As Cheektowaga continues its fast-paced surge in international cuisine, another Asian themed restaurant opens on the Transit Road corridor. Nestled between Kumo and Thai House, Camellia Garden Sushi & Thai Cuisine has opened its doors in the former La Castellana. For those like me that grew up in this area, Castellana was THE traditional red checkered tablecloth spot for parmed spaghetti, stuffed shells, and getting yelled at by the blonde Italian owner lady for taking too long, asking why they don’t take credit cards, and asking for extra bread.
I point this out because Camellia Garden couldn’t be more opposite. They have somehow turned this white painted brick Depew building into something bordering on… elegant? When you walk inside, you’re met with white linen clad tables, cloth napkins, and a very sleek and clean look. I’ve got twice since they opened, and was greeted each time with a smile and very earnest service. The vibe is very comfortable, there is some great jazz music playing in the background, and the staff seems genuinely excited that you’re there.
When I spoke with one of the owners, she proudly mentioned she was from Mayanmar, which would speak to Burmese food – and I am among those that think we can’t have enough Burmese restaurants in town. However, Camellia continues the tradition of “fusion” Asian cuisine, blending a few different regional styles into their menu. I’ve seen this all over the country (There is actually a place called “Sushi-Thai” that I frequent in Naples, Florida), and I believe it is a nod toward trying to make people feel comfortable enough to try a new restaurant style (in this case Burmese) with dishes they are familiar with (Like Sushi and Thai). Bringing out familiar Thai and Japanese preparations with the “newer to the area” Burmese menu is a solid strategy to get people in to try the food. I’ve tried a bit of each from the menu, and can say that I was happy with the sampling I had from all three cuisines.
A quick tangent…
Southeast Asian food has taken awhile to get any traction in Buffalo. My first experience with Thai food was when I was about ten, and my brother took me to “Thai This” in Dana Point, CA. (They have since closed, but their sister restaurant “Thai One On” is of course, still open.) The restaurant was run by a guy named Jib, and he used to get so excited when we came in. I thought it was us, and then I realized he was like that with all of his patrons. It also helped that my brother and he traded recipes. Jib swapped some of his biggest secrets for my brother’s meatloaf and Italian Sausage recipes. We always went for lunch, and my brother would order way too much food each time. I know I worked over that whole menu at least twice. Steaming hot steel pots of Tom Kha, braised lambshanks in curry, spicy Panang. I was intrigued by the “how many star spicy’ program, the little dishes of sweet pickled cucumbers, the cruets of hot sauces, oils, and powders, and the bold flavors of kafir lime, panang curry, and Thai basil. I ate it like crazy when I lived out there as an adult, and craved for it when I moved back up until the past few years when we finally started getting a sufficient representation in Western NY.
Now back to Camilla Garden…
I’ve had both lunch and dinner here in the short time it has been open, and I am very encouraged by my experience. As with any new restaurant, I give a lot of leeway in my expectations as they settle in and work out their service, kitchen, and staff, and I hope you do as well. With that said, our visits were not perfect, but I am excited for what I’ve had, and what I can see coming from this. They are offering a good mix of Thai and Burmese dishes, and the sushi program seems pretty simple and straightforward. The green papaya salad was appropriately sour and salty with the right crunch of nuts. The Black Rice and Tuna salad was so great and filling, with a nice mix of proteins and veggies. I felt like I was eating someone’s Pinterest healthy lunch post. The Panang Curry was well balanced, and the Pad Gra Prow had a ton of really fresh Thai basil, and was served with a fried egg on top of the rice – which made me very happy. Everything that came to our table was very fresh and well prepared, and the brightness of the herbs and spices tell me that there is a lot of care in the kitchen.
Cheektowaga/Depew/Lancaster is a tough crowd to sell new styles of food to, so I was really encouraged to see local folks there eating dinner, and for a couple of them, they were repeat visits. Following are some photos of dishes from our visit. I encourage you to stop in and give it a try. They’ll be really happy to see you.
Camellia is open Monday through Sunday, has a beer and wine liquor license, and accepts all credit cards.
Camellia Garden Sushi & Thai Cuisine
5176 Transit Road
Depew, NY 14043