Villager: How can we find a samurai we can pay with only rice?
Gisaku: Find hungry samurai.
Akira Kurosawa â€“ 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.
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 â€“ 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.
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.
Next was a Dragon Roll, the eyes constructed from octopus â€œsuckers,â€ with avocado, eel, tempura shrimp and a topping of tobiko â€œcaviar.â€ Yum.
But, the main course was the scene stealer â€“ 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 â€“ 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 GrÃ¼ner 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!
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.