Some of you may be like me. Some of you may invest undue time reading and dreaming about meals that others have eaten, which you might one day eat. Granted, there are not many of you out there. But for the obsessive few after my own heart, here follows an excessively detailed long-form review of my birthday dinner, for which I treated myself to the omakase, or chef’s tasting, at renowned Boston sashimi bar Uni.
I started off in the bar at Clio, Uni’s sister restaurant. This bar is like an alchemical palace, lined with smoked cocoa nibs, muddled fruits, bitters and tonics. Before me the bartender shakes, pours, foams, infuses. There are ice cubes in bricks, blocks, slabs, and some sealed around fresh bright fruit. I order a Deux mocktail containing crushed blueberries and strawberries, lychee, black tea, and tonic water. It’s tart and beautifully crimson, garnished with a mint leaf, poured over massive ice cubes like hewn stone. The lychee balances the bitter quinine.
In Uni there are just seven bar seats and seven tables. Shiso and watercress crow in little wooden boxes atop the glass sushi case, a miniature rooftop garden. A tray of roasted Brussels sprouts comes through to perfume the air.
1) Edamame, cooked in salted water. Steaming green tea, nicely astringent, in a black iron teapot, pitted like a reptile. Like a contented komodo dragon or gila monster with a hot belly.
2) Clarified tomato water martini with basil oil, shallot, caperberry, and a wee tomato popsicle to finish. It looks like pure water but it’s so savory; tastes like a caprese salad and it gets more capery as I progress. The tomato paste popsicle is a bit weird, bizarrely dry. Behind the bar the sous chef wields amazing tweezer pincers, sharply curved to hook out microgreens one at a time.
3) Ichabod flat oysters from Plymouth, MA. One is topped with yuzu, tobiko, celery mignonette, and mountain caviar. The other one has a kimchi consommé, and there’s a picked yamamomo to finish. The first oyster I’ve ever eaten that truly tasted like the sea. It’s not chewy, not gritty. I love the celery and smoke. The kimchi one is almost too salty on first bite but it fades to a lovely sweetness of the oyster meat. The yamamomo – meh. Insipidly sweet, then kind of cocoa-liquory.
4) Cold-smoked uni, osetra caviar, raw quail egg yolk, and chives. It’s unctuous, melts, oozes, and yet I still catch a mild funk.
5) This course is like a meadow in a bowl. Fluke, coconut ceviche with sea buckthorn, house-cured ikura, and apple slices pressed with Japanese white ale. Some sort of sunny petals scattered over. The ikura are even sweeter than the apple, so sweet, and the tender fish, and the ale trailing heat down the back of my throat, and the big bowl like an eggshell around it. The chef is surprised to learn that I have heard of sea buckthorn and we start to talk story about the Big Island. I earn big points for being descended from a Kona coffee picker. I smell sesame oil and the chef tells me he’s marinating poke. I hear the sizzle of venison and I am deeply happy.
6) Suzuki bass from Rhode Island. Black sesame paste tracing scalloped waves up the right side of the bowl. Goji berries, pickled orange, plum wine jelly, micro shiso. The first bite reminds me of peanut butter and jelly, nutty and sweet. I tell the chef I like it, and I also like to put shiso and ume in my spam musubi, and he asks me if I work in “the industry.”
7) Whitefish three ways. Kona kampachi with almond butter, apricot, and pickled cranberries, marcona almonds, and lemon ash. Hamachi loin with red shiso vinaigrette, candied jalapenos, and banana glass, and hamachi belly with pork belly croutons and black truffle. The banana glass is made with tapioca starch, more savory like a plantain treatment, and tastes so good as a starchy contrast to the tart shiso vinaigrette. The double-belly dish is crazy good. I roll the pork belly croutons – they’re more like bacon cracklings – in a layer of buttery hamachi belly so it crunches in the middle and I can’t even figure out what it tastes like, it’s so good. It tastes like elegance.
8) Branching out into a new flavor profile with lubino, charmoula, mâche, pickled sultanas, and 100-tomato shavings, plus lemon gremolata breadcrumbs. Herbaceous, with crouton-esque breadcrumbs – this whole thing tastes like a lovely salad.
9) Ankimo tartare with a brulee on top. Ale-compressed apples plus a shaved apple/hijiki salad. Wakame crust and dashi in the bottom. The brulee is very thick and substantially sweet, more of a crunch than a crackle over the rich liver, and the wakame is very pretty, like constellations.
10) Chef T comps me a course! Happy birthday to me! Hotate with bacon jam, Chinese five spice, and maitake mushrooms sautéed in yuzu. Bacon jam is good but actually takes a backseat to the mushrooms, which are killer, tart and salty and chewy, just fantastic with the mild sweet scallops. Bright, savory, powerful.
11) I finish my book (Aimee Bender – An Invisible Sign of My Own) and switch to Barry Hannah’s Airships. Feeling lush and languid. Feel like a long whistle. Here comes tuna tataki with pickled walnuts, yellowfin tuna, topped with seared foie gras. There’s a goat cheese emulsion and spicy aji amarillo sauce. I love the tongue-tingling heat, the richness of the foie, the meatiness.
12) Venison tataki, pomegranate seeds, umeboshi emulsion, pickled kombu and elderflower-pickled mushrooms, crisp lichen, crumbled sansho pepper, and salsify. The salt and chili are just a hair too strong for me, but the meat is so tender. This one is like a puzzle, with so many components. It takes me several bites to work out the proper eating order. For me, it’s to eat the venison with the kombu and popcorny, crunchy lichen, follow it with pops of fresh pomegranate, and then savor the shrooms. It’s strewn about the plate like a map, full of possible tactics and surprises. The pepper lingers hot on my lips.
13) BBQ unagi-don with togarashi, pickled ginger, pickled gobo, and seasoned multigrain rice. The dish is a wild landscape of lilac and burgundy, fuchsia and caramel. The rice is perfect, each grain distinct. It holds together in the chopsticks with barely any pressure, and tumbles undone in my mouth. It’s so moist and delicate, it’s like a kiss.
14) Dessert is a miso cheesecake, with caramel, banana ice cream, bergamot gelée, two types of cranberries (puffed and poached), banana tuile, lemongrass “dippin dots,” mint leaves, and happy birthday in chocolate sketched along my plate. Gastronomically sophisticated desserts have never been quite my thing. It’s tasty, but it makes me think about how it isn’t a big sundae or a slice of old-fashioned layer cake. But I’m so deeply satisfied that it turns out to be perfect, just a little glaze on the real treasure.
One year ago today: Sunday brunch sonnet at Masa