Many people think of Ken Orringer's Asian fusion restaurant Clio as the best restaurant in Boston. But for my money, Uni, a sushi bar which is housed in the same space as Clio, seperated by just a half flight of stairs, is the better of the two Orringer restaurants. Over the past year or so I've had the pleasure to eat at Uni three different times and Clio twice and I can tell you that it is no contest. Uni wins in a landslide. The entire restaurant consists of a six-seat counter and four tables for two. There are no reservations, but I have to say I've never seen the place full although I've only been on weeknights. In my experience, you will eat better if you sit at the counter and establish a relationship with the chef so he can get a feel for what you might like. That's what I did the first time I went to Uni. I had an 8:00pm flight back to New York and I plopped myself down at the counter at 6:00PM and told Johnny the chef that he had an hour to ply me with whatever delights he could imagine.
I started out with a bowl of halibut and avocado and it was the least distinguished dish of the night with the halibut being overcooked. But the a duo of Kumamoto oysters with uni and American caviar was superb. Then the unbelievably good quail egg spoon. Uni, caviar, and obviously a quail egg. The flavors and textures are just superb and this is one of the great raw dishes of all time. Then toto tartar served like steak tartar. Minced toro that was dressed and topped with a quail egg in its shell, caviar, chopped onion and a wedge of lime. Another superb dish. It was as if I was drowing in caviar and uni. What a way to go! Then a fluke liver which I didn't photo and which wasn't among my favorites.
Things warmed up with a barbecue eel and foie gras combination which was another superb dish with the meaty eel and silky foie gras wrapped in a light barbecue sauce with some greens on top. The ingredients blended beautifull and I picked it up with my chopsticks and ate it like a sandwich. Then a Wagyu beef tartar with Vidalia onion sauce and three different salts for dipping. I was a bit disappointed here. The Wagyu was a hair tough and wasn't exploding with enough flavor and as a result the onion sauce overpowered the beef. Then absolutely superb Otoro served in a light dressing with beet tops. Johnny told me that I had gotten lucky and been at the restaurant on a day when they managed to source the very best quality otoro. By now it was seven o'clock and there was no time for dessert, I thanked Johnny and hopped into a cab and headed for Logan.
Six months later I visited the restaurant again but this time with friends who live in Boston and we sat at one of the four tables. One of our party didn't eat raw fish, and one didn't eat any meat and combined with our being at one of the tables isntead of sitting at the counter, the meal didn't have the same flow as my first meal. I'm sure the fact that we were all eating different dishes for each course didn't help, as well as the fact that we were busy chatting away and not paying that much attention to the food. I had a fine meal but it didn't compare with the first experience. But I was lucky enough to return to Uni this past August, and while Johnny has been replaced by a new chef, the food was every bit as good as it was on my first visit, maybe better.
I started with a fluke and kimchee salad which was both delicious and a good way to arouse my palate because of the vinegar in the kimchee. Then a very good quality salmon which was silky yet meaty like steak, served with an heirloom tomato gelee topped with cucamelon, a hybrid vegetable that comes from the artisanal vegetable cooperative in Ohio. Then the house classic uni spoon, albeit photographed from a different angle. A heavenly concotion and so rich that it is clearly a candidate for the world's best pudding. Then hamachi with Mala sauce (otherwise known as Sichuan sauce.) A nice dish but not as ethereal as the first three.
It's hard to imagine that they could whip up a concoction that equaled the uni spoon but a toro spoon where the tuna was mixed with a cream of anchovy and caviar, caviar, and a bit of gold leaf on top was every bit as decadent. If the uni spoon stands for the proposition that a bit of saltiness will highlight the lusciousness and natural sweetness of the uni and egg, the toro spoon is its alter ego with the anchovy caviar cream helping to showcase the natural saltiness of the fish. Who among you isn't excited after reading those descriptions? Next was a gorgeous slab of tuna that was seared on one side and topped with miso yogurt, seaweed and sesame. Rock shrimp "Thai Style" with sacred basil and coconut was fresh tasting and delicious, then Wagyu beef with Matsutake mushrooms. The beef was once again a hair overdone but the quality of the mushroom was superb.
Barbecue eel foie gras but a slightly different preperation than the first time I had it. Just as delicious and like eating a savoury candy. Then I had reached the point in the meal where the sushi chef asks if there is anything else you want. Earlier in the evening I saw what looked like some pretty high quality toro coming from the back of the glass case so I asked for a few slices of toro. I also told them that I have a tradition of ending all of my Japanese meals with uni. They served three pieces of chutoro dressed with tamari and two pieces of otoro that were dressed with white kelp and black truffle oil. I preferred the chutoro even though the quality of fish in both dishes were superb. Then a delicious serving of uni topped with a spoonful of lemon puree. Heady stuff and the textures were simply amazing. .
Even a dessert of a strawberry soup with a lemon curd Napoleon was delicious with the texture of the chilled lemon curd being reminiscent of soft white chocolate.
It's hard to review Uni without assessing where the restaurant fits on the pantheon of high end Japanese dining in the U.S. The closest comparison I can think of is Jewel Bako, but Uni's style of dressing the fish and pairing various ingredients together is also reminiscent of Sushi of Gari or Sushi Seki. Pricewise (I know I never mention the prices but I think it will be helpful in this instance,) an omakase dinner with two small carafes of sake ran $142. About what an omakase would cost at Jewel Bako or Sushi Yasuda. It's a great dining experience and if you are going to be in Boston I highly recommend it. And you don't even need a reservation. B+