3719 Union Rd, Cheektowaga, NY 14225
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Cheektowaga Japanese Sushi
"If you're enthused by Japanese-style delicacy - contrasting woods, paper windows, cherry blossom branches, and fresh fish - Sakura will make an instantly good first impression."
After spending years as an offshoot of Niagara Falls Boulevard's original Thai restaurant Jasmine, and then as a Asian fusion restaurant with heavy Thai influences, a Cheektowaga venue across from the Walden Galleria Mall has transformed into a Japanese sushi restaurant called Sakura. Redecorated attractively and consistently with the cuisine - something we can't always say about other local Japanese restaurants - the restaurant's clean, classy decor and heavy emphasis on good sushi quality make it a standout, even if the rest of its menu is a bit threadbare. Our group left largely satisfied, except for one diner who wasn't looking for sushi and wasn't satisfied with the available alternatives. While it's not worth a drive if you're closer to Wasabi or SeaBar, you'll find the sushi surprisingly competent.
The Story: With the exception of the Thai restaurants Sakura has physically replaced, Cheektowaga is just not known for Asian restaurants - this is despite the fact that the Walden Galleria Mall is in this city, providing a huge potential crowd for ethnic dining options. For whatever reason, this particular address has for years been an almost lone standout in the area, initially offering diners some of the best Soft Shell Crab and Thai green curry anywhere in Western New York, and now under different ownership offering a substantial collection of sushi. Sakura notably does not attempt to offer a wide variety of kitchen-prepared Japanese or other entrees, and thus isn't a smart place to come if you're not looking for raw fish: one gets the sense that the few heated options are provided more as an accommodation to fussy diners than out of a sense of interest from the chef.
Highs: If you're enthused by the delicacy that Japanese foods and designs can offer - contrasting dark woods and blonde walls, rice paper windows, small hints of the restaurant's namesake cherry blossom branches, and subtle, fresh raw fish - Sakura will make an instantly good first impression. Brighter and cleaner than the previous Thai occupants, the interior now feels like a pretty authentic traditional Japanese home or dining establishment, and it's obvious that the chefs care about the freshness of the fish they serve.
The menu features a long list of individual pieces of sushi priced from $2 to $4.50, with most pieces in the $2.50 range. An even longer list of "fusion rolls," consisting of 30 differently named types of mixed-item sushi, constitutes the bulk of the menu, along with a more familiar list of 12 "special rolls" and 20 maki or temaki traditional rolls. We tried many of them, including a Shrimp Tempura roll ($9), a Spicy Tuna hand roll ($5.75), a California Roll ($5), an Avocado and Cucumber Roll ($4.50), and a custom roll we requested with peppered tuna on top and spicy tuna inside. We were more than satisfied with the quality of each of these rolls, though they were expensive, as noted below. Desserts, including Tempura Ice Cream and Tempura Fried Bananas, were also good, though not great.
Lows: Sakura's prices are on the very expensive side, almost regardless of what you order. Those looking for a vegetable tempura appetizer, as we were, will find only the pricier $9 Shrimp Tempura as a menu option, and the fusion rolls range from $8 up to $17. Somewhat amazingly, most of the simple bento boxes go for $19 to $20, including the $19 Beef Teriyaki Box - discounted to $10 at lunch - which has only Beef Teriyaki and vegetables, a California Roll, 2 Gyoza dumplings, salad and rice. This is a lot to charge for a simple bento, and though we thought that the quality of the bento items was good, the person who ordered them didn't agree.
The Verdict: Sakura isn't the right sort of Japanese restaurant for everyone, and given its high prices - the only reason it missed our three-star rating - there are quite a few other places that we'd consider visiting first. That said, if you're looking for truly authentic sushi or good specialty rolls, we think that you should give this place a shot at least once, as the quality is impressive enough to satisfy even jaded diners. Ultimately, if Sakura doesn't stick around, above-market pricing or the scope of its kitchen entrees will most likely be to blame rather than anything else.