3047 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, NY 14226
Web: O Restaurant and Lounge
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Amherst Bars Fusion Japanese Sushi
"O can either offer a fine, reasonably priced meal - in the case of standard sushi - or a seriously expensive Fusion meal with the potential for highs and disappointment."
It takes moxy to name any restaurant - particularly a predominantly Japanese one - simply "O," but that's the identity of this somewhat pretentious Amherst-based sushi, Asian fusion, and drinking establishment. With a massive bar and a part-lounge, part-restaurant interior that looks like it was designed to accommodate bigger crowds than we've ever seen inside, O Restaurant and Lounge offers good Japanese food at prices that range from reasonable to high, as well as non-Japanese dishes that accommodate American palates. Some of the dishes, particularly the non-Japanese items, are priced at an obscene level and fail to deliver the quality or quantity you'd get for fewer dollars elsewhere, and the drinks are expensive, but the sushi is generally very good.
The Story: Unusually spacious and style-conscious by the standards of local sushi restaurants, O's dining room and table service succeed in making a positive first impression. A substantially black and blue bar area is the focal point of the room, with alcohol piled high towards the ceiling; tables are covered in white paper and alternate between transparent glass, white, and blue dishes served by smartly dressed staff.
Medium-sized menus devote roughly half their space to sushi, which generally sells in the $2-3 per piece range, with maki rolls at a similarly reasonable $4 to $6 - hovering closer to the high end. Where diners will start to get into trouble are the specialty rolls, which run from $7 to $14 and average $10, the appetizers ($7-$11), entrees ($16-$32), and the extensive drink menu, which offers most mixed drinks for $7.50 and wines for $6 per glass. As you might guess, one night of sushi and cocktails, or just one appetizer and the wrong entree, can quickly become a big red dot on your credit card radar.
Highs: We found O's sushi to generally be of very good quality. Though we weren't fond of the prices for the specialty rolls, we felt that the flavors were pretty close to great and the presentation was highly attractive. Individual diners' sushi items were delivered on glass plates that really showed off all of the items - the pieces of sushi, the palate-cleansing slices of light yellow pickled ginger, and the green wasabi paste, and between the colors and flavors of the sushi items, we were as impressed with their tastes as we were with their presentations.
One of our entrees, the Grilled Tuna ($25), was shockingly expensive but otherwise very satisfying to its recipient - shaped like two wedges, it was seared white on the outside and left pink on the inside, coated in a brown citrus and ginger sauce, and served aside a collection of cooked vegetables. Stylish quarter circles of red and green sauce added beautiful splashes of color to the otherwise attractive plate.
Lows: As a $7 dish sold here for $16, the Pho soup is emblematic of O's excesses. Visually extremely close to the Vietnamese original, O's version of the famous beef, beef broth, and rice noodle soup is garnished as expected with lime, bean sprouts and cilantro, but lacks both in depth of flavor and of bowl. For the price, we'd expect either a profoundly delicious or huge quantity of Pho, but the portion we received wasn't memorably rich-tasting, and not enough to fill us even when accompanied by sushi.
Other items also suffered from the "close but no cigar" phenomenon, with good looks and okay flavors, but prices that seemed too high for what and how much was delivered. A Tofu Pot Pie ($11) and Vegetable Tempura place ($6.50) were both nice-looking but bland appetizers; a couple of people at our table felt uncomfortable ordering larger entrees because of their prices.
The Verdict: Depending on what you're looking for, O can either offer a fine, reasonably priced meal - in the case of standard sushi pieces and rolls - or a seriously expensive Fusion-style meal with the potential for some highs and some disappointment. If you visit this place with a big wad of cash and an equally large appetite for sushi, you'll likely leave satisfied; consider it a good place for an impressive date, but find another local sushi place for a more affordable week-to-week fix.