Monday, May 10, 2010

Transendental Dining in The Eliot Hotel

When is the last time you've been to a restaurant for which you had high expectations and those expectations were not only met, but exceeded to the point where you were left speechless by some of the plates set in front of you? For me, it was a few months ago when I ate at Uni Sashimi Bar.

Considered one of the best restaurants in Boston, if not the country, Uni Sashimi Bar is tucked  inside the Eliot Hotel in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. Owned by James Beard award-winning chef Ken Oringer, chef Chris Chung was heading up the sashimi bar at the time of my visit. Since then, chef Chris Gould has taken over the reigns has been doing a fantastic job.

On this night at Uni Sashimi Bar, Chef Chung transported me and my fellow diners to Japan for an amazing feast of fresh Japanese seafood prepared with both subtle and bold flavors. Chef Chung masterfully sliced and prepared flown-in fresh Japanese fish like pink sea breem, Japanese sea robin, and Japanese greenling. I had never heard of these fish or the incredible Japanese pen shell, a giant type of razor clam with which I would instantly fall in love. In addition to the incredible raw fish preparations, I also tried a few tempura preparations. First, the highly regarded and oft-reviewed rock shrimp tempura served with spicy red pepper aioli and Korean pepper threads, and then, the tempura of seasonal vegetables with soy-dashi dipping sauce and miso aioli. The tempura batter on both of these preparations was very light and well seasoned. Both the shrimp and vegetables were fried to perfection.

Of all the great Japanese fish I ate on this night, my favorite dish may have been Chef Chung's Scottish Salmon preparation of perfectly sliced salmon sashimi served with homemade Chinese black bean tapenade and fresh ginger. The salmon was the freshest, most perfect melt-in-your-mouth salmon I have ever had, and the black bean tapenade was a delicious blend of fermented black beans, fresh ginger and garlic.

Another dish that really blew me away was the taragai and uni. Taragai is the Japanese pen shell (giant razor clam) and uni is the roe of the sea urchin. The pen shell as I mentioned is a giant razor clam from Japan that reminded of both a scallop (sweetness) and a clam (texture). The uni, slightly warmed, was super fresh, delivered earlier that day from a fishery in Maine. The flavors and textures of this dish were amazing. The sweetness of the super fresh uni and the texture of the slightly sweet pen shell worked so well together.

In addition to having the freshest available fish and shellfish, Uni also has some pretty outstanding cocktails. Prepared by the bartenders in Clio, another Ken Oringer restaurant inside of the Eliot Hotel, the hand-crafted cocktails did not disappoint. I tried an original creation, allowing the bartender to craft my cocktail based on a few simple instructions, make it with good gin, not too sweet, and stiff. Whatever I was served (I failed to write it down) was outstanding. My friend tried the Enter the Dragon cocktail (Stoli Ohranj vodka, Cointreau, kalamansi lime juice and cayenne pepper) which was also excellent, spicy, tart, and sweet.

I highly recommend a visit to Uni Sashimi Bar whether it is for a special occasion or just a night out on the town. Follow them on Facebook for information on their Maki Monday and Sake Bomb Tuesday specials that make it fun and affordable to eat there on a regular basis.

Offerings at Uni change regular with what is fresh and available, here is what I ate on my visit:

* Anago Tempura (Salt Water Eel) with green tea salt and shirred egg
Duck egg is removed from the shell, gently cooked with butter, yogurt and fleur de sel, then returned to the shell creating this amazing, custardy, incredibly delicious compliment to the beautifully fried, unbelievable fresh salt water eel that was dusted with green tea salt.

* Taragai & Uni (Japanese Pan Shell and Sea Urchin) with XO Sauce, myoga & garlic soy
Outstanding dish, salty, sweet, fresh, amazing textures. Tairagai, or Japanese Pen Shell is a giant Japanese razor clam. It had textural qualities of both a scallop (sweetness) and a clam (texture). The Uni was slightly warmed and the combination of flavors and textures in this dish were out of this world. The Uni was from Maine.

Rock Shrimp Tempura with spicy red pepper aioli and Korean pepper threads
Lightly battered, perfectly cooked rock shrimp. The spicy aoili was slightly spicy and delicate, a perfect emulsion.

Tempura of Seasonal Vegetables with soy-dashi dipping sauce and miso aioli
The soy-dashi dipping sauce was a perfect accompaniment for the lightly battered, tender vegetables. The miso aioli was slightly sweet. The two dipping sauces offered a choice of salty, sweet, and incredible umami flavors to the already nicely seasoned vegetables.

* Tuna Ceviche (Yellowfin Tuna) with coconut, chilies and lemongrass
Perfect pieces of tuna dressed in wonderfully sweet, slightly spicy, and incredibly fresh sauce of coconut milk, fresh chilies and lemongrass. Topped with fried ginger and fresh scallions, this was delicious. While the amazing tuna would have been perfect by itself, the addition of the sauce made me very happy. I would have been almost as happy with some tuna sashimi and a glass of the coconut, chile, lemongrass sauce to drink on the side.

* Scottish Salmon with Chinese black bean tapenade and fresh ginger
The most perfect piece of salmon sashimi I have ever had and the most fresh and unique black bean tapenade. To make the tapenade, Chef Chung combines Chinese fermented black beans with fresh ginger and garlic. So good.

* Ainame (Japanese Greenling) with shiso, asian pear puree, romesco & benetade
Sweet, nutty, delicious.

* Houbou (Japanese Sea Robin) with candied yuzu kosho, radishes and myoga
Citrusy, very mild fish, great combination of flavors.

Uni Sashimi Bar

370 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Ph. 617.536.7200

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