Since opening Toutant in 2015, James Roberts has built quite a meaty reputation.
People have been flocking to the Ellicott Street restaurant since, drawn by some of the best fried chicken, sausage and barbecue in Buffalo.
What's more, specials like the housemade smoked bologna sandwich and Toutant's version of a Nashville hot chicken sandwich have added to Toutant's profile among carnivores.
At the restaurant, 500 Seneca St., an illuminated case of the day's special catch, flown in from around the globe, greets customers.
A preview visit before the May 1 opening found Eld Inlet oysters, from Washington state, Beach Plum oysters, Mass.; Spanish bluefin tuna belly, Hawaiian bigeye tuna, Alaskan king crab, grey sole, Japanese hamachi, Nova Scotia halibut, bronzini, Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, Bay of Fundy salmon, Pacific black cod, also known as sablefish, and kurodai, also known as black sea bream, from Cyprus.
Roberts presents his first-class seafood with minimal intervention, drawing from Southern and Low Country cuisine as well as Pacific Rim influences.
Crab salad ($16) is a mound of crabmeat on a gentle salsa of tomato and yuzu, the Japanese citrus, with pickled serrano chile. It was served with Saltines, a lowbrow accompaniment that happens to be perfect.
Poke is all the rage these days, and you won't find a simpler version than Dobutsu's ($16): taro chips, briefly marinated bigeye tuna, pickled serrano chiles, Maui sweet onion.
Seafood mains include Pacific salmon ($23) with grapefruit sweet pepper broth and freshly toasted sesame paste, and black cod with barley broth, ginger caramel and leeks ($26). Both preparations served to frame the most salient characteristics of each fish.
Dobutsu will also offer high-end seafood specials like bluefin tuna belly, or otoro, the wagyu of the sea. It can cost $7 a bite, which is a bargain for this specialty item.
The meaty side of Dobutsu's menu includes pork ramen, Roberts' take on traditional Japanese noodle soup. He prefers the clean, clear broth, more like consommé than the thicker styles.
Short ribs ($10), grilled and glazed Korean style, are accented with roasted pineapple. Roberts exercises his sausage-making skills with an Asian-inflected pork link with five spice ($10), accompanied by crisp, funky fish sauce marinated carrot ribbons.
Desserts ($6) overlap American classics with Pacific influences, starting with pineapple upside down cake, served with whipped cream, toasted macadamias and salted caramel. Belgian chocolate was accented with toasted green tea marshmallow and graham cracker crumble. Baba rhum was split cupcakes on vanilla rum sauce and salted caramel.
Seafood lovers looking for premium product and a lighter touch on accoutrements should check out Dobutsu at their earliest convenience. There's nothing else like it in Buffalo.
Hours: 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4:30 p.m.-midnight Friday, Saturday. Closed Sunday, Monday. Book online at dobutsubuffalo.com. Phone: 322-6004.
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