After returning to NYC from two months in Mexico, I came across the cutest restaurant near my apartment that specializes in poke bowls and bento boxes. Having grown up in Hawaii where poke is so much a part of food culture I was absolutely delighted.
Sandwiched between a massage shop and an empty building on Eldridge street is SIMPLE NYC. It’s bright façade and adorable elephant door handle are eye catching. What really stands out though is when you walk in and are greeted by friendly, smiling faces. This family-run business which includes owners Betty, Chef Kim Lee, family members such as the ever helpful and warm Jonathan and other staff members is inviting and delicious.
The menu includes elaborate poke bowls as well as filling bento boxes which include sides of potato croquettes, salad and pickled veggies. For drinks they have house brewed siphon coffee and various flavors of bubble and fruit teas- a popular one being lemon kumquat.
This has been my summer go-to. I think I've told everyone I know who's interested in poke to stop by because I love the food and the people. Light yet filling, poke bowls are the perfect summer meal. Add on a refreshing iced tea and you’re set! You can easily come once or twice a week (if not more) because it's that good.
One day I got up the courage to ask if I could write about their business for my blog. They were gracious about it and accepted. I even managed to get a few questions I had about the business and the chef answered which I appreciate given how little free time they have. Below you'll find a bit more information about their background, concept and future plans.
When did you open?
We opened on May 26th, 2016, but Simple has been a work in progress since early March this year. After selling off the Chinese barbecue fast-food place that they owned for ten years, Chef Kim and Aunt Betty set their sights on a smaller, more intimate place to make food that’s both tastefully and emotionally delightful.
Why the LES?
There are a lot of factors that go into finding a place to set up shop. I think the bottom line of what got us attached to this location though, is its unique location. There’s so much local flavor and neighborly love that has made us feel right at home on Eldridge Street. We are so proud to serve our food to everyone here. Simple is comfortably situated in the Lower East Side and it’s not too far from Chinatown, so while we still get to see a lot of the new, young, local scene, we also get to stay close to some of our cultural Chinese roots, as cheesy as that may seem. Our intention was to make Simple a restaurant with a home environment, but this neighborhood has gone and done that for us just the same.
What's Chef Kim's background? Why did he choose to do poke and bento boxes?
Chef Kim has been in the food industry for many years. He worked directing Asian concepts at JFK as a corporate chef for 13 years. As exciting and as dynamic as that job was though, it was definitely stressful and sacrificial. Soon, he joined the family business, selling Chinese barbecue and take out fare in Queens for 4 years. While those positions both had their perks, there was always a very personal, heartfelt aspect missing. Simple has allowed him to translate his personal identity wholeheartedly into his cooking.
As a family business, what do you see as the most difficult challenges?
Having to see each other as workers and teammates and not just as family members is difficult to do. In a stressful environment like a restaurant, it’s hard to remember that we love each other! We make mistakes and we yell and scream a lot. But then we consider, what family doesn’t do these things? Finding that balance between tough love and family love is something challenging that we've been doing on a daily basis in order to survive as a restaurant and family-owned business. But ultimately, we've constantly put love into perspective with each other, our food, and Simple.
What are the signature items on the menu?
Currently, we’re in the process of looking at updating our menu for the Autumn and Winter. We’re excited to show the Lower East Side what we have in store since starting this summer! Our most popular poke bowls are the spicy tuna, salmon, and ahi tuna. For the summer, they've been both filling and refreshing for customers. Our tonkatsu curry bento box is also famous for its gargantuan size and its balance. Customers also love our refreshing summer drinks, especially the lemon kumquat fruit tea, mixed with fresh lime and mint.
Happy poke eating everyone!
Note: Many thanks to Jonathan, Betty, Chef Kim and the rest of the SIMPLE NYC crew!!