Taste the World / Sato, Sato Ramen, and Sato Brewpub
Photos by kc kratt
739 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo; 931-9146 or satobuffalo.com
Owners: Joshua and Satomi Smith
In business since: 2011
Joshua and Satomi Smith first opened SATO on Grand Island in 2011, moving to the Elmwood Village in 2013. Sato Ramen in University Heights opened in 2015, and Sato Brewpub is coming to the downtown area in the fall.
All three locations serve some iteration of ramen, including Satomi Smith’s family recipe, “Sato ramen,” based on a dish served in her family’s restaurant, Ichi-Ryu in Japan. Smith has studied with master soba noodle chef Shuichi Kotani to develop a house ramen and buckwheat noodle program, experimenting with both Japanese and local ingredients. The “ramen lab” features both traditional and unusual dishes, offering some variation of the Japanese comfort food for every palate.
How did you decide to open a Japanese restaurant in Buffalo?
Joshua Smith: I grew up in the Parkside area and met [my wife and SATO executive chef] Satomi at Buff State. We lived in Japan for thirteen years, and when we moved back, the only image of Japanese cuisine in Buffalo was sushi. We wanted to try to bring something different—and [we] wanted to be able to find what we wanted to eat!
What’s so special about ramen?
JS: Ramen is a proven concept in Japan. It’s Japanese soul food, comfort food, something that can universally relate to Satomi’s hometown and to Buffalo, with its similar weather. It fits!
What has it been like being the first real Japanese cuisine in the area, and soon, the first Japanese brewpub?
JS: We never want to rely on being the first to do anything. We try to stay in the competition and bring the best quality food that we can. That’s why we bring over certain ingredients from Japan and why we use heritage birds from Erba Verde farms that are 100 percent organic and free-range. It comes across in the meat. It’s difficult, because we have a love for local food, but a lot of real Japanese ingredients can’t be sourced locally.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with your cuisine?
JS: Ramen is experiential, so there’s no way to recreate that first bowl. There are also a thousand kinds of ramen. How people eat here is different from how people eat in Japan. It’s not that we’re not eating ramen “correctly”; it’s that the culture is different. In Japan, you eat ramen quickly, in under two minutes. Here, you get the food, you talk, and the ramen is dying as you sit.
SS: We had to create a noodle that didn’t absorb too much broth too quickly so it gets mushy, and we’re still adjusting. We’ve changed the flavor so many times, learning from customers’ comments, from our own experiments. For the chicken version, we tried a clear-style broth, but that was too borderline chicken noodle, a lot of people equate it with being sick. There’s a lot of hype around ramen right now, and the challenge is trying to get people to separate ours from their concept of it. People have to try it and have to get over the fact that it’s not instant noodle like in college.
Novelist Lizz Schumer teaches journalism at Canisius.