We might be living in a transitional moment. I’m not sure if it’s localized or national, temporal or generational. I can only speak to what I see, so I won’t try to extrapolate too far beyond my own observation.

Here’s the observation: It seems like we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the nature of food, at least in this area anyway. The notion of food in America has historically been defined as get a lot for not much and as quickly as possible.

My parent’s generation tends to judge the quality of a restaurant with comments like, “Really generous portions.” Flavor has meant more salt, more sugar. The kind of sugar not found in nature, so we turn to chemical additives. We are, after all, the people who brought the drive-up hamburger joint to the world. I hope & pray that it’s not a passing fad, but it seems like the times they are a changing. Suddenly, more and more people are valuing quality over quantity and understanding that a half gallon of soda isn’t actually a serving size. Now, this is where Sato Modern Japanese Cuisine & Sake Bar comes in…

Sato is a relatively new player in the Elmwood Village scene (open less than a year so far). They have taken over the former O3 location at 739 Elmwood. The décor is clean & modern and reflective of the food itself. I’ve had dinner here at least a dozen times since they’ve open and have had only great experiences with the staff, servers and bartenders every time. On any random evening, you might run into the owners greeting diners at the door. Everyone affiliated with the place are warm, inviting people who seem genuinely proud of the food they put out. Even if dinner isn’t on your agenda, you could do worse than a few rounds of sake, beer and cocktails at their bar. One concern worth noting (and it’s a purely logistical one) is that most, if not all, of the dining tables are situated toward the back of the building, up 6 or 7 stairs, so wheelchair accessibility might require a call ahead. I’m sure they have a reasoned solution for this, it’s just not readily evident.

This review won’t describe a single meal experience at Sato, but rather an overview of several separate visits. A good friend (who has lived extensively in Japan and is currently taking an extended trip there again) gave me the only review I needed to be sold on Sato for the first time: “It’s the most authentic Japanese food that I’ve found in Buffalo.” Sato’s strength focuses on a particular kind of Japanese cuisine. A perfect bowl of ramen is something to which foodies have devoted whole documentaries (my favorite of these is the Ramen episode of In The Mind of a Chef with David Chang, by the way). Is it the ramen noodle itself that makes all the difference? Is it a perfectly balanced broth? Maybe the judicious addition of pork, bamboo shoots or green onion? The answer to all of these is yes. Care & precision in all aspects, followed by a harmonious assembly, are what elevate Sato’s ramen from mere food to a culinary experience. I’ve had all three types of ramen on the menu: Veggie Ramen, Sato Ramen and Spicy Miso Ramen (each $14). All of them are brilliant in their own way, but if you have one shot to get the full experience I recommend the Spicy Miso Ramen. It’s a bold single dish that really sums up the menu nicely.

While, clearly, I can’t say enough good things about the ramen, it should be noted that Sato is fully capable of providing a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience from start to finish. I recommend the Shiitake Mushroom Saute ($7.50) to start. The mushrooms are a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier… a sharable plate of clean cut shiitakes lightly sautéed in a subtle butter/soy blend. Each flavor is distinct and contributes to the overall dish nicely while still allowing the shiitakes to be the star.

Lastly, if you want to really get the full experience, order the rice pudding for dessert ($5). It is, by no means, your standard Buffalo Greek diner rice pudding. Made with a blend of white and black rice, a little coconut & soy milk, it looks gray in the bowl, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. Topped with a little honey and a sprinkling of sliced almonds, it is in my opinion the best rice pudding in town.

The menu at Sato is seemingly ever evolving. They now offer a sushi menu, a brunch menu and one of the most extensive sake menus I’ve seen outside of New York City or Toronto. It is a bit of a break from protocol, but a second review of Sato will need to follow exclusively dedicated to the sake and new sushi offerings.

Name: Sato Modern Japanese Cuisine & Sake Bar
Address: 739 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222
Phone: 716.931.9146
Website: www.satobuffalo.com