Uni Sashimi Bar (Chef Tony Messina)

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You know I must really like a restaurant when I choose the same place to celebrate two years in a row.

To be fair, I do have my own biases.  After all, it’s no secret that I’m in love with Japanese food, especially sushi or anything raw (hello crudo, tartare, and ceviche!). I have traveled to Japan every year for the past five years. I’ve made an effort to visit the best sushi places in the world, and I’m constantly seeking out new places in the States.
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More often than not, when I’m enjoying a multi-course tasting menu, I wish all the courses would be like those lighter “crudo” (raw fish)-type courses they serve at the beginning. Why switch to the pasta course? Can we just skip the heavy meat course?

Of course, at most restaurants the answer is no. It’s well established that a reasonably-paced, rational tasting menu should begin with light courses and slowly progress to the heavier, meatier ones.

But it’s not my preference.
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Which is why Uni is such a perfect restaurant for me. It’s the type of place where every single course is a creatively plated crudo plate. The menu is filled primarily with “small plates” consisting of sashimi decorated with creative elements that make the final product not-quite-Japanese, not-quite-European.
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In fact, executive chef Tony Messina derives flavor profiles and combinations from all over the world (you’ll see what I mean when you start reading the descriptions of his creations), and they work incredibly well.

I first met Tony when he won the 9th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Regionals competition in New England. I’ve always been a great fan of Tony’s cooking ever since I tried it at both Regionals and Nationals. He’s an extremely talented chef, and I love the fun ways in which he incorporates flavors and spices from across the globe into his dishes.
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I sort of lost touch with Tony for a few years. I knew he had gone to work at Aka Bistro, a Japanese-French fusion restaurant in Lincoln, right after culinary school. But man, Lincoln is just so far from Cambridge, so I never made it out to there.

When I found out Tony had taken over the reins at Uni Sashimi Bar, I knew I had to come try it again.
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My birthday meal was the perfect opportunity, and I got exactly what I wanted.

Course after course, we sampled creatively designed and beautifully executed small bites with inspiration from all over the world. _DSC4660
Bryan and I both started with the smoky Acedia ($13), a cocktail we tried the last time we came. This cocktail is made with “illegal” Mezcal, grapefruit, grenadine, yuzu, and ancho chili. It definitely has a kick, but what I love most about it is the intense smoky flavor.
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We started with a sweet and savory duo of Ichabod Oysters from Massachusetts. One was topped with tonburi, loomi, and celery and  was flavored with kimchi (savory). The other one was flavored with “momo”, or Japanese peach (sweet).
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The Smoked Uni Spoon ($16) was made with sea urchin from Maine and topped with a raw quail egg yolk, Osetra caviar, and finely chopped chives. The bite was absolutely delicious – rich and creamy with a wonderful balance of flavors.
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The Hirame ceviche (fluke from Rhode Island) sat in a light coconut water “broth” and was topped with house cured ikura (salmon roe) and thin slices of compressed Hitachino apple cured in Japanese white ale. I thought it was a nice way to dress up a lighter tasting fish. _DSC4668
I loved how this next course, the Suzuki (hybrid bass) was presented. The plate was painted with a black sesame sauce while the slices of fish were artfully decorated with goji, pickled oranges, and  choya (plum wine).
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The Mategai ($15), or razor clams from Massachusetts, was one of my favorites. Inspired by Thai flavors, the chopped razor clams were served with a red curry sauce and coconut kaffir lime emulsion. Not only that, it was topped with bacon powder (I kid you not!) and sprinkled with crunchy forbidden puffed rice. I loved the Thai-inspired flavors, which most certainly gave everything a pretty spicy kick. This was fantastic.
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Another favorite was the Kampachi (amberjack), which Tony dressed up with New England inspired ingredients, such as almond milk “paint”, cranberries, apple pie purée, and Marcona almonds.
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Spanish Mediterranean Sea Bass was clearly inspired by the namesake region, with Sweet 100 tomatoes, thinly sliced olives, wasabi, lemon, anchovies, golden raisins, and a cilantro pesto. Though I’m not typically a huge fan of raisins, I actually thought they worked well in this dish. Perhaps they were just a tad too sweet for my taste, but overall I liked the balance of sweet and salty in this dish.
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Chef Messina likes to use various parts of the plate when presenting some of his dishes. This next course showcased Hamachi, in two different ways.
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The pieces on the edge of the plate were made using lean hamachi, while the slices on the insides were made with hamachi belly.
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Here’s a closer look. On the outer edge, lean Hamachi came served with a jalapeño jelly, fried chicharon, acetate and tapioca.
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In the middle we had Hon Hamachi Toro ($20), or yellowtail belly from Japan, served with pork belly croutons in a black truffle vinaigrette.
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Our next course was one of our favorites. Monkfish Liver Creme Brûlée came beautifully seared and topped with chives and coarse salt. This was served together with apples compressed with daikon and baby watercress. Off to the edge of the plate  sat a palate cleanser salad made with apples and wakame (a type of seaweed).

