Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fresh Take on Modern Japanese Cuisine Coming to the Elmwood Village

I was invited by Joshua Smith to attend the pre-opening tasting at the new restaurant that he and his wife are opening next week on Elmwood Avenue - Sato. The Smith Family opened Serene Gardens in 2012 on Grand Island. Serene Gardens combines Joshua's skills and experiences that he gained while living in Japan for many years as a garden apprentice with his brother, Matthew's skills and experiences with a degree in horticulture and his certification as a Certified Nursery and Landscape Professional. Serene Gardens plans and constructs Japanese gardens for local patrons in Western New York.  

At their nursery, Joshua and his wife, Satomi, had opened a small Japanese restaurant which is in the process of moving to Elmwood Avenue. In the building that most recently housed O3 Café, Sato hopes to open next week. Satomi is the head chef of this new restaurant that aims to offer a new take on modern Japanese cuisine. She grew up in a successful family-run restaurant in her hometown of Fukui, Japan. Sato will showcase her style of Japanese fusion cuisine with a global approach that features locally grown ingredients and seasonal items.

This week, my wife and I attended the pre-opening tasting, along with many notables from the Buffalo food community. What a tasting it was!

The evening started with cocktails, small bites and a cheese and Saké pairing with deftly chosen and supplied cheese from Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile, Sato's new neighbor to the south a few blocks on Elmwood. Owner, Jill Gedra Forster served up these three delicious cheeses:

Clockwise from the lower left, there was Cantal Entre Deux (cow's milk from France), Moelleux de Revard (raw cow's milk with a washed rind from France) and Middlebury Blue (cow's milk from Vermont). Each were delicious, but I really enjoyed the Milddlebury Blue. It went perfectly with the Saké.

The small bites were traditional Japanese faire with a modern twist, as well as fusion cuisine. Here's a look at the table with the small bites:

Featured were Tsukemono (assorted pickled vegetables), Kimchi (using Napa cabbage and baby Bok Choy), Temari Sushi (salmon with micro greens, pickled cumcumber with kimchi and mackerel with ginger), Gyoza dumplings (homemade pan-fried dumplings with either pork or vegetables, made with ginger and garlic - served with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce) and Teriyaki steak (pan-seared steak with Sato's own "original teriyaki sauce").

These are a couple of the tsukemono:

The Tsukemono were delightful. They were deliciously pickled without an excess of salinity. I especially enjoyed the picked green onions. The kimchi  was tasty as well and worked very well on the temari sushi. All the varieties of the temari sushi were great, but I couldn't get enough of the mackerel. I love all varieties of sushi, but when it's made with a robust, oily fish - I'm hooked! The ginger was also the perfect foil to offset the powerful flavor of the mackerel. The Gyoza were also tasty and well-made, complimented well by the savory dipping sauce. The teriyaki steak was cooked well done, but were not chewy. The sauce was sweet but not overly so. 

Here are the varieties of temari sushi:

All of these are small bites were enjoyed as we all mingled and enjoyed cocktails and conversation. After some time, everyone made their way upstairs and sat down. The remaining dishes were then brought to us. This was first up and was one of my favorite bites of the evening:

Buta no Kakuni. This little bite featured Japanese braised pork belly that was glazed in a soy-based braising liquid and served with baby bok choy. The pork was cooked very well and was incredibly flavorful. As it was braised, there were no crispy edges, but you didn't miss the textural dichotomy at all. The pork belly was certainly seared well and ultimately melted in your mouth. The bitterness of the bok choy cut right through the richness of the pork fat. This bite was a winner!

Next up was salmon carpaccio:

Look how gorgeous that plate was! The salmon sashimi was served with mixed greens, thinly sliced onion and capers. It was all topped with a ponzu and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette. This plate was also scrumptious. The dressing had the perfect balance between acid and oil. The ponzu wasn't overpowering, but cut through the richness of the salmon and oil wonderfully. The salty bite of the capers were also a nice touch showing Satomi's take on fusion cuisine that went very well with the unctuousness of the salmon.

Then, this beautiful bowl was brought out:

Kale Kimchi Salad. This dish featured fresh kale, gala apples, and fried lotus chips, all draped in a kimchi dressing. This delightful bowl featured Sato's flavorful and spicy kimchi which paired quite well with the sweetness of the apples. The kale and the crispy lotus root provided a nice textural contrast with the tender kale.

Then, the featured bowls were brought out:

Sato's Ramen. The ramen is scratch made each day in-house from the aforementioned tonkotsu and torigara. This bowl of ramen was was topped with chashu pork, bean sprouts, green onion, menma (bamboo shoots) and pickled ginger. The ramen was delicious and the perfect comfort food on a night that was in the single digits with a wind chill far below zero. The broth was very flavorful, as was the pork. The noodles were slurped delightfully out of the bowl and the richness of the dish was paired well with the pickled ginger and green onion. The bean sprouts and menma provided a nice textural contrast. I'll be going back to try more of this ramen once Sato opens - well, I'll be trying  everything they'll serve me.

As if all that wasn't enough, we were also served dessert. Not just any dessert, but a tasty and beautiful one at that. Take a look at this:

This was a "Kasutera Dessert", which is a Nagaski specialty. Kasutera is a sponge cake, in this case served with sorbet and pomegranate. A delicius kumquat was a beautful garnish for the dessert. The cake was doused with a sweet liquid that made it incredibly most and falvorful. This was the perfect ending to a great tasting.

Sato is going to be a great addition to the Elmwood Village. High-quality ramen in the heart of the village will be welcomed, as well as the well-made, Japanese fusion cuisine coming out of Chef Satomi's kitchen. I look forward to the opening (hopefully early next week) because I want to go back already. Check it out!


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