By Suzanne Parker
Sato is a Japanese restaurant that enlivens an otherwise dreary stretch of Queens Boulevard in Rego Park. It is named for its owner/chef. The offerings run from traditional Japanese fare and sushi, to Western-influenced flights of fancy.
Chef Sato, a Japanese native, comes by his fusion preparations honestly. He began his restaurant career in the kitchens of Paris at age 14, and labored there for some 20 years before coming to the United States. He opened Sato four years ago.
Say “konichi-wa” to the suit of Bogu that greets you up front (the protective armor worn by practitioners of Kendo, the traditional Japanese art of swordsmanship originally practiced by the Samurai). I couldn’t help but associate it with memories of John Belushi doing “Samurai Deli,” or an episode “Iron Chef.” The rest of the décor was soothingly sedate, emphasizing dark wood and Japanese style.
We began the evening with soup. The Teapot Seafood Soup, served in a small teapot with a cup on the side is charming. The idea is to pour the broth into the cup to drink it, and eat the seafood with chopsticks. The broth was delicately flavored, with the essence of shiitake mushroom dominant. The contents included a clam, shrimp, scallop, shiitake mushroom, and sea leg. They would have done better to lose the sea leg, but the other ingredients were pleasing.
The appetizer selection is eclectic. It is divided into two categories: Appetizer from the kitchen and appetizer from the sushi bar. From the kitchen, choices include traditional Japanese dishes like Shrimp Tempura, Shioyaki Shishamo (salt grilled smelts) and Shumai (steamed) and Gyoza (pan fried), Japanese variations on Chinese potstickers. Some of the more unusual appetizers include Ika (squid) butter, Eel Spring Roll With Miso Sauce and Sautéed Assorted Mushrooms.
We enjoyed the Wasabi Gyoza. The addition of wasabi to the dough gave the dumplings a little extra piquancy. From the sushi appetizers we chose thinly sliced fluke with homemade shoyu. It was fresh and delicious, and the shoyu was noticeably better than the bottled kind.
We couldn’t resist giving the eel and foie gras with Asian vinegar sauce a shot. It was attractively presented in an artful stack topped with salmon caviar. I’m not sure this was the perfect marriage of ingredients. The oiliness of the eel and the fattiness of the paté seemed to amplify each other, achieving an overly rich result. It was an interesting experiment, but not a breakthrough.
Like the appetizers, the main courses are divided into categories. All entitle the diner to miso soup or salad and rice. There are the familiar Japanese offerings of udon, the Japanese noodle dish, served here with seafood, tempura, and various types of teriyaki. Then there is the entrée” category. This consists of Japanese-influenced Western dishes like salmon steak in tomato ginger sauce, filet mignon in chef special sauce, or lamb chop with Merlot teri sauce.
We chose the lamb chops. Served on a bed of sautéed vegetables, the chops were succulent. The portion was generous. The flavor, though more Continental than Japanese, was delicious. If you drag someone along that isn’t a Japanese food fan — no problem. They will love this dish.
Our selection from the sushi bar was a knockout — both visually and gastronomically. We chose seared tuna with black sesame seeds in miso lime sauce. Rather than being raw, as you might expect from the sushi bar, the slices of tuna were seared and crusted with black sesame seeds and arranged in a circle of overlapping slices to resemble a flower. The dish was liberally garnished with tobiko (flying fish roe caviar). The flavors and textures of this dish were perfectly balanced. The presentation was lovely. It was a perfectly satisfying dish in every way.
Surprisingly, the majority of the dessert offerings were fried. Of these, the most over-the-top has to be fried cheesecake. We resisted. We opted instead for mochi, a traditional Japanese confection, and a not so traditional green tea crème brulee. The mochi, made of sweetened glutinous rice paste, had a chewy texture and an intriguing flavor that was very enjoyable. The green tea crème brulee was expertly prepared with a nice creamy texture, and a crispy scorched sugar surface, but the green tea flavor was not an improvement on the original.
The service was friendly and accommodating. The only minor shortcoming was the paucity of descriptive information on the menu. While our server cheerfully answered all our questions, we wish we didn’t have to ask so many.
The Bottom Line
Japanese, sushi, and creative fusion cuisine artfully presented in typical Japanese surroundings. Not the same old shiitake.
Sato Japanese Restaurant
98-12 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
Cuisine: Japanese, sushi, and fusion
Service: Friendly and attentive
Hours: L Mon – Fri, D 7 Days
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Free in lot after 5 p.m.
Children: No Menu
Private Parties: Party room seats 16
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
Teapot Seafood Soup…$6.95
Wasabi Shumai (Japanese potstickers)…$5.50
Eel Spring Roll with Miso Sauce…$8.95
Thinly Sliced Fluke with Homemade Shoyu…$8.95
Lamb Chops with Merlot Teri Sauce…$21.95
Seared Tuna with Black Sesame Seeds in Miso-Lime Sauce…$18.95
Mochi (sweetened glutinous rice paste)…$2.95