The Elmwood Avenue Japanese soup restaurant famous for its elegant and heart-warming noodle-and-broth combinations finally opened its down-to-earth, peasant little brother on Main Street.
Hello, “Sato Ramen.”
Once the brown paper on the door was finally peeled off last week, students and neighbors filled window counter seats and tables. The wood paneling, a chalkboard menu and a big picture of soup ingredients as smiling scallion, tofu and shrimp, made me feel teleported to a noodle house in Osaka.
Elmwood Sato’s popular items remain on the menu, but they cost less: Gyoza ($7.50), Kara-age Chicken ($7.50) and their signature ramen bowls ($8.99-$12.99). Fast meals and snacks range from the Donburi rice bowl with sautéed beef and a side of spring rolls ($9.99) and “Una Don” sweet and meaty grilled eel over rice ($15.99).
Okonomiyaki fries ($6) -- fried, fresh-cut potatoes topped with a sweet, thick Japanese barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, pickled ginger. Bonito fish flakes jiggle from the rising steam when the plate arrives. Kids are fascinated and I love telling them, “This dish is alive!” Sato Ramen’s creation pays homage to the okonomiyaki, a savory pancake usually made with cabbage mixed in a flour-and-egg batter and served with the very same toppings.
Japanese Curry with Tonkatsu -- Sato is one of the few places in Buffalo serving authentic Japanese curry. The consistency is thick, like beef stew, but lightly sweet with an Indian spice kick. Curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan and sold at every street corner and train station. Pair the vegetable base ($8.99) with a topping, like eggs, tofu, shrimp and the classic Japanese choice: a crispy, panko-breaded, fried pork “tonkatsu” cutlet ($5).
This is one of my go-to dishes on Elmwood Avenue. I was hoping their tender, juicy pork would be just as good here. It was.
Echizen Oroshi Soba ($9.99) -- Sato’s springy soba noodles arrive with green onions, bonito flakes and a pile of white on the top. That’s the “daikon oroshi,”grated daikon radish, an unusual and authentic topping. This combination is unique to the western Echizen region, famous for buckwheat, which thrives in the high altitude. Sato made their noodle with local buckwheat flour. The noodles come with a bowl of tsuyu, a slightly sweet, soy-based dipping sauce.
Pour it straight into the bowl or do it the proper, and noisy, Japanese way: Dip a chopstick clump of noodles in the sauce, pick it up, and slurp. Spiciness of the daikon radish brings out the mild sweetness in the soba. Salty tsuyu cuts the sharpness of the raw radish, making it less pungent. This synergy is subtle yet interesting. The yin-yang flavor contrast is especially refreshing when the noodles are cold and the day is warm. It's almost Zen.
Sato’s soba is also served hot, which will be perfect on a brisk fall day. Look on the menu for the traditional Kake Soba ($8.99) in a classic clear broth, or spice it up with a curry both ($10.99).
Every way seems popular at Sato. Fans ate so much, the soba sold out within days of their September opening.
Buffalo + Japan = Buffalo Chicken Ramen ($11.99, pictured also as header image) -- The ramen in Sato’s signature creamy chicken broth is topped with corn, carrots, scallion and wing-sauce-coated crispy chicken. Their chewy homemade noodles have a slight curve intended to pick up more broth as you slurp. This multicultural mashup messed with my mind. But it grew on me. The more I ate, the better I liked it. It’s one dish you have to eat fast. Speed is essential for enjoying the crispiness before the chicken gets soggy in the broth.
Traditionalists like me also love Sato’s original ramen ($8.99/$10.99) and their spicy miso variation ($9.99/$11.99) with floating scallion, bean sprouts, carrots, corn and roast pork. Be sure to try the essential extras from the add-on list. Menma ($1), or bamboo shoots, add crunch. Pickled shiitake ($2.5) adds seasoned chewiness.
The flavors are hard to describe, except with the loanword “umami,” but they make this classic complete. On cool days, a bowl of salty shio butter ramen ($12.99) warms. A noodle shop owner once explained that the thin layer of butter not only add flavor but also insulates the broth. The soup stays hot to the last drop.
Rice pudding ($4), Sato style -- Rice pudding is not your typical Japanese dessert, but still a great way to wrap up a meal. The creamy rice topped with crunchy caramelized nuts and cinnamon was lightly sweet, not cloying. Made with milk from coconuts, not cows, the rice clumps together, but doesn’t disappear. Rich but not heavy. Scrumptious. Vegan. We ate until not a speck was left.
Daigaku Imo ($5) -- The name Daigaku Imo literally means “university potato,” a Tokyo University favorite, according to the menu. It’s exciting to see this old fashioned Japanese street food here. Slightly coated in caramelized sugar, sesame seeds and a hint of soy sauce, this treatment highlights the sturdy goodness of the sweet potato without drowning it in goo. Apt for a University Heights restaurant, these sweet-and-savory cubes make a good dessert, side dish or snack.
Info: Sato Ramen, 3268 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14214, (716) 835-7286
Jenny Luk is a user experience designer, photographer, world traveler and epicure. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she is the granddaughter and daughter of restaurateurs. Her first home, famous for its multi-cultural cuisine, launched her passion for food. She’s feasted on roast guinea pig in a mountain village in Peru and dined on Michelin-starred modern cuisine in Scandinavia. Buffalo’s evolving food scene captivates her now.