475 Winter Street, Waltham, MA 02451
The section of Waltham that sits on either side of Route 128 is pretty much all about business, with countless office parks dotting the landscape, along with a few big box stores and business-oriented hotels. It doesn't seem a likely spot for a decent restaurant, and indeed, other than a small handful of chains, there isn't much in the way of dining options within sight of the highway. But buried away in a generic strip mall at the Winter Street intersection is an Asian restaurant that has been a favorite among the local business crowd (as well as those in the know) for a number of years. And yes, Sato doesn't really look like a very interesting place from the outside, but it is an excellent option, especially for those who like Japanese fare.
Sato is one of three restaurants within the little shopping center wedged between Route 128, Winter Street, and the Cambridge Reservoir, with Green Papaya and Bertucci's being the other two spots. The relative anonymity of Sato's exterior continues to some extent inside the place, as the interior is a bit plain, with the type of basic lighting, carpeting, and table setup that you might expect at an eatery within a strip mall. But Sato is actually a rather pleasant place to eat, as it is spacious, quiet, and peaceful. A sushi bar with a few chairs sits along the right side of the dining room, with the rest of the space being filled with both large and small tables, including a few by the windows up front.
Sato features mainly Japanese and Chinese food, but it seems like the former may be the most interesting part of the menu, as a variety of traditional Japanese entrees can be ordered here, as well as an array of sushi. (The Chinese part of the menu has some interesting dishes as well, but much of it seems to lean toward more basic Chinese-American fare such as a tasty and not-overly-spicy hot and sour soup, a heaping plate of spare ribs, beef with broccoli, sesame chicken, and shrimp in black bean sauce.) Appetizers on the Japanese side of the menu include a wonderful plate of steamed dumplings (gyoza) that are stuffed with nicely seasoned ground meat (you can also order them pan-fried). Miso soup is another option as a starter, and Sato has a particularly good version, with less in the way of tofu and more in the way of seaweed than what you might typically get elsewhere. More than 10 entree choices are offered on the Japanese side of the menu, with the gyuniku ami-yaki (tender steak slices with stir-fried peppers, onions, and peapods in a hearty red wine and peppercorn sauce) and the aigomo-rosu teriyaki (sauteed sliced duck with broccoli in a sake soy sauce) being a couple of highlights.
Sushi lovers certainly have reason to go to Sato, as the sushi and maki options can be excellent. The rice within the individual pieces tastes better than most this writer has had, with some items (such as the vegetable maki) having sesame seeds mixed into the rice, adding a deliciously nutty flavor. Fluke, sea urchin, spicy salmon (a particularly satisfying choice), and fatty tuna are just a few sushi options, while a sweet-tasting lobster, spicy snow crab, salmon skin, and fried shrimp are some options for maki. Among the vegetarian sushi options are an outstanding oshinko maki (oshinko is a bright yellow pickled Chinese cabbage that has a subtle taste and is crunchy), a mild and buttery asparagus and avocado maki, a beautifully textured sweet potato tempura maki, and a decent version of inari, which are tofu "pockets" with rice stuffed inside. The sushi presentations at Sato can be very whimsical, and if you have a particularly large group ordering lots of items, you may be lucky enough to get a sushi boat.
Sato is one of those places that is very easy to miss, but it is actually quite convenient to those traveling along Route 128. There aren't many dining spots so close to this busy highway, and even fewer that cater to fans of good Asian food. Winter Street in Waltham may not look like a road that you should exit onto if you're looking for a top-quality restaurant, but Sato may indeed make you change your mind about that.
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