The battle for Asian cuisine supremacy in the Walden Galleria food court has intensified. With Easy Wok and Oyishi Japan already in place, newcomer Sushi-Q opened Sept. 9, next to Arby's, selling a strong assortment of prepackaged sushi and three varieties of Japanese ramen.
The Galleria's Sushi-Q marks the chain's entrance into the United States market; eight other locations exist, primarily in Toronto and Calgary, with the company's founding dating back to 1997.
Although the name mimics "Susie Q," the Dale Hawkins song covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the sushi chain founders intended the Q to stand for both "quick" and "quality."
For Cheektowaga, at least, Sushi-Q's operation is pretty simple. Employees arrive at 5 a.m. to roll and package sushi for the day, an encouraging sign for the freshness of the "grab-and-go" product.
Customers can select sushi from the display case, pay for it at the counter to the left, then either take it to go or sit in the food court. Ramen must be ordered at the register and requires a brief wait while it's assembled.
Here's a look at three specialty rolls sampled:
• Aburi spicy BBQ salmon nigiri, $6.49: As an aburi first timer, I came away impressed. It's constructed like nigiri – with seafood laid atop sticky rice, separated into two layers by seaweed wrap.
Aburi translates as "flame-seared" in Japanese; the salmon is essentially hit with a blow torch, lending a touch of smokiness, adding color and assuaging raw fish worriers. A spicy mayo and barbecue sauce finished off the four pieces, dominating the flavor but not overpowering.
• Combo: Dynamite Roll with spicy salmon roll, $10.98: For bigger appetites or to share within a group, this offering pairs two fairly complementary varieties together. The Dynamite Roll was quite creamy, working avocado, crab, shrimp tempura and cucumber together with both creamy and savory mayos. The tempura flakes were barely noticeable.
The spicy salmon rolls, with the fish cut into strips, were bite-sized, simple and delivered a slight kick at the end.
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• Combo: Three-piece salmon nigiri with a crunchy shrimp roll, $10.49: The standout here was the nigiri, which featured a thick piece of salmon, brightened by a slight touch of lemon juice, laid atop a heap of sushi rice. The fish's texture was surprisingly buttery – pointing to a high grade for a takeout sushi chain – and the citrus was a wise partner.
The crunchy shrimp roll was unmemorable. If tempura flakes were only more flavorful and less greasy.
Looking back at the options in the case after, the spicy salmon roll and salmon nigiri combo ($11.99) and the spicy roll set, a whopping 18 pieces of sushi (split into crab salad, salmon and California), all topped with addictive spicy mayo, seemed to be the best overlap between value and quality, with 20 pieces for $10.98.
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Also prepared behind the scenes is the ramen broth, cooked over eight hours for depth of flavor, with no MSG added, according to their digital menu board. Toppings may be added for customization, for an extra charge: corn ($1), spicy pork ($1.50), chicken ($1.50) and bok choy ($1).
Below are the three chief flavors of ramen, first available Sept. 16 and not sampled during our visit the week prior. Given the price of the ramen, there should be high expectations for the richness of the broth and the quality of the noodles. A Sushi-Q press release notes that ramen ingredients, beyond the broth, are prepackaged but fresh.
• Miso ramen, $12.49: The flagship ramen – the savory fermented soybean flavor was dubbed most popular, in general, by Sushi-Q's employees during our visit. It's also available with a spicy kick, for an extra 50 cents.
• Shio ramen, $11.99: This variety is less reliant on soy or miso and begs to be customized.
• Shoyu ramen, $11.99: The broth delivers a deep soy flavor as opposed to miso.