I absolutely loved the flavorful sauce binding this whole dish together. It was slightly tart but also had a boatload of umami. It was really, really good. This was one of Chef Messina’s most ambitious plates but also one of the best.
_DSC4696* Our next course, Hotate ($18), consisted of fresh, raw scallop from Massachusetts, maitake (hen-of-the woods) mushrooms, candied bacon, and Chinese pea shoots. Although the mushrooms and bacon had a rich, salty umami flavor, I felt that they overpowered the delicate and sweet scallops.
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The next course, the Spicy Tuna & Foie Gras Tataki, is one of their most popular dishes. Yellowfin Pacific tuna is just barely seared with a torch and then sliced into several pieces.
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Each piece is served with a bright yellow sauce (Ajiabarillo pepper from Peru) and a white sauce (goat cheese sauce). On top of each piece tuna sits a piece of seared foie gras. 

The combination of flavors was really unusual, with all different sorts of flavors exploding at once inside my mouth. It was smoky, salty, savory, spicy, creamy, and funky (hello goat cheese!) It worked incredibly well. There’s definitely a reason why it’s one of the favorites here.
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The Truffle Spoon was another fun little bite, consisting of a single, seared Nantucket bay scallop  served with pickled walnuts, apple cider miso risotto, and beautiful shaved white truffle.
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Definitely one of the treats of the night was the A5 Japanese Wagyu Sirloin from Miyazaki, Japan. For those of you not familiar with Japanese beef grades, A5 is basically the highest rating possible for steak. It’s the best of the best. Check out this post where I explain a bit more about it. This stuff is hard to get outside of Japan, and you pay dearly for it, ounce by ounce (at Uni it’s $30/ounce!).
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This beautiful beef came with Matsutake mushrooms which had been stewed for two hours and painstakingly pulled apart not unlike pulled pork. It also came with rehydrated lichen, dried (slightly crunchy) broccoli, a broccoli garlic mousselline, and a sukiyaki jelly.

There’s not much else I can say except that it was excellent. The overall dish had the perfect blend of umami balanced with just a touch of tartness from the sukiyaki jelly. I personally loved the unique textural contrast from the web-like lichen and the dried, crispy broccoli florets.

I loved it all.
_DSC4712 * Lacquered Foie Gras and BBQ Unagi Kabayaki ($23) was seasoned with vadouvan, a blend of spices with both Indian and French influence, as well as thin slices of mango. Both the foie gras and the barbecured unagi (freshwater eel) were nicely grilled and had that lovely, caramelized umami flavor. The dish was creamy, rich, and very tasty.

*     *     *     *     *

The official courses in the “omakase” had ended. Chef Messina, with a twinkle in his eye, looked at me and said, 

“you know you can’t leave without trying one of the pork belly buns.”

I was already quite full, but how can you say no to this?
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The Berkshire Pork Belly Steam Buns were fantastic. The belly itself was beautifully crispy on the outside (yet still wonderfully juicy and tender on the inside). It came with chili aioli, katsu sauce, and pickled vegetables.
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What a perfect birthday ending.
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Make a wish!
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I loved this dessert. It was a Quinoa French Toast served with a side of kuri squash, candied pepitos and ice cream.
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Bryan also had an unusual Miso Cheesecake, which was served with fresh cranberries, “Dipping Dots”, and traditional ice cream.

Both desserts were fun and tasty.
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Finally, as a final parting bite, we each had simple but satisfying chocolate dipped caramels.

I had a wonderful birthday and it was exactly what I wanted.

We sat at the tiny bar (something I requested after the server first showed us to a normal table), because that’s my favorite place to sit for an “omakase”. It reminds me of Japan, where sushi counters are the norm and there are only bar seats. The chef makes and serves you one piece of sushi at a time so you can savor each one in the freshest, most optimal way possible.
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Now, I’m not saying Uni is like Japan. Because it’s not. Unlike the strict Japanese chefs who adhere to very traditional “rules” about Edo-style sushi, Tony is refreshingly creative and not at all afraid to push the envelope. He’s ambitious, edgy, creative, and talented enough to make it work.

In this one meal alone, we traveled around the world. Starting in Japan as our base, we went as far as India, Thailand, stopped by Spain, visited France, and ended up in good old New England. It was a fun, dizzying at times, whirlwind of a tour for our tastebuds.

I’m thrilled that Tony is in Boston city proper now. He’s really making an impact on the food scene here, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

And don’t be surprised if I end up at Uni again for my birthday next year, if not sooner!

