Although I’ve eaten at Kuni’s ‘a few’ times over the span of owner Kuni Sato‘s lengthy career, it was not until last night that I truly learned to appreciate his talent as a diverse sushi chef. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a big fan of his heralded menu – there are so many favorites that I don’t know where to begin. But at the same time, a trip to Kuni’s meant that I would soon be rattling off my favorite items without giving much thought to anything out of the ordinary. For a decade, Kuni’s menu stayed pretty much the same, and that was OK with me.
Last night I dropped in on Kuni to check out the recent expansion. He busted down the back wall of Kuni’s 2 Go and made room for an intimate seating area and two custom made bars. The back bar is overseen by Kuni himself – that’s the place you want to be if you’re really into sushi. The other bar is the perfect place to grab a drink (his beer and wine license arrives tonight), though on busy nights it doubles as an extension of the sushi bar. Since I arrived towards the end of the evening, I found no trouble snagging a seat at the sushi bar.
It had been a while since I had seen Kuni who, right off the bat, asked me if I wanted to order off the menu or let him handle the sushi selections (omakase style). That was a new one. In all of the years that I had been eating at Kuni’s he had never once asked to handle my order. I told him that he was in charge and sat back wondering what I was in store for. As we chatted, Kuni told me that the new restaurant had brought with it the winds of culinary change. For the first time since he opened his operation, he felt that he had all of the ingredients necessary to show off a little bit… to release his creative energies. And believe it or not, those ingredients include a torch, various sea salts and traditional Japanese marinades.
Not since making the sushi rounds in NYC have I tasted comparable delicacies to those that I sampled last evening. Kuni was on fire. If you’re a fan of Kuni Sato, then you know what I mean when I tell you that I did not miss the traditional no-frills fare that I had come to love at his restaurant. Each omakase dish that he handed over the bar was better than the next. It’s amazing what a couple of grains of sea salt will do for a slice of sashimi. Or how a simple torching can melt a thinly sliced cut of salmon so that it melts in your mouth. For those of you who have overloaded on ginger, wasabi and soy in the past, Kuni has designed an alternative to each that will leave you asking yourself why you ever relied so heavily on the same stand-bys for all of these years. Not to say that you can’t still enjoy those standard sushi accompaniments… if you let Kuni take you by the hand just once, you won’t be sorry.
Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started (from the menu): Sashimi 21 is comprised of thinly sliced fish and avocado topped with yuzo-marinated onions and shaved jalapeños… yes jalapeños. The presentation is so beautiful that you almost don’t want to eat it. Then there’s Nuta – shrimp, mackerel, octopus, and scallions finished with a sweet and spicy mustard-miso dressing. The rest, you can leave up to his imagination. If you’re up for an original dining experience, I strongly suggest that you pay Kuni a visit – why not try something different?
Kuni’s (now open on Sundays)
226 Lexington Ave
Buffalo, NY 14222