Restaurants: Samurai, East Amherst, NY – A casual and elegant taste of the East

Sushi roll at Samurai, Amherst NY

Sushi roll at Samurai, Amherst NY (PHOTOS BY SCOTTY HARRIS)

Villager: How can we find a samurai we can pay with only rice?
Gisaku: Find hungry samurai.

Akira Kurosawa – The Seven Samurai

When I first arrived in Buffalo, Japanese food was reflected only by teppanyaki houses, with flashing knives and lots of beef. To one exposed to the sushi bars and noodle shops of places like Toronto, this didn’t quite make it.

In a few years we had Saki, beneath the Guaranty Building. From that came Kuni. In no particular order followed Osaka, Tsunami, O, and the appearance of sushi in most local supermarkets.

Sushi / sashimi boat at Samurai, Amherst NY

Sushi / sashimi boat at Samurai, Amherst NY

Of late, there has been an explosion of Japanese inspired restaurants in northeast Erie County, including, for better or worse (mostly better) Fuji Grill, Sea Bar, Wasabi, Kyoto and most recently Samurai.

My love for Sea Bar is well known. Wasabi brought Japanese closer to my home. Samurai is even closer – within walking distance of our Amherst home – but I had promised my 9-year-old daughter Ellie that we would not go there without her. So it was the perfect place for our family to celebrate our 12th anniversary last month.

Samurai (9648 Transit Rd., 716-688-7808) is located in a strip mall at the intersection of Transit and North French, anchored by a Tops supermarket, bounded by a Verizon store and a Supercuts, and featuring competition from a Subway and bad Chinese takeout place.

Despite the ordinary location, Samurai delivers a casual elegance. Our welcome was warm, without being cloying, and we were seated in what I would bet were the best seats in the house – the last booth, directly across from the sushi bar. I don’t know about you, but I like to watch the Itamae (sushi chef) at work.

Chicken yakitori, Samurai, Amherst NY (PHOTO BY SCOTTY HARRIS)
We ordered Gyoza, Japanese potstickers, for 8-year-old Alison, whose taste buds are just starting to develop, and chicken yakitori with a Thai-style peanut sauce for Ellie in case she wasn’t quite ready for sushi. We didn’t need to be concerned.

As for us, I spent a few moments talking to the Itamae and arranged for an omakase or chef’s choice menu. We began with a seafood bisque, a special for the night. Unlike the bisque I made regularly at DACC’s, the thickness came not from cream. Squash or yam puree, perhaps?

The second course was another special of the night, a Butterfly Roll featuring shrimp and asparagus.

Dragon roll, Samurai, Amherst NY (PHOTO BY SCOTTY HARRIS)

Next was a Dragon Roll, the eyes constructed from octopus “suckers,” with avocado, eel, tempura shrimp and a topping of tobiko “caviar.” Yum.

But, the main course was the scene stealer – a carefully chosen variation of a sushi / sashimi boat. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, yellowtail as sushi and sashimi, and a Samurai Roll with soft-shell crab. Even the leftovers were delicious the next day.

Dessert was a sampling of Japanese ice cream – mango and green tea.

The only drawback is that Samurai apparently still lacks a liquor license. Sake is not traditional with sushi, but I like it, hot or cold, or even carbonated. Japanese beer? Yes. An ice cold Grüner Veltliner? You betcha. The bottomless green tea was lovely, but on a annual occasion like this the availability of something special would have been nice.

But that won’t stop me from getting back ASAP!

Yum!

Scotty Harris is a recovering attorney and former restaurant line cook at Dacc’s and Fredi’s who retired to focus on a more select clientele: His lovely wife and two daughters.

Sushi /sashimi boat at Samurai, Amherst NY

Sushi /sashimi boat at Samurai, Amherst NY

The making of foie gras torchon: Rue Franklin, Buffalo NY

matthew john pasquarella, buffalo new york artist106
Tying off the foie gras torchon is one of the steps in making the dish that requires teamwork.

