Sushi Alongside Italian: Partial Meals at SeaBar

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5235 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Seabar
Phone: 716.204.5283
Rating:    [learn more]
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"As with many Asian fusion restaurants, the lens through which you view SeaBar will depend as much on your expectations as on your pocketbook."

With a tiny menu and an equally small but clean and modern interior, SeaBar in Williamsville is an interesting local sushi restaurant that in our view has benefitted more from novelty than value for the dollar. Where else, some might ask, could you see - gasp! - a Polish sushi chef? And a $5 local favorite sandwich transformed into the $12 Beef on Weck sushi roll, its kummelweck buns replaced by rice, chunks of salt, and caraway seeds, while its stack of beef is reduced to small, thin slices? What other sushi restaurant would also offer $7 Seafood Tacos, hard corn tacos with - wait for it - fish, avocado, and salsa inside? Or let you order from the menu of the Italian restaurant next door? SeaBar has been erroneously touted as sushi, Buffalo style, but it's not; it's really just a sushi bar for people who are willing to pay a premium for non-Japanese options.

The Story: Nestled into a small nook in a Main Street plaza best known for the Clayton's toy store and the Italian restaurant Trattoria Aroma, SeaBar nevertheless made a positive impression in its opening weeks, gracing its interior with nice wood furniture, classy wall decor, a glass block entryway, and even multiple mini fish tanks - until the fish died. It was clear that this new kid on the block wanted to be worthy of its high prices, and that its chef had some ideas as to how to generate mainstream critical buzz: in addition to the aforementioned Beef on Weck Roll and Seafood Tacos, SeaBar offered Foie Gras sushi ($16), inserting bite-sized portions of duck liver, mango and scallions onto a bed of rice.

The strategy was clear. While authentic sushi is rarely cheap, and less often composed of cooked meats rather than raw seafood, SetBar set out to offer fusion sushi - alongside a small collection of traditional items - in a different and more expensive way. Thus, instead of the $5 Spicy Tuna Roll you'd get elsewhere, SeaBar offers the "Best Spicy Tuna Roll" for $10. A bowl of soup or a piece of sushi that's around $2 elsewhere is likely to cost $3 here. And as we noted at the end of one meal, the dessert menu has no prices; they turn out to be $6 each.

Highs: Over the course of two visits, we had a chance to sample a pretty good fraction of the SeaBar menu, which is divided into appetizers ($3-$6), half-entree "composed dishes" ($6-$16), and various types of traditional and fusion sushi ($2.25-$14). Most of the items and drinks we tried, ranging from a Cuban Mojito - a sweetened mint, rum and lime drink from the bar - to albacore tuna and scallop sushi pieces ($3 each), hand rolls, and Shrimp Tempura maki rolls ($8), tasted pretty good, though none was especially memorable for the price, and a couple were disappointing. Those interested in trying the previously noted quasi-sushi items may find them fun, and classics such as the California Roll ($9) - oddly served here with shrimp by default, but switched to crab stick by request - taste as good, and sometimes a little better than expected.

It's also worth noting that on one of our visits, someone in our group wasn't interested in any of SeaBar's limited menu choices, and was able to instead pick from the next door Italian restaurant Trattoria Aroma's menu. Similarly, when none of us was excited by SeaBar's dessert options, we flipped back to the Aroma menu. It's an unusual alternative to the typical Japanese dining experience, which almost always sates our needs without a second menu; however, some diners may prefer SeaBar's approach.

We were generally pleased by the quality of the service at SeaBar. Our servers were friendly and appeared to have been trained well enough to handle both orders and delivery of items without major issues; on the rare occasion that we had difficult questions, the servers knew to ask the kitchen and get the correct answers.

Lows: Especially given the prices, we weren't blown away by any of the sushi or non-sushi options we tried, and we were actively disappointed by a couple of the items we received. Like some other Western New York sushi restaurants, SeaBar's rendition of Spicy Tuna isn't spicy or flavorful, but here, it sells for twice the price, and doesn't in any way justify its billing as "Best." The standard Tuna, priced here at $3.25 per piece, tasted fresh but wasn't as generously sized as it could be for the price; the market priced Sea Urchin was pretty fresh, but lacked the hint of sweetness of the best Uni we've tasted.

More importantly, even with the ability to switch over to Aroma's menu, we left both of our meals feeling like there weren't enough Japanese options, a fact that led us to order less from SeaBar than we might have, and unusually rely upon the next-door options more than we'd have ever guessed possible - something about $6 desserts and expensive sushi pieces made us want to know all our options. As a final note, parking can also be somewhat of a challenge given the small lots here.

The Verdict: As with many Asian fusion restaurants, the lens through which you view SeaBar's menu choices, decor, and pricing will depend as much on your expectations as on your pocketbook; if you come here expecting anything special from the traditional sushi menu, you mightn't be impressed for the prices, but if you are looking for items that you'd never find in a true Japanese restaurant, you're more likely to find options here than at any other place in town. We wouldn't pick SeaBar over a number of other local sushi bars if we were looking for an excellent, affordable meal, but it's a safe, pricey place to take a date - particularly one who may or may not be comfortable with true Japanese food.

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