Related Posts
Uni Sashimi Bar (2012)
Sukiyabashi Jiro
Oishii Boston
O Ya

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

Comments

  1. angie pham says

    happy belated birthday! your birthday meal at uni looked AMAZING. i must go there if i’m ever in the area! i also love japanese food (probably more than my own vietnamese food) and love anything raw/rare!

  2. Steve Chan says

    I don’t think i can afford to shell out 30000 yen for a sushi meal but reading your fantastic report has made me able to to live that experience vicariously. Many thanks!

  3. says

    You’re right, it looks like they have changed their policy since I was there. Thanks!

    I don’t think it’s difficult to eat there if you don’t speak Japanese since there’s basically just one menu. They speak a *tiny* bit so you should be able to get by.

    Jen

  4. Monica Yiu says

    Hi Jen,

    Just wondering if your deposit was put towards your bill at the end or if you were paying 20,000 yen to reserve and then paid another 74,550 yen for the meal. We’ll be in Tokyo in October and are playing to go to Jiro with our friend who’s fluent in Japanese!

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Uni Sashimi Bar

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Just a little over a month ago I celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary.

I guess I never really wrote about our celebratory dinner.

As you can see, I’m just a tad back-logged on my posts. That’s what happens when you travel over the summer, I guess. You eat out more when you’re on a trip (like every meal), and you have less time to blog.

So the posts (or, more accurately, the photos) pile up.

And then there are the weeks, like this past week, where I was inundated with work (my other job, as a lawyer). I almost never do this, but last week I worked into the wee hours of the morning multiple nights in a row. I was exhausted, severely sleep-deprived, and really unaware of anything else that was going on around me. Thankfully, my mom was in town and cooked me lots of yummy home-cooked Chinese food to sustain me that week.

 I’m finally back.

Back to share with you about a really, really great meal I had last month.  Perhaps it was because it was our anniversary and I was more relaxed. Or perhaps it was because of the excellent service we got at Uni. Or perhaps (more likely), the food is just exceptional here, and that really makes a difference.

Whatever it was, I really enjoyed our special (yet low-key) omakase (“Chef’s Choice tasting menu) dinner at Uni Sashimi Bar.
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Right at the beginning of the meal, the server handed us a little snack to curb our hunger – one of my favorites – blanched edamame with sea salt. I love it when a restaurant has food ready for you to nibble on as soon as you enter the restaurant. It’s a really nice touch, especially when you’re really hungry.

Untitled They have a bunch of really cool sounding cocktails. Bryan tried the Flaming Paco, which was described as “illegal Mezcal (smoky tequila) torched lime, and seared hot peppers.” I love spicy cocktails, and this fiery cocktail totally hit the spot. I loved the strong, smoky flavors and the crisp lime – it worked together really well. It was so good, in fact, I almost ordered one for myself (even though I hardly ever order cocktails).
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Tomato Water Martini
basil oil, jicama tomato squares, tomato Popsicle,

Soon after we ordered, the most intriguing amuse bouche arrived. This “Tomato Water Martini” is served at both Clio and Uni and is one of  Ken Oringer’s signature dishes. The tomato water is painstakingly made by gravity dripping mashed up tomatoes through a cheesecloth. Drip, drip, drip, drip. The “tomato water” is then mixed with basil oil, tiny tomato and jicama cubes (the knifework is astounding), and finished with a refreshing tomato popsicle on the side.

You have to try it to get it. It’s absolutely incredible.
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Next, we had the Winter Point Oysters from Mill Cove, Maine, which were served with pickled cherry, house made yuzu kosho, and birch pepper. These oysters were clean, sweet, and balanced. Although I could not really pick out the individual flavor ingredients, I thought overall the entire dish worked very well.
Untitled As you may know, I did not really like uni until I tried it in Japan. That is because I tend to find a majority of the uni here in Boston to be a bit “stinky.” I was happy to discover that I actually really enjoyed our next course, the Uni Sashimi, at Uni. This uni (sea urchin) is from Santa Barbara and was served with pickled mustard seed, ume (plum) vinegar, and citrus rice.

The uni itself was nice, fresh, and creamy. I loved the touch of citrus, though I did find the mustard to be just a tad bitter.
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Next up we tried the Suzuki Ceviche, gorgeous slices of striped bass from Rhode Island were served with Sudachi lime, thin slivers of golden beets and coconut green curry. I thought the presentation was whimsical and cute. The beet slivers were clearly made to look like ginger, and the coconut cream resembled wasabi dollops.