The Rue Franklin, one of Buffalo’s best restaurants, has earned its reputation through carefully crafted seasonal menus, and Menu D’Automne is no exception. One particular tasty appetizer skillfully executed by Chef Corey Kley is the Rue’s foie gras torchon, which can be loosely translated into fatty liver (in this case duck) in a very tight bundle. (“Torchon” is towel in French, a reminder of the linen dishtowels sometimes replaced by cheese cloth as wrappers.)

This is not a dish for amateur cooks to contemplate, but it is delicious and worth every penny of its $15 price.

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The Rue Franklin’s foie gras torchon is served with Sauternes gelee, grapes and brioche.

Chef Kley starts with a b-lobe of fresh foie gras, about 1.2 pounds. It’s from ducks that are 100% corn fed, raised in Québec by the husband and wife team of Pascal and Francette Fleury, whose company is called Palmex.

The foie, chilled from the refrigerator, needs to come to room temperature. Once it reaches 60-70 degrees, Kley sets about deveining the foie gras. This is a methodical process that takes a good 20 minutes to complete, even for a trained cook. During the process the liver is essentially pulled apart, both large and small veins are removed as well as dark bits of the foie gras that have been bruised during the harvesting.

After the jump: A slideshow detailing the creation of foie gras torchon.

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CRASH COURSES: Mortgage Meltaways, the cookie that’s sweeter than a broker’s lies

Mortgage Meltaways 2 OneBigKitchen.com

upset trader
If you were the type to self-medicate with a tray of Double-Stuf Oreos, you wouldn’t have had the nerve to completely leverage your entire life in the first place.

You douse your food with truffle oil, not ketchup. Your cheese has a name. But it’s hard to settle your stomach when you think about sinking all of your personal assets and then some into a McMansion, the Lexus, the private kindergarten, and a time share that, let’s face it, you had no real intentions of paying off.

But hey, you’ve been living a lie for the past two fiscal years, so why stop now? Indulge! You deserve it!

Relax with a plate of Mortgage Meltaways, shut your eyes and pretend you never bought six condos in Miami which have yet to see drywall. Enjoy the delicate lime-infused wafers as you imagine the IRS, VISA, your electric bill and mortgage companies melting away, just like your child’s college fund.

Hint: For an extra crunch, add chopped nuts – then your chewing should drown out the sounds of your Lexus being repossessed.

Next week: Freddie Mac and Cheese, loaded with hidden richness that will make you throw the rules right out the window!

Previously in CRASH COURSES:

* Start with a bang-for-your-buck belt of fruity Dick Punch.

* Eat dessert first, the repo man is coming for your Lehman Crumbles.

* Work out your aggression and get dinner made with Subprime Steak.

- Kristin Kunert

Recipe and more, after the jump.

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CRASH COURSES: Subprime Steak – finally, a gravy train you can catch

Subprime Steak on OneBigKitchen.com

upset trader on One Big Kitchen
Now that every penny of your household budget is devoted to payments on the adjustable rate mortgage (Nice call, Einstein!) for your 5-bedroom house, and your psychiatrist, for wholesale Xanax “samples,” it’s time to sit down and take stock.

Or squat, because the repo guys took everything but the hardwired stainless appliances.

Silver lining time! The laundry room is spacious large enough to house a dozen homeless ex-mortgage brokers. But how can you afford to feed them?

Here’s an idea that will help you cook dinner for the masses and let off potentially felonious rage at the same time: Subprime Steak. You take cheap beef and hammer it soft with a spiked meat mallet. Muttering names under your breath is optional.

Subprime Steak on OneBigKitchen.com
Subprime Steak, backed up with carrots, potatoes and onions in milk gravy, stretches a dollar till you hear it holler.

Or, you can buy “cube steak” at the store, already mechanically tenderized for you. Contrary to its name,  cube steak in no way resembles a cube. It hardly resembles a steak. It is not tender, you cannot slice through it with a Lenox butter knife and it will not be enjoyed on your custom built mahogany table that seats twelve comfortably (because you hawked it on Craigslist).

But on the bright side, it’s chock full of vitamins and minerals. Beaten into submission, cooked slowly and combined with good, hearty ingredients, this cheap slab of beef becomes downright palatable.

