All photos by Christa Glennie Seychew
The most anticipated restaurant opening of the year takes place tomorrow, Tuesday, May 1. Dobutsu, the second restaurant from James and Connie Roberts, seeks to offer guests the kind of food Chef Roberts prefers to eat at home.
Dobutsu, located next door to Tommyrotter Distillery in the 500 Seneca building, features a sunlit dining room and simple furnishings with minimal blue accents against exposed brick walls. The menu showcases California cuisine with heavy Japanese influences, a departure from the Southern comfort food that’s propelled Roberts’ success thus far.
The menu is concise. Guests choose from appetizers, salads, an assortment of grilled fish options, and some heftier entrées that fetch a heftier price. At the bottom of the menu, an assortment of ramen bowls is featured, as well as both donburi and poke.
While attending the friends and family preview, we snapped some images of a handful of dishes; readers can see them below. We opted to sample the top and bottom portion of the menu, skipping entrées altogether, which is, quite honestly, the way we eat almost everywhere these days.
Steamed buns are offered as a daily special, at market price, on a per-piece basis. The night we attended the fluffy little wrappers were stuffed with huge pieces of delectably sweet crab that had been lightly and carefully tempura fried. Minimal accoutrement included a dab of what we guess was kewpie mayo and a bit of lettuce.
Onoyaki fritters, also priced daily, are an interesting take on okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake typically served with an assortment of texturally and optically diverse toppings. The fritters were certainly far less messy than their inspiration typically is.
Hato Mugi Salad
The Hato Mugi Salad was one of two noted on the menu. Pickled daikon, chunks of cucumber, ginger, legumes, and greens are tossed in a rice wine vinegar and topped with thick, crispy pieces of rice cracker. It’s bright and crunchy flavor profile was a welcome addition to our meal, and a perfect palate cleanser.
Ramen is available three ways: roast pork, roast chicken, and vegetable. We heard other tables raving about the Veggie Ramen, made with red miso and seasoned with tamari it appeared to be chockfull of vegetables. Our chicken ramen came with only scallions, marinated bok choy, and roasted chicken. It was seasoned with carrot chile oil, and we added an onsen egg for a modest upcharge because, well, why wouldn’t you?
Pork belly donburi
All the cool kids love ramen, but I’ll champion a good donburi any day. The Pork Belly Rice Bowl was our favorite dish of the night, despite my personal belief that pork belly has jumped the shark, per se. Regardless of its ubiquity, when it’s prepared perfectly, it’s still pretty effing good, and here it benefited from sharing a bowl with sticky rice, spicy cabbage, scallion, soy, chile oil, and another pretty egg.
There was no skimping with the tuna here, though we did wish for some additional toppings. And here, as with the ramen and the donburi, we really wished for tableside access to additional sauces and additions to customize our orders.
Vegetarians and vegans can be accommodated at Dobutsu, and gluten-free rice noodles are available to ramen fiends who don’t fare well with wheat. Fresh fish lovers are sure to be happy here, as the sources Roberts’ uses are reliably fantastic, and drivers will appreciate the massive and well-lit parking lot located directly across the street. Reservations recommended.
500 Seneca Street, Buffalo