Three years ago, Chef Mike Andrzejewski (Seabar, Cantina Loco)—considered by many in the industry ‘the godfather of food’ in Buffalo—told me, “Chef James Roberts is the best Chef in Buffalo but unfortunately no one can eat his food.” The reason? Roberts was the Executive Chef at Park Country Club in Williamsville for eight years, which meant that only a select few had access to his creations. So, when it was announced that James and Connie Roberts were going to open their first restaurant (Toutant), mouths everywhere rejoiced.
Fast forward three years and likely ten thousand plus plates of fried chicken later, the pair cracked open the doors to their new venture (today) – by far one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year: Dōbutsu!
Owner Connie Roberts always thought Toutant would be known as a seafood spot, as the name is derived from her husband James’s great grandfather’s fishing camp back in Louisiana. “What are we known for there now, fried chicken and biscuits,” she joked. “With Dōbutsu, we sought to create a premier seafood restaurant in Buffalo.”
Seafood is a segment of restaurants in this city that I think is lacking. Yes, many upscale restaurants serve some excellent seafood dishes, though I don’t feel we have a real true local seafood restaurant.
Dōbutsu’s new menu is heavy in the seafood category, helping fill that void. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek and taste of their menu last week. Fresh seafood and poke bowls are riddled throughout their starting lineup. “We’re buying fish that’s one or two days out of the water,” said Executive Chef James Roberts. “Our seafood will be globally sourced; you can have the fish here in fifteen hours from Japan… that’s the beauty of today’s global logistic shipping market.”
If you’re a carnivore, don’t worry, their entrées are rounded out with some outstanding meat dishes as well. We tried the Heritage Pork Porterhouse rubbed with an in house made togarashi ($28) and a Grilled Waygu Beef Short Rib with a mushroom soy compound butter ($30) cooked on the Japanese made Robata grill. Both meats were ordered medium rare, and were served to perfection.
The Pacific theme wouldn’t be complete without the ever so sought-after ramen bowl. Pork ($16), chicken ($15), and vegetable ($12) are the offerings of the Japanese dish. The roast pork itself is the best meat I’ve ever had in a ramen bowl. Also, don’t sleep on the veggie bowl, the broth is clearly house-made and killer! Likewise, the chicken broth has a rich and fresh texture, testament to plenty of time simmering. “I’ve always loved ramen!” said James. “As long as I’ve been a cook. I seek it out when I go to other cities. Now it’s something that I can’t escape. I’ve gotta have it!”
I’m right there with you Chef!
The main dining space is open and bright, layered with a blueish hue that gives the restaurant a modern oceanic feel. The blackboard on the wall highlights the fresh seafood being served that day—you can even look the fish in the eye in the deli case at the entrance if you wish—until they run out. Aside from the food and creative libations on the menu, there’s a cool “take-out beer” offering. WHAT!? Connie added, “A unique feature of our establishment is patrons can come in and take out growlers of draft beer, or cans or bottled beer from our selection.” I haven’t seen anything like that since my days in college in Pennsylvania, where it was common.
My party was fortunate enough to have enjoyed over a dozen menu items at Dōbutsu, and we did not leave disappointed. There was something to please most any palate, and each dish was fresh, colorful, and creatively presented. The Japanese translation of Dōbutsu is “Animal.” James Roberts said the inspiration was that he wanted a place where he could “Feed his own Animal.” I’m certain, he won’t be the only one!