Ramen at Sato
Photo by kc kratt
Sato, which opened on Elmwood last year and offers a broad selection of Japanese favorites, might be best known for its ramen since it's one of only two or three places in WNY offering the slurpy staple on its regular menu. Owners Josh and Satomi Smith have recently undertaken the study of noodle making in NYC under acclaimed noodle master Shuichi Kotani, and we can expect fresh soba and ramen noodles to hit the Sato menu at sometime in the near future.
If you haven't been paying close attention, you might not know that the folks at Sato don't really do much of anything halfway. Josh recently obtained his sake sommelier certification from the Sake Service Institute (affiliated with the Sake School of America), and the sake and beer program at Sato is pretty out of this world, with an extensive list of sakes and Japanese beers not easily found elsewhere. Shortly, a Japanese-style beer brewed by Community Beer Works will be available exclusively at Sato.
Recently Josh told me that he and Satomi are opening a ramen-focused satellite location. The Smiths are always looking for ways to improve what they do, so a second location came as no surprise. I am certain they will be well received by the UB community. In the next couple of months, we should see Sato Ramen open in the space formerly occupied by Kung Food on Main Street in the University Heights neighborhood, nestled right in between Shango and Ming's. They are currently remodeling the space to suit their needs. I asked Josh to answer a few questions about the new location and he kindly agreed.
CGS: Why University Heights?
Smith: We have a very multicultural customer base and we realized that the University Heights neighborhood is still a city spot where we can appeal to both a neighborhood community as well as a multicultural and international student base in proximity to UB. Many of the people who have lived in other cities are more used to seeing ramen places, it isn't that new to them [compared to Elmwood].
Did you plan to add a second location, or was it simply a case of an unexpected opportunity you couldn't pass up?
We have always had an idea to bring a more standard cozy, hole-in-the-wall kind of ramen concept to Buffalo with an atmosphere that is laid back and fun. We weren't actually planning on anything this soon, but we had to jump on what we think is a great opportunity. Couldn't pass it up! We talked with Jim from Shango and Sam at Ming's who have been staples in the neighborhood for many years now, and they were very encouraging about us being a great addition to the neighborhood. Neither of them saw any benefit to another pizza and sub place or bar that is just going to change hands all the time. They like the fact that we bring a bit of authenticity and originality to the area.
Do you anticipate takeout to be a good percentage of your business there?
We hope so, but noodles don't always stick out in people's minds as a take-out option. However, we separate the noodles and broth for takeout in order to maintain the texture of the noodles.
Will liquor or beer and wine be served?
Beer, wine, and sake will be served, but space is limited for a dedicated bar. Sato on Elmwood will remain more of a sake and cocktail lounge space.
How will the offerings differ from Sato on Elmwood?
Sato Ramen will have a smaller menu so we can focus more on quick service and getting the soup out piping hot. We will have a few additional ramen dishes as well, but we will also feature more soba buckwheat noodles, which is new to the area. We won't be doing nigiri and sushi rolls or as many small plates as Sato on Elmwood, but there might be some sashimi-style soba salads. We have always wanted to have an open kitchen—which is very common in Japan—so the kitchen and the chefs will really be part of the dining experience.
You and Satomi have been studying in NYC with a noodle master. How is that going? Why did you decide going to such lengths was necessary?
We thought that adding soba buckwheat noodles would be a great way to diversify the menu and have more very healthy options. We looked into studying soba noodle making, and I was planning a trip back to Satomi's hometown of Fukui, because they are famous for their style of soba noodles. As I looked into it, I realized that there was a Japanese chef in NYC who has worked with many Michelin-starred chefs, helped open Soba Totto, and helped many other very successful ramen and soba places, so figured this was a good place to start (the commute totally beats a 20-hour plane ride, too).
After working with Kotani for a while, he introduced us to making ramen noodles in-house as well, which is actually pretty rare for restaurants in Japan. But we figured that this is our niche and we might as well offer the freshest noodles possible. It's obviously more work, but now we aren't relying on a Japanese noodle company to make them for us in NYC and have them shipped, and we have our own fresh and original taste. Even at our uncle's ramen restaurant in Tokyo, the priority is the soup and an appropriate noodle is then sourced from outside. We want our ramen to be the total package: a well-balanced bowl of richness, yet still smooth and light, with a flavorful good textured noodle to go with it. The same goes for our soba. Why be average? I'll leave that to the chains like Ippudo.
Readers and ramen obsessives can look forward to a May or June opening of Sato Ramen.
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree's food editor and senior editor.