Uni Sashimi Bar- Best Sashimi in Boston
It is no secret that I’m a fan girl of Chef Ken Oringer’s. I think the man is one of the most brilliant chefs in America and I have yet to come across a restaurant of his that I didn’t fall in love with. Uni- his Japanese inspired Sashimi Bar in Boston, is no exception.
With its light wood walls and dark wood tables, black stone sushi bar and random Japanese street scenes on the walls, this small restaurant sits around 25 people and is just steps away from Oringer’s award-winning Clio Restaurant, both housed in the Eliot Hotel. These are cozy quarters at Uni, heightening the orgasmic experience of smelling the alluring scent of charred buttery miso and garlic every few minutes as Sashimi Chef Tony Messina plates a concoction every few minutes.
With eclectic lounge beats music playing at low enough volume to allow comfortable conversation, the ambiance is modern cozy, mirroring the attitude of the well versed staff.
As I always do at sushi/sashimi bars, I sit at the counter so I can live vicariously through the chefs and for a moment, pretend that it’s me slicing and plating those divine creations.
You can’t go wrong with Uni’s menu but here were standouts for me:
Hirame– one of my favorite fish is dressed here with Vanilla Rhubarb vinaigrette, (yes, you read correctly- Vanilla), with perfectly crunchy Kacha and Nori. This dish was bright and tangy, a vibrant blend of flavors and textures.
Madai- topped with thin red onion rounds, a sweet blood orange jus, mini diced cucumber and Ras el Hanout (an African spice blend), this dish served almost like a palate cleanser- a feat you’d never think fish could do.
Hon Hamachi– yellowtail is in my top 5 favorite fish and the way Uni prepares it, it may very well bump up to 3rd place. This was one of the most visually stunning sashimi dishes I’ve seen in America, with savory red ginger, sweetened jalapenos and a banana glass (think super thin brittle the color of light caramel). As you swirl the fish with the rest of the accoutrements on your tongue, you notice not only the buttery texture of the Hon Hamachi but the overall perfectly saltiness that trails to just a trace of backend sweetness, almost as if you’re wine tasting. The flavors of this dish develop with every bite, unfolding slowly to a surprise ending.
Hon Hamachi Toro– this is easily one of the best sashimi creations ever. EVER. And I have traveled all over the world, eaten at many of the best sushi and sashimi joints in Japan. Yellowtail Belly is perfectly sliced and seasoned with a Black Truffle Vinaigrette, a touch of Yuzu in the background, AND, brace yourself, PORK BELLY CROUTONS. The crisp and salty pork belly was more a crumble rather than your traditional cube croutons a la Thanksgiving, a crumble that you wish you could steal from Uni’s kitchen to bring home and eat by the spoon in the middle of the night while watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi. To top off an already stunning and perfect creation, there were miniature edible flowers here and there, but NOT as eye candy garnish. That would be too elementary for the level of Chefs that Oringer and Messina are. These edible flowers, like that from Apple Blossoms, add a variety of flavors including lightly sweet to surprisingly peppery. Unlike how other restaurants use edible flowers as an afterthought garnish, at Uni, every carefully placed flower serves a very specific purpose to enhance the dish.
Sake– now we’ve arrived to my sometimes #1 favorite fish (depending on my mood, the other is Otoro, the belly of Tuna). Sliced a bit thicker than the other fish, the sake sits on streaks of black bean tapenade reminiscent of Jajangmyun or Dan Dan Mien, with grated ginger, finely sliced scallions and sprigs of purposefully chosen herbs, freshly picked from Uni’s little herb garden that sits right in front of the chefs on one side of the sushi bar. At first taste, there’s a tinge of Yuzu, giving way to the salty black beans and balancing ginger. This dish along with the Hon Hamachi Toro made me wish I could eat at Uni every single day.
Tuna Ceviche– cut in small cubes, this fish had the texture of firm jello, dressed in a coconut curry sauce with touches of red chili peppers and cilantro, and a sprinkling of fried garlic on top. While savoring this dish, I had visions of the best culinary minds of Japan, Thailand and Vietnam coming together to ponder what would be the best dish to represent an amalgamation of their three foods.
Warm Oysters– perfectly briny with a gentle Miso Hollandaise that did not overpower the oysters, there was a finishing touch of sweetness and a gorgeous crunch from the Chinese Sausage finely crumbled on top. Uni’s oysters should make it into every sex shop in the world as the most sensual aphrodisiac of all.
For those of you who also love the warmer street foods of Japan, Uni represents these well enough to break down the pickiest street food aficionados. Takoyaki- super soft batter and a lightly crisp exterior that melts in your mouth along with the chewy octopus in the center, all drizzled with BBQ sauce. And the masterpiece of the street foods at Uni- the Karaage. This dish is Fried Chicken on Ecstasy- so insanely and surprisingly delicious with juicy, moist meat inside, crunchy and salty exterior, paired with a horseradish cream sauce and house-made Kimchee. I had one of those moments I try never to have as a food writer- the dreaded closing of the eyes. Dip that crunchy fried chicken piece into the slightly spicy cream sauce and swirl it on your tongue with the cool, tangy kimchee and tell me that your eyes didn’t roll back just a little bit.
If you’re planning your first visit to Uni, let me state clearly that this is not a traditional Japanese sashimi restaurant. You do not go to Uni in search of classic Edo style nigiri or sashimi with those super clean flavors or out of this world Japanese mastery like you’d find at Jiro’s. Uni’s sashimi creations are an homage to all that is Japanese at its heart, using ingredients that are fresh, sustainable and globally sourced. The textures and cuts show a departure from traditional Japanese techniques in a way that works to play off the quirky pairings with surprising ingredients from all over the world. It all comes together in a symphony of modern flavors that leave you stunned and desperate for more. Uni celebrates cultures of today while deriving its deep roots from Japan- a feat that deserves a standing ovation from every sashimi lover.
I am most definitely and unabashedly a Chef Ken Oringer fan girl, and now, a Chef Tony Messina fan girl too.