This course was also excellent. The overall dish had a lovely clean flavor from the citrus and the cilantro flavors that permeated the dish. The fish was just slightly “cooked”, as ceviche should be.
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I absolutely loved the next dish, Hirame, which consisted of fluke from Rhode Island topped with preserved lemon, tonburi, roast garlic and crispy potato. The quality of the fish was outstanding – the fish appeared to melt in my mouth and was definitely softer and smoother than most fluke I’ve had. I loved the crunchy potato strings, and the roasted garlic definitely gave the dish a strong, forward flavor which worked well.
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I don’t think I have seen Shima Aji, or horse mackerel, much outside of Japan, so I was surprised to see it as part of this tasting menu. Here, the shima aji is dressed with olives, ponzu sauce, and shiso as garnish. Although I’ve never had cured olives with raw fish before, here the salty olive actually cuts the richness of the stronger fish quite nicely. It surprisingly works.
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Next, we had the Amber Jack, which came with a gorgeous slice of uni on top.  I felt the uni flavor was almost a bit too strong here, and I longed for some sake to “offset” the strong Uni flavor (which we had ordered, thankfully!).
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The next dish, the Branzino, was gorgeous presented and came topped with mini crispy rice, ginger, and “negi” (chopped scallions).
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The Tako (octopus) came all the way from Japan and was served with hot sesame oil, yuzu, soy, cilantro, and ginger. I found the cooked octopus to be just a tad tough but acceptable. Bryan really liked the flavors of the dish a lot (he does love cilantro and anything spicy), and it paired really well with the Riesling  which offset some of the spice.
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For our first hot course, we had Lobster Tempura (from Maine), which was served with a Singaporean black pepper chili sauce. This course surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly, since it’s Singaporean?) delivered a pretty substantial kick. The deep, rich, spicy sauce offset the rich, fried lobster in a balanced way.
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We ended the hot courses with a Barbecued Unagi (freshwater eel from Japan), which was served with seasoned rice, sesame and pickled burdock, and a pickled ramp. I found the pickled “ginger” (or that’s what I thought) to be really really strong – a bit too strong! However, the unagi was fantastic – perfectly charred, sweet, and crispy. The rice is on the sweet side, but very good.Untitled
For our first dessert, we sampled the Sour Cream Ice Cream, which was served with tri-colored raspberries (red, orange, yellow), cookie, lychees, hazelnuts, and a “snow” of sorts (yes, Ken Oringer most definitely dabbles in a bit of molecular gastronomy!).  I liked the overall tartness of the dish. It felt sort of like a palate cleanser, yet much more sophisticated.
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I don’t typically love chocolate desserts (they often bore me a bit), but this Raspberry Chocolate Cremoux, which was served with a smorgasbord of molecular gastronomy products, was actually fantastic. I loved the deep, deep rich flavor of the chocolate and rasperry sphere, which went well with all the other crazy textures and flavors on the plate (e.g., other flavor “blobs”, powder, crunchy cookies, and the bright red raspberry sauce.  This was served with fragrant jasmine ice cream.

It was really an excellent dessert.

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Since we were celebrating a special occasion, Bryan treated himself to a shot of MaCallan 30 (yes, Uni/Clio has a nice selection of various whiskeys, among many other types of drinks). He slowly sat and sipped it, slowly savoring each precious drop.
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Cheers!

It was a fabulous 11th low-key anniversary, filled with kayaking along the Charles River, shopping for rain jackets (which I’ve used a lot since that date!), and just generally hanging around at home. Boston is such a gorgeous place this time of year; I was really thrilled to be able to savor so many parts of this beautiful city we live in.

As for Uni, I would most definitely go back. The menu is pretty vast, and I was surprised how flexible it was. You can spend over a hundred dollars on a fancy omakase, or just mix and match various small to medium sized plates, most of which are under $20. You can even get some of the cheaper items that I thought were only available on the late night menu, such as pork belly buns and fried shishito peppers.

All in all, I was very impressed with the food at Uni. Being a seafood person, I loved how every single course was seafood (yay! No heavy red meats to end the meal). I left the meal feeling satisfied, yet not overly full. It’s really my favorite way to end a meal, and a near perfect way to end our 11th anniversary evening.

Uni Sashimi Bar
The Eliot Hotel
 370a Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Uni on Urbanspoon

The Eliot Hotel is located in one of the classiest neighborhoods in Boston – Back Bay. One of my favorite things to do is to walk along Newbury Street from Back Bay all the way down to Beacon Hill, another quaint part of Boston which is full of old historic buildings, such as Hampshire House, a mansion that houses the original pub from the iconic TV show, Cheers.

©2009-2014 Tiny Urban Kitchen
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Comments

  1. Diana says

    Happy Anniversary! Our son was married on labor day weekend 3 years ago, and our daughter just got married on Sept. 1st…. also labor day weekend!

  2. Alice says

    Hi Jen,

    I loved the review! The pictures are gorgeous. I was wondering how much the omakase at Uni costs. I am thinking of taking my fiance there for a special occasion, but there was no pricing listed on the website. A ballpark number would really help me decide whether or not to make reservations at Uni! Thanks!

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