Vegetables for Subprime Steak on OneBigKitchen.com
Whether you beat your meat or buy cube steak, season some flour, fry some bacon, and you’re halfway to simmering the beef in milky gravy with onions, potatoes and carrots. Then, as Ozzy once said, you’re going off the rails on the gravy train.

Hint: Subprime Steak can be prepared in an easily transportable electric skillet that fits nicely on the Motel 6 bedside table.

COMING FRIDAY on One Big Kitchen: “Mortgage Meltaways,” the wafer-thin cookies that disappear faster than a lifetime of equity.

- Kristin Kunert

Previously in Crash Courses: Dick Punch and Lehman Crumbles.

The recipe and more, after the jump.

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Iron City Chili Throwdown: Then Ben saith: ‘Let my chili go’

Hot as sin chili with avocado and farmer's cheese
Hostess Meghan’s hot-as-sin chili came with avocado and farmer’s cheese. Nice touch. She also made a pepito (pumpkin seed) and cilantro garnish, which was deliciously nutty.

The trouble with being in a religious minority – aside from the obvious: theological debates, bloody warfare, institutional genocide and worst of all, abject staring from kids at school – is that you can’t explain to those in the Christian majority the rationale behind your holidays.

In the Jewish faith, you have less than a handful of truly important dates in your calendar.  Most of them fall at the same time of year, a period in the early autumn known as the High Holy Days.  Among them, the Jewish New Year, a festival harvest holiday and a day that you dedicate to admitting all your sins of the previous 12 months, casting them aside in hope for a better year.  This is Yom Kippur, and on this day we fast so as to remind ourselves that it sucks to have to celebrate Yom Kippur.

I made some mango salsa to go with chips and  pita, just cubed mango, red onion, chopped jalapeño pepper and lime  juice.
I made some mango salsa to go with chips and pita, just cubed mango, red onion, chopped jalapeño pepper and lime juice.

This is the most important days for Jews and their reluctant children, and despite any and all attempts to get out of having to celebrate them – throwing up? It’s called aspirin and a prayer -  you simply cannot.  I tried last year, desperately.

The stupid culprit? My Pittsburgh-based friend was hosting her first-ever Chili Cook-Off.  How was I not supposed to go to this?  First of all, it’s a game involving food.  Such a glorious event like a cook-off is often relegated to cable TV, where a room full of Japanese men in tall white hats parade their electric eel ganache and salmon roe butter tarts around as if on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  No one has ever, nor will ever again, witness such divine creations as these.

I wanted in.  My friends, with whom I would face in this bloody chili challenge, thought I should have gotten out of this one.  They thought I could use a coupon to get out jail and pass Go.  I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.  Not even God would understand, my Mom told me, as though I had asked to borrow the car so I could drive to Argentina.  No budging on this one.

So I had to wait until this year, when the blessed event – the one in Pennsylvania, of course, not temple – would fall on one of the 362 days a year I was a free man.  Free from the oppression, free from the bondage, free from the persecution.  This year, I was ready (along with my vegetarian white bean chili) to win.

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Edible Buffalo looking for ‘Local Heroes’: Food, like politics, is local

Edible Buffalo Fall 2008

Edible Buffalo Fall 2008

Edible Buffalo, a quarterly that debuted this July, is the sixth magazine in the New York State Edible family. It’s a great introduction to the lesser-known (and more familiar) regional foods and tastemakers of our eight Western New York counties, from peaches and garlic to vintners and organic farmers.

In addition to several main feature articles on our local foodshed, the magazine includes recipes using local ingredients, lists of nearby farmers markets, and announcements about new edible products and events in our area.

Edible Communities is a national network of local food magazines that began in California less than 10 years ago. In only a few years, Edible magazines—each one locally owned and operated—have sprouted up across the nation. Their passion is advocating for local, seasonal and artisanal food, featuring the people who produce and sell it, and connecting eaters (that’s all of us) to what’s on our plates.

With the second, fall issue recently under its belt, Edible Buffalo is participating in Edible Communities’ Local Hero Awards—a way for all of us to “get out the vote” and help celebrate our rich agricultural region, and the food-related accomplishments and products of Western New York communities.

