenty of bean sprouts and assorted vegetables in mine, which makes up for the smaller amount of noodles. Overall I really enjoyed this dish for the price I paid. 4 out of 5 carrots.
Here we have the Vegetable Bibimbap. I thought that the portions on this were a bit small, considering it was $12, though certainly it’s not a rip-off on the level that Pure Food & Wine was. Basically, you get what you see. An appetizer-sized portion of each vegetable neatly assembled on a cute zen-style serving platter. Since this dish was a bit un-inventive, I give it a 2 out of 5 and think it would be wise to pass on it and do try the lunch menu instead!
This starts the East Village review. The decor here is a bit more muted and the dining area is marginally more spacious than the St. Marks locale. However, I prefer the atmosphere of St. Marks to this one, which is more of an “eh, I guess I’ll eat here tonight” kind of vibe. At least there are two separate bathrooms.
The service here is also blah. Though they are nice, the waitresses are a bit stand-offish but they do the job, I suppose.
Kanten Creamy Parfait: It sounds fancy, but it tastes like slop. though the menu lauds its “natural sweetener” and makes it sound oh-so-creamy, it really is bland, tasteless and gooey mushy. The “fruit” tastes like it was reduced to the point of not needing teeth to eat it. Really, this “dessert” would fit in perfectly on the Sunday early-bird specials menu at an assisted living home. I say .5 out of 5 since there was at least granola.
The “NYC Tofu Cheesecake Pie” was slightly better in consistency, but not by much. I actually swapped my dessert with my date because I hated the Kanten (sorry :D) and ended up eating this instead. It too was pretty bland and unexciting. I guess Souen doesn’t think much of NYC in light of this sorry rendition of “cheesecake”. 1 out of 5.
Back in St. Marks for another go (maybe I’m obsessed?)! It was a busy Saturday night and the restaurant was packed. The wait was not so bad, about 10 minutes.
Here we have the White Miso. I got mine with whole wheat soba and it was very hearty and minimally salted so you can add as much as you like. There were plenty of vegetables and I guess more noodles this time since I wasn’t ordering from the lunch menu. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and ate everything in my bowl. 4 out of 5 carrots.
This Mushroom and Seitan dish was quite the disappointment. Mushy, gloppy and altogether none too appetizing, I kinda expected more from the description but I guess not everything can be a winner (I am starting to believe the only tasty dishes are the noodle ones). They added much too much mushroom gravy and not enough seasoning. I would pass on this one. 2 out of 5 carrots.
Ok so I probably should have known better than to order dessert again from Souen but I believe in second chances, so I gave it another go. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out so bad. The Black Sesame Ice Cream pictured here was actually creamy, not too sweet and full of crunchy granola (I love granola!). It felt as if they had made it themselves with an ice cream machine, but whether they really did or not I wouldn’t know (will ask next time). There was an ample amount of black sesame powder mixed in with the creamy vanilla-like base which I thought went together quite harmoniously. Too bad there was only one scoop! 4 out of 5 carrots.
Ok, so here is the real disaster of the night. The Chocolate Mousse seen here looks like some creamy mud, no? What a shocker it was then that it actually kinda tasted like it too. Overly bitter, unpleasantly slimy and a total waste of time (the Souen folks kindly took it back and did not charge us, which I thought was really nice of them), I took one bite and knew I didn’t like it. 0 out of 5 carrots (I want to put a negative figure here but that’s a bit dramatic, no?)!
My advice to Souen newbies: don’t order dessert unless you’re getting ice cream and don’t order anything that’s not in a soup bowl. Otherwise, I fully urge you to try their noodles.