Man-Aung Sushi has opened in the Rand Building, on Lafayette Square in the heart of Downtown. I love seeing restaurants open in unsuspecting places, and Man-Aung is no exception. I posted about the arrival of Man-Aung back in April. Since that time, I have been wondering what the build-out would look like. The sign in the window hinted that the formula would be “salad bar/hot bar/grab ‘n go”, which was probably a good recipe for people working nearby.
And that’s pretty much exactly what the place turned out to be. In the back is a soup station featuring miso soup, of course. Then there’s a hot food station with what appeared to be a noodle dish and a chicken dish (the staples), although I paid a visit late in the day, so I’m sure that the selections were lighter than usual. Then there’s a salad bar, followed by a refrigeration case featuring numerous pre-prepared sushi rolls and pieces. I also learned that there was a bubble tea station.
Before long, a woman approached me from behind the counter and began to pleasantly describe the various rolls that I was eyeing. She also asked if I wanted to try a couple samples of the rolls. Normally this is not something that I readily accept, but I figured that I would take one for the team and accept her offer. The two pieces were ho-hum, just as I suspected. There’s something about eating samples that is just not appealing to me. So I went back to the drawing board. I told her that the two tuna rolls that she had described sounded pretty good. She brought them up to the counter and asked if I wanted a bubble tea (boba). I asked her about the flavors. There was banana, which was a new one for me. Why not? Being a big fan of a good boba, I was actually pretty excited to try one out on a hot summer’s afternoon.
I ended up taking my bounty to a far table near the front window so that I could watch passersby on the square. Looking around, I felt that the place was pretty sparse in the design category – it needed something. Maybe a fountain in the foyer? Japanese music? A vibrant mural of a dragon? Something to eat up the large amount of space, other than the vibrant paint colors chosen for the walls. Something to relax the mind?
After scoping the place out, I began to unpackage my two boxes of sushi – a berry roll (tuna, avocado, strawberry & sesame seeds), and a red pepper special roll (salmon, tuna, imitation crab, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado spicy sauce & sesame seeds). If you’re familiar with the Wegmans sushi bar, then you know what you’re in for with Man-Aung. This sushi is fresh, packaged, and there are even sell by/eat by dates on the labels. While it’s not nearly the same as having a sushi chef prepare these rolls for you on the spot, there’s something to be said for grab ‘n go, for people who have ten minutes to run from their offices, pick up what they need, and eat at their desks. Me? I was planning on eating at Man-Aung, which is why I felt so guilty seeing the amount of plastic sitting on the table after my meal was over. I’m hoping that they are planning on recycling the plastic packaging that remains in-house after customers have finished their meals.
Here is my takeaway from Man-Aung:
There’s a reason that Wegmans does so well with their pre-packaged sushi. There is no Wegmans in downtown Buffalo, which means that Man-Aung will draw upon the same customer mindset – people who love sushi, but don’t have time to sit down to an authentic meal. Man-Aung will appeal to a crowd that wants to get in, and get out without spending a ton of money. My bill came to $17.37 for the two large rolls and a boba.
I don’t know why some Japanese restaurants feel the need to put plastic seaweed (looks like glowing green sheets of grass) in the takeout containers. It doesn’t event look nice – it looks weird, and it’s a complete waste of time, money, and plastic. As if the plastic containers, the plastic cup, the plastic boba straw, and the spent soy packages wasn’t enough, there’s plastic grass to contend with.
Which leads me to: Why not just put soy bottles on the tables, and allow customers to grab packages of soy if they want them? It would have been nice to have a bottle of soy instead of ripping open the tiny packages, squirting out the soy, and then piling them onto the overturned covers of the plastic sushi containers.
The boba was not a good experience. Maybe for a newbie, this is OK, but I’ve had plenty of good boba, and this was not it. The tapioca pearls were overcooked, because instead of being nice and gummy, they simply disintegrated upon chewing. Plus, the drink was half slushy, like it was crushed ice from a blender – very odd. And the flavor just wasn’t there either, which is too bad, because as far as I know, this is the only place to get boba in downtown Buffalo. Time to go back to the drawing board. I would suggest that the owner head on over to Phở Lantern on Niagara Street to see what makes a good boba. Honestly, I hope that they can turn this around, because it would be a great addition to their restaurant.
Man-Aung Sushi needs some better signage out front. It would be great to see a brilliant neon sushi sign, or a blade sign with a large fish on it. Just think of Blade Runner. I am aware that this place is only open during traditional business hours (8:00am – 5:00pm), but the Rand Building is so beautiful, and it justly deserved to have a nice sign that signals that there is a restaurant inside. A sandwich board just doesn’t cut it.
As I mentioned, Man-Aung Sushi will appeal to the downtown office worker who is looking for a quick sushi fix. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a tried and true formula that has worked for Wegmans for years. That said, there are surely some tweaks that can be made to attract a clientele that would want to eat at the restaurant. After all, it is a fairly large space that has a bunch of tables, so it’s not as if they can’t accommodate people who want to sit down and eat. It’s all about the laws of attraction. And please cut down on the plastic for those who want to eat in. Or better yet, stock biodegradable/compostable containers (see here) and let customers know that you care about the earth as much as you care about them.
Man-Aung Sushi | 14 Lafayette Square | Buffalo Ny 14203 | 716-342-2489