The four categories of awards are Farm/Farmer, Chef/Restaurant, Food/Beverage Artisan and Non-Profit Organization.

This year’s winners will be announced in January at the Edible Communities annual meeting in Santa Fe, NM, and will appear in the spring 2009 issue of Edible Buffalo magazine, as well as the Edible Communities Web site, www.ediblecommunities.com.

For the Western New Yorkers out there, you can nominate a Local Hero and vote online at www.ediblebuffalo.com, through December 12, 2008. Keep your picks within Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans or Wyoming counties.

CRASH COURSES: When life gives you lemons, and by “gives you lemons” we mean “fires you,” Lehman Crumbles will ease the ache

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Lehman Crumbles: Tangy lemon cream in a cookie crust, dusted with toasted almonds and powdered sugar.

upset trader
Tangy, toasty Lehman Crumbles are sure to disappear faster than a stack of applications at a Wall Street Starbucks. Nuttier than the “Dow 36,000″ guy, this lemony, crunchy treat is a fabulous addition to any dinner party, bake sale to save your home or bribe for any B-level associate who may know a bit too much.

Save big bucks by cracking, skinning and chopping the nuts at home, unless of course you’re one of the lucky few Lehman employees who were rewarded for their incompetence with millions of dollars before the old girl cratered.

If so, you’re better off keeping a few Brazilian models on retainer who can jet into town, crush your almonds between two signed Picassos and serve them to you on ivory trays made from the tusks of albino elephants carved into your likeness by Tibetan monks.

Hint: For extra tartness, double up on the lemon juice so you can pucker up like a Wall Street trader who just got ran over by a Dow headed for an eight-hundred-point plunge. Again.

COMING TUESDAY ON One Big Kitchen: “Subprime Steak,” how to get the most out of cuts of meat that when you left home, you swore you’d never eat again.

- Kristin Kunert

PREVIOUSLY IN CRASH COURSES: Dick Punch.

Lehman Crumbles 2 One Big Kitchen
The lemon cream is terrific, and you can use whatever nuts you like.

The recipe and more, after the jump.

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CRASH COURSES: Who deserves a Dick Punch?

Dick Punch Cover 2 OneBigKitchen.com

Nothing says “depression” like drinking handle vodka ladled out of the plastic garbage can you stole the day your job went the way of the S & P 500. Somebody deserves a Dick Punch – and that somebody is you.

Dick Punch is named in honor of the ruined broker who reportedly punched Lehman Brothers rockstar CEO Dick Fuld in the face while Fuld was de-stressing in the Lehman gym after a hard day of destroying the American financial system.

Crash courses, Phat food for lean times
Dick Punch is the drink that fits your new station in life. Start with the worst vodka in the store, then add the finest powdered Kool-Aid money can buy, and sugar, cause it’s cheaper that way.

Although any vodka will do, we recommend one available in plastic, which will reduce the cost per unit significantly. Plus it won’t break if you drop it in the way home while wracked with sobs.

Stir with your unopened 401K statement, drink it out of a discarded Big Gulp cup and sniffle into your closed fist.

What will it take to numb the pain? Just $8.69 plus tax, less than your buddies used to drop on a Diet Coke at Scores.

Enjoy the orange slices. ‘Cause that’s dinner tonight.

COMING THURSDAY ON One Big Kitchen: “Lehman Crumbles,” a cookie bar that’s rich, crusty and leaves a million tiny crumbs behind.

Kristin Kunert is a marketing analyst and freelance writer in Pittsburgh, PA. She knows her way around a spreadsheet better than her kitchen. This is her first article for One Big Kitchen.

Dick punch stir fruit 2

Recipe: Dick Punch

(Cost: $8.69)

1 750 ml bottle vodka (Nikolai) ($5.99)

3 envelopes Kool-Aid, (Fruit Punch, Orange, Black Cherry) ($1.20)

2 cups sugar ($.45)

3 quarts water

3/4 cup lemon juice ($.73)

2 oranges ($.60)

Dump everything into the wastebasket and stir briskly, but without signs of irrational exuberance, using an unopened 401K statement.

