Just off the Venice boardwalk, in a neighborhood where most eateries serve hot dogs and greasy pizza, Seed is an anomaly. This macrobiotic, vegan and mostly organic restaurant serves meals that revolve around gently cooked whole grains and vegetables supplemented by beans, tofu, tempeh and seitan for protein and fermented foods for better digestion
The restaurant is clean and bright with calming earthen colors and tables made from reclaimed wood. Complimentary water flavored with a refreshing combination of cucumbers, lemon wedges and mint is served next to the register. Enjoy it, because the water is pretty much the only thing at Seed that’s complimentary — extra spread for your sandwich or burger is .50 cents, adding tofu to an entree costs $3 and choosing an organic, seven-grain sourdough bun for your burger will tack on an extra $1.50. The price of entrees, ranging from $9-$13 for burgers, rice and curry bowls, salads and sandwiches, resulted in a tab that made me quickly add the numbers up in my head, trying to figure out how lunch for two with no dessert or beverages (or meat or dairy) amounted to $30.
Then I rationalized that the ingredients are organic and locally produced. The kitchen cooks with filtered water and without unhealthy fats or refined sugars. The owners are dedicated to ecologically responsible business practices and believe “food is an essential source of our energy, health and happiness.”
In the end, though, these admirable principles are not enough to make me forget that what I want most when I go out to eat is really good food. I want to be introduced to flavors and preparations that transcend the ordinary. This is where Seed disappoints.
At the heart of macrobiotics is the desire for balance. Foods with too much yin or yang are believed to throw your mental and physical state out of whack. Unfortunately, the ingredients most chefs rely on for flavor — salt, sugar, herbs, spices, and most forms of fat — fall on the extreme ends of the yin/yang spectrum and are rarely, if ever, used in the kitchen at Seed.
If the specifics of macrobiotic eating are still a bit confusing, ordering Seed’s saisai donburi macro bowl ($11.95) will make it perfectly clear. Served over a heap of soft brown rice is a colorful wheel of vegetables: kabocha squash, kale, shitake mushrooms, sea vegetables, bean sprouts and sauerkraut. With the exception of the mushrooms and sauerkraut, which add an earthy, deliciously pungent flavor to the dish, the vegetables have no detectable seasoning. The balsamic-miso “sauce” served on the side is really just salad dressing but does add a bit of acidity and flavor. The vegetables are very fresh and nicely cooked but the dish walks a very fine line between good, simple food and food that is simply bland.
The curries at Seed kick the flavor up a notch, but not as much as you might think curry would. The Indian chickpea curry ($11.95) is a generous portion of mild and very earthy lentils, chickpeas, cauliflower and tomato. Alternating bites of curry with nibbles of the pappadam crisp garnish, a salty, paper-thin flatbread, gave the dish more texture and flavor and made me wish I could get my hands on another pappadam.
Seed offers a tempting selection of salads, such as their chop-chop served with vegan ranch dressing ($9.95) and a Caesar with pumpkin seed dressing ($8.95). The menu also has a selection of less-tempting panini: Italian “soysage” with roasted red pepper and pesto ($10.50) and “soyzzarella” with tomato and basil ($8.95). Those looking for a heartier meal might lean toward Seed’s four “burgers.” While the word “burger” is not in quotes on the menu at Seed, anyone who has ever enjoyed a burger of the meaty kind, dripping with the intensely flavorful and contrasting flavors of charred beef, sweet, caramelized onions and sharp, melted cheddar should add them as a disclaimer. I am not at all opposed to vegetarian burgers, but they should have the same satisfying flavor as the real deal. The Mediterranean burger ($10.50), made from beans and grains bound very loosely together in a thin patty and topped with a standard trio of lettuce, tomato and raw red onion, is an uninspired effort. Smothered by a gigantic bun, the burger fills me up but leaves me feeling completely unsatisfied.
Any perceived lack of flavor in the dishes served at Seed can be remedied by one of three macrobiotic-approved seasonings on the table: tart and salty shiso powder (dried pickled shiso leaves), nutty gomashio (sesame seeds with salt) or fishy aonori (powdered seaweed). I enjoyed trying each of the seasonings, especially the shiso powder, and the new flavors they introduced to my palate piqued my interest in macrobiotic food. Before eating at Seed I’d never had shiso powder on sweet potato fries and the combination is addictive. It’s a shame that more dishes at Seed don’t bring this kind of revelation. I don’t want to accidentally stumble upon flavor combinations by randomly sprinkling condiments on my food. I want the chef to lead me to these flavors and to present healthy ingredients in new and intriguing ways.
I applaud Seed for its meticulously fresh produce and the clean lifestyle it promotes. To keep bringing me back, however, See will have to prove that macrobiotic food can be just as flavorful, exciting and satisfying as the food offered at other similarly priced restaurants in Los Angeles.
Jennifer Meier is culinary school graduate who has worked for restaurants and wine and cheese shops throughout Los Angeles. You can visit her Web site at busygirlscookbook.wordpress.com.
If You Go
1604 Pacific Ave.
Venice, Calif., 90291
Open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.