A church billboard half-covered in snow reads “Whoever’s praying for snow, stop.” The snow banks are so high, I need an ice pick to get to the top. My pit bull terrier is shopping for sweaters. But never fear, Buffalo cocktail fans. SATO on Elmwood has drawn a hot bath for us, and there’s liquor in it.
SATO’s bar may not look like much, with just a handful of seats if you don’t count the window rail, but the bifold menu will quickly change your mind. Along with a selection of sakes to rival any sushi joint in Western New York, SATO also has a healthy helping of thoughtful signature drinks, utilizing everything from hibiscus to Matcha, sake to gin. There is also beer and wine, of both Asian and domestic iterations.
Best of all, the wet and sushi bar at SATO are one and the same, so pull up a low-backed bar stool, break out the chopsticks and test this new sushi and ramen spot’s potables alongside one of its excellent rolls.
Technically, SATO’s “Hot Yuzu Bath” is Japan’s answer to a hot toddy. Instead of vodka or whiskey, it uses shochu, a Japanese distilled spirit usually made of sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat or rice, although it can originate from sugar, chestnuts or even carrots. Like vodka, shochu is diverse in both flavor and usage and SATO’s extensive bar menu has a wide variety for adventurous drinkers to try.
The Hot Yuzu Bath blends shochu with marmalade made from yuzu, an East Asian citrus fruit that tastes a bit like a bitter orange. With a barspoon of honey stirred in, the Hot Yuzu Bath proves that the sore throat remedy grandmothers serve their sick children is indeed a global concept. It’s also an excellent answer to below-zero temperatures, which lately we have in ample supply.
The Hot Yuzu Bath smells like booze, there’s no two ways around it. The aroma is heady and warming, and the first sip may tickle the sinuses with alcoholic astringency. Give it a minute though, and that sweet, earthy yuzu kicks in. Honey has a mineral sort of sweetness, and the gently bitter yuzu complements it well, adding a depth to the flavor profile that isn’t found in Western honey-lemon combinations.
As you sip the Hot Yuzu Bath, wrap your hands around the cup and let it thaw you out from the inside out, as well as the outside in. As it cools, the flavors meld and mellow, with the almost tasteless shochu fading into the background like we’re used to vodka doing, elsewhere.
SATO has already taken its place in the culinary canon for its strong Japanese offerings, but the bar menu is not to be overlooked. With a full range of sake flights, a full shochu menu and plenty of signature sippers, this Elmwood ramen stop may quickly become a new standard for drinkers looking for something both different and well-crafted.
Hot Yuzu Bath, $8; 739 Elmwood Ave; 931-9146; www.satobuffalo.com.
Lizz Schumer is a Buffalo writer and editor who covers cocktails, food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of "Buffalo Steel" and can be found @eschumer or www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.