Dobutsu, one of the year's most anticipated restaurants, has set its opening at 500 Seneca St.
From James and Connie Roberts, the husband and wife behind Toutant, Dobutsu aims to become the city's premier seafood restaurant.
After lengthy construction delays, Dobutsu, inspired by Pacific cuisine, should open May 1.
Sure, there's lots of meat on the opening menu, including bowls of chicken ramen ($15), grilled wagyu short ribs ($30) and five-spice pork sausage ($10). There's also big salads ($8/$14), donburi rice bowls, and seasonal vegetable features.
But seafood will be the star, starting from the moment customers enter. A refrigerated display case across from the hostess stand will offer the fresh fish and seafood choices, from Pacific to Atlantic, James Roberts said. A board will list the limited-edition specials until they run out.
Seafood choices outnumber meat dishes two-to-one on the opening menu. Oysters, raw or broiled ($15) and lump crab cocktail ($16), plus crispy fried coconut shrimp ($15) lead the appetizers.
Halibut ($29), cooked on the Japanese-made robata grill, comes with daikon salad and red bean barbecue sauce. Charred Pacific salmon ($23) is accompanied by sweet pepper grapefruit broth and freshly toasted sesame paste.
Salmon ($15) and tuna ($16) poke bowls will be marinated to order, Roberts said.
There will always be tuna and salmon, but the menu will take advantage of the best seafood he can source and have shipped overnight to Buffalo, Roberts said.
Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup, is a dish that Roberts has cooked for chef friends but never shared with the public. Dobutsu will change that, with pork, chicken ($15) and a vegan ($12) version, with spicy cabbage, enoki mushrooms, carrots and more.
Desserts will feature home-style pies, and pastry like pineapple upside-down cake.
The interior of the 90-seat restaurant, designed by Connie Roberts, is done in subdued blues and greys of the sea, with fish sculptures and fishhook coathooks. Cork subflooring should help keep the noise levels down when it's full.
"I want to keep that Toutant vibe, that you can come in a suit, or shorts, you can come in, chill, or do whatever you want," Roberts said. "I don’t want it to be stuffy. For us, casual is the only way to go."
The full bar will include custom cocktails, local draft beer, and a rarity – a bottle-shop-style beer menu. Noting the lack of beer stores in the area, Dobutsu will offer beer for takeaway in growlers of draft, bottles and cans.
At first, the restaurant will be open Tuesday to Saturday, from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and the bar open till midnight. Once the kinks are shaken out, Dobutsu will add lunch, Roberts said. Reservations will be available through dobutsubuffalo.com starting May 1.
For all the seafood and focused meat dishes, there's one thing Roberts isn't offering: claims of authenticity.
"I don't have any classical Japanese training. I have pined over the cuisine and the details, the discipline, the culture, my entire cooking life," said Roberts. "This restaurant is a little bit selfish for me - it's my version of what I like to eat." That's why he chose the name dobutsu, Japanese for animal, he said. "That little animal inside me needs to be fed. I cannot let that go."
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