The following is an inside look at Sato Brewpub that recently opened inside the gorgeous Dun Building in Downtown Buffalo. This is the former home of Soundlab, and was once the site of Cheers. Sato Brewpub concocts Japanese inspired beers on-site – the micro brewing operation is viewable from the restaurant.
Sometimes, you eat all the tacos with your food soulmate and wax poetically about the ways in which the thoughtful, well prepared food you shared played an important accessory to a bittersweet memory.
Other times, you go to Sato Brewpub only to realize, over the ensuing parade of small plates, that your connection has been supplanted by indifference. Souls change. Confidants turn into strangers. And when that happens, you become uniquely appreciative of the sometimes fast-paced nature of izakaya.
Izakaya, which translates, in part, to “to stay,” is a restaurant format native to Japan that focuses on salty savories designed to complement a steady course of beer and sake consumption. In that tradition, Sato Brewpub offers a dizzying array of menu choices arranged by cooking method (e.g., raw, skewered and grilled, deep fried) and dish type (ramen, mini rice bowls, etc.).
Low prices, diminutive servings, and the novelty of it all (by Buffalo standards) encourage menu exploration. I suspect that in good company, those things also encourage successive rounds of drinks interspersed by even more small plates spontaneously ordered under the pleasant, inhibition-lowering, track of time-losing haze of alcohol.
I can’t say for sure. That was not my personal experience. But from the vantage point of my dining room-facing banquette, I observed a restaurant brimming with warm interpersonal connection and the rolling din of genuine mirth. I watched as guests sipped, slurped, snacked, and socialized without hurry or want. They were clearly on to something.
Not that my experience was a loss. If izakaya promotes contented dallying under certain circumstances, it is also conducive to a quick, distracting, alcohol-less meal when you need it to be. By ordering everything up front rather than little by little throughout your meal, you’re practically assured a rapid succession of dishes and little time to think about anything but the food in front of you. Occasionally, that’s the necessary scenario.
Ankimo ($7), a.k.a. monkfish liver pâté, a.k.a. “foie gras of the sea,” was the first dish to hit our table. Former Food Soulmate called it “too fishy.” He was wrong, of course. It tasted of fish, to be sure. But it was a mild, clean flavor bereft of the sometimes-jarring, palate-coating minerality typical of land animal pâtés. Microgreens and a bright, salty yuzu-kosho dressing cut through any lingering fattiness, making for one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
Our tan-tan bowl ($6) arrived a few bites into the ankimo. In it, a medium-hot, miso-bound mélange of ground pork and red chilies adorned a heap of sticky white rice. Slices of green onion tops offered welcome freshness in lieu of allium bite (an observation, not a criticism). I did, however, find myself wishing the accompanying egg had been less cooked through. A bit of unctuous, runny yolk might have better married the mince to its bed of grains.
Long before we could finish the bowl, our server placed skewers of ginger- and soy-marinated kara-age fried chicken ($7). They were fine, in the middle-of-the-road sense of the word. The traditional starch coating was so thin as to be almost imperceptible, but the meat was flavorful.
Luckily, the hand-cut fries outfitted with an addictive, pleasure center-stoking blend of sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce, kewpie mayo, bonito flakes, nori, and pickled ginger ($6) proved perfectly crushable—and perfectly void filling. It was our most sizable dish, and as long I kept filling my mouth with umami stick after umami stick, I didn’t have to participate in conversation I no longer had the will or energy to care about. Win.
A loosely textured soy milk panna cotta ($5) topped with under-ripe strawberries and rose syrup was less successfully distracting. Next time, I’ll opt for the grilled mochi balls ($4). And a different dining companion (priceless).
I think that if I do, I will be able to count myself among the mirthful, lingering, explorative set, which is the attraction of izakaya, after all. When you go to Sato Brewpub—and you should—I recommend you learn from my mistake. Be with those who make you want “to stay.” Then let the food and drink fuel your joy.