Slice the oranges and float them in the mix.

Ladle, over ice, into glasses, or appropriate vessels like your “Employee of the Month” mug.
Dick Punch glug 1

BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR: To earn real cook’s stripes, you have to survive your baptism by fire – or wok

behind the kitchen door by Thomas Leplus

PHOTO (C) THOMAS LEPLUS HTTP://LEPLUS.ORG

It was half past ten on a Saturday night in January when the servers gave me their final tickets.

Shumai. Shumai and a chicken coconut curry holding. I turned the steamer up to full blast and started gathering ingredients for the curry. Two plates down from the racks: fistful of chopped red onion and bell peppers in one, one cleaned butterflied chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces in the other. I started salting the meat.

“Jake!”

Chris from the sushi bar. I could see through the kitchen window he was holding up two fingers. I had been cooking on the Elmwood Strip in Buffalo for about four months, but the sign language had been ground into me the first day: two fingers meant two shrimp tempura rolls at the bar. I nodded and washed the chicken juice off my hands, ducked into the fryer station reach-in and grabbed four tempura shrimp and dumped them into the fryer.

I turned back to my prep area and took the lids off plastic quart containers filled with garlic, ginger, and finely chopped scallions. The water under the steamer was up so I placed ten pork dumplings in the basket and covered it. Back to the fryer to get the hot shrimp out for Chris’s roll. I had time; no need to call a server. I walked them out to the bar myself.

Easy, I thought. I was drenched in sweat and my muscles were burning, but I had made it to the end of my first good night in the kitchen. No help, no screw-ups, no late orders. The feeling you get on your first night truly hanging in a restaurant kitchen isn’t one you’ll get back. It’s a hockey player’s first goal, the first big fish caught in front of your dad, a writer’s first byline. It’s a moment of public accomplishment under extreme pressure and after weeks or months of constant failure, and it’s hard to fit in a scrapbook. It’s sink or swim every night you clock in. I had screwed up badly enough, often enough, that I realized sinking was no longer an option.

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Restaurants: LaSpada’s and Leo’s, Philadelphia PA – Hometown cheesesteak favorites

Leo's cheesesteak Folcroft PA
Leo’s in Folcroft offered a cheesesteak with just enough grease to give it taste, allowing the Wiz and hot sauce to mingle.

our man in philadelphia

Someone recently told me that cooking was more than just ingredients and technique – it was also the attitude, perhaps even the emotional state, of the chef.

In short, you can taste the love.

But, ironically, when it comes to a signature dish from the city of Brotherly Love, it’s all about the anger. And anger – at least when it comes to a good, greasy pile of chopped steak on a bun with cheese or a cheese-like substance – tastes good.

This revelation came as a follow up to last year’s trek to the epicenter of the cheese steak universe, South Philly and the corner where Pat’s (“King of Steaks”) and archrival Geno’s (“The Best from South Philly”) square off for steak supremacy over an otherwise unremarkable corner.

Both are little sandwich stands with grills shoehorned inside. You get your food from a window. The working conditions inside look horrendous: too many people packed in a tiny space that is all sweat, steam, sizzling fatty steak and vaporized Cheez Wiz polluting the air.

The result can be soooooo tasty, you don’t mind standing or parking your butt on an uncomfortable metal bench attached to a table.

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But some native cheesesteak fans felt we missed the real steak story, scoffing at the trek to Pat’s and Geno’s as tourist claptrap, with the real deal to be had elsewhere. Specifically, at two places, both a short drive outside the city – LaSpada’s in Parkside (2912 Edgmont Ave., 610-872-9881) or Leo’s in Folcroft (1403 Chester Pike, 610-586-1199).

LaSpada’s (right) was the first up, nestled in a working-class residential community significantly away from the mean streets of Chester. Stuck on a street corner, there were few obvious places to park implying the place primarily catered to locals.

I arrived just after the lunch rush to only one or two other customers in the place. Unlike the dueling steak stands of Philly, LaSpada’s had a few tables inside and an extensive menu beyond steaks.

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