Wasabi comes to Elmwood
By Jessica Keltz; photos by kc kratt

Can anything ever take the place of Kuni’s? (Especially after the short-lived attempt in the form of Kiribashi.) Ever since chef and owner Kuniyuki Sato moved on to other projects, sushi lovers and Elmwood villagers alike have been asking themselves that question.

Now, following Kiribashi’s closing, the space is home to Wasabi, the second location of a suburban restaurant by the same name. Most sushi fans have been at least hopeful this time around—after all, the suburban Wasabi has gotten great reviews. No one who accompanied me on my first trip to the Buffalo location had been to the Amherst original, but we walked away feeling that, although it lacks the pure minimalist charm of Kuni, the new place offers a wide range of quality dishes in a comfortable, sociable setting.

We started out with a seaweed salad, haru maki (a spring roll containing crab meat, cream cheese, and asparagus), and a spicy crunchy carpaccio with white tuna. At the time of our visit, Wasabi had not yet obtained a liquor license, so we also started with some Heinekens from the Wilson Farms down the block. (Sadly, no Sapporo could be found there.) The seaweed salad was—I can’t help myself, and this is the last time I will say this—good, but not as good as the stuff you got at Kuni. The texture was a bit limper, the taste saltier, but overall it still made a nice, flavorful, yet light start to the meal. A fellow diner described the haru maki as “decadent” with its perfect texture and temperature, fried to a light golden brown. We noted that the crab meat tasted great warm. The cream cheese, less so, but I suppose that’s more a matter of personal preference. The carpaccio, too, went over well, described by our neighbor as “fresh” and with a “nice presentation.”

Next we ordered the house special: a lobster roll with mango and avocado in it, held together with a yellow soybean wrapper rather than the traditional nori. It was good overall, with one diner praising the fresh, sweet flavor, but criticized for having “too much going on,” mostly because of the mustard-y sauce that was generously zig-zagged over the top. Still, the rice was everything it should have been—firm to the bite, neither too sweet nor too bland. In addition, we tried the crunchy spicy shrimp roll, eel, yellowfin tuna sashimi, and an avocado roll. The shrimp roll, while perhaps less than authentic, was the standout of the bunch with its distinct flavor and heavy use of tempura flakes. It tasted like it should be enjoyed on a distant patio hours from Elmwood Avenue, one with both the view and scent of the ocean. The fattiness and taste of the eel and the freshness of the tuna drew praise as well.

While Kuni sold little more than sushi and simple extras like miso soup and inari pockets, Wasabi is more of a Japanese restaurant that happens to specialize in sushi. Additional menu items include teriyaki chicken, a shrimp tempura dinner, hot and sour soup, and appetizers such as pork dumplings, fried calamari, seafood ceviche, and an avocado tofu salad.

Like many of its fellow Elmwood Village hotspots, one of the best aspects of Wasabi is that it’s a friendly, casual, yet just slightly elegant place to meet friends, linger over courses, swap gossip, and see and be seen. We were pleased with the service, especially given the restaurant’s newness and the predilection of one of our fellow diners to keep changing her order. Even though it’s not Kuni, Wasabi is a great place to enjoy a quality meal and soak in a little Elmwood Avenue.

752 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

Jessica Keltz is an attorney and freelance writer. She lives, works, plays, and eats in the city of Buffalo.


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