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where should an uni "virgin" try uni?

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Over the years I've slowly opened up to more and more foods, and am finally ready for (and endlessly intrigued by) uni. Where would you recommend an uni virgin try her first uni?

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  1. Mine was at Tocqueville when it was in the old stand - one of the most memorable appetizers of my lifetime. Their other restaurant, 15 East (more Japanese-oriented), would be my choice in your shoes.

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    15 East
    15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

    1. yasuda.

      1. Two non-Japanese ideas: Esca and El Quinto Pino.

        1 Reply
        1. re: small h

          Quinto Pino is a perfect place to try uni for a beginner. That sandwich is really special!
          JeremyEG

        2. I was a uni "virgin" until not very long ago and was very hesitant about trying it because I hate anything that's very fishy. My understanding is that the uni that comes from CA is much milder and sweeter than what comes from Maine. So, trusting Chef Humm at EMP as I do, and knowing he uses Santa Barbara sea urchin, I took the plunge. Of course, the sea urchin there is not served "straight" but is incorporated into dishes with other ingredients. For me, that was a really comfortable way to dip my gustatory toe into the uni pool.

          Currently at EMP, this fabulous amuse contains sea urchin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

          Here's another dish with sea urchin at EMP that was served to us earlier this year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

          Veritas has a superb dish with sea urchin on the 9-course tasting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

          Allegretti has this pasta dish with sea urchin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

          Now, I think I'm ready to try it straight. And that may very well happen when I have my first sushi experience next week -- at Yasuda.

          4 Replies
          1. re: RGR

            Can't wait for your Yasuda photos and commentary, since I haven't been there either.

            The uni appetizer at Marea (ricci) was my first uni dish. Highly recommended.

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            Marea
            240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

            1. re: fm1963

              I too was a uni virgin until Sunday. I had some at Degustation. It was with the sunchoke soup but because i was afraid of not liking it the chef put it on the side. I loved everything about from the texture to the sweet and briney taste which was like an oyster lobster combo. It was delicious stirred into the soup.

              1. re: fm1963

                You're so sweet, fam1963! :) Unfortunately, you'll have to wait a while longer for my Yasuda photos and commentaire. Something's come up, and we had to cancel.

              2. re: RGR

                Yasuda was the first place where I basically ate uni raw, unaccompanied by masking ingredients. And it was sublime.

              3. I have no qualms about any of the other recommendations. But some memorable uni experiences I had have been at Marea, and at Soto. At Marea you can really just dip your pinky toe in if you order their sea urchin and lardo "ricci" at the bar.

                And Soto... the man is an uni genius. I did the omakase there about 18 months ago, and there was some uni in at least half of the dishes.

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                Marea
                240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                1. 15 East. Masato usually has Japanese and Santa Barbara uni and serves a tasting of the two.

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                  15 East
                  15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ESNY

                    Ushiwakamaru offers Japanese and Santa Barbara uni as well. Interesting contrast.

                  2. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6641...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: guttergourmet

                      GG -- ha, I didn't remember seeing your post on that. This may sound like an odd pairing, but I just *happened* to be drinking a Hendricks martini when the ricci showed up, and it was a remarkably interesting pairing.

                    2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the sea urchin toast at Aldea. Scrumptious and not threatening at all, but with a noticeable presence. Picholine does a wonderful sea urchin panna cotta, also with a very recognizable intensity. Convivio's maloreddus pasta with crab and urchin is delicious but more subtle, and sea urchin raviolini at SD26 is also subtle and delicious.

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                      Picholine
                      35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

                      Convivio
                      45 Tudor City Place, New York, NY 10017

                      Aldea
                      31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

                      SD26
                      19 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: rrems

                        Picholine's sea urchin panna cotta is not for the faint of sea urchin heart, imo.

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                        Picholine
                        35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

                        1. re: IrnScrabbleChf52

                          While I agree with you (I did say it was intense) I should point out that I was not a particular fan of uni until I had the panna cotta. Since then I just can't get enough of it. For a beginner, I would avoid having it at a Japanese restaurant, as my first uni experience was sushi and it was too intense. You need to develop a taste for it.

                        2. re: rrems

                          i was disappointed by the sea urchin toast at aldea. maybe too high expectation from all the hype. i think it's alright, but the uni itself doesn't give enough flavor from the sea. i was expecting something much more memorable like the uni panini at El Quinto Pino (which I think is the best non-japanese uni dish, btw)

                          -----
                          El Quinto Pino
                          401 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011

                          1. re: rrems

                            I clicked the thread to write about Aldea's sea urchin toast. I quite liked it. Definitely beginner-friendly. I'm not a fan of crabmeat pairing with uni though. It seems like the combination muddles uni's bright, bold flavor. Of course, Sushi Yasuda serves great uni, but like rrems wrote below, sushi is not the most subtle way to introduce uni to a uni virgin.

                            -----
                            Sushi Yasuda
                            204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

                            Aldea
                            31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

                            1. re: uwsister

                              Funny thing is, I always thought that the weakest thing Yasuda served was his uni. I never had great uni there.

                              1. re: sushiman

                                I just had very good uni at Shimizu. Man, that was delicious.
                                JeremyEG
                                homecooklocavore.wordpress.com

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                                Shimizu
                                318 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019

                          2. Gael Greene recommends the 'uni on hamachi tucked in a pork rind' at the new 5 and Diamond. http://www.insatiable-critic.com/Arti...

                            1. Give the Grand Central Oyster Bar a wide berth...
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6748...

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                              Grand Central Oyster Bar
                              89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

                              1. Definitely try el quinto pino for their uni sandwich.. Can get the taste without have to deal with the textural issues.. Then, once you have it down, Yasuda is the place to go.

                                1. yasuda gave me the best piece ive ever had. the uni the sunchoke soup at degustation is wonderful, and i had an uni thing at momofuku ssam that was orgasmic

                                  1. Thanks everyone! The ricci dish at Marea sounds divine. Its sounds like the concensus is to try uni in a dish with other ingredients before trying it raw/unadulterated. May try the sandwich at El Quinto Pino as well before taking the dive at Yasuda.

                                    RGR, sorry to hear your Yasuda trip has to be postponed, but will look forward to your review and pics once you have a chance to go.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: skgchow

                                      Personally I disagree with the need to "ease into" uni unless you can't take the texture. I think you'll either like it or not...I've taken friends to Yasuda to try uni for the first time and most of them have loved it - its just one little bite and the quality is top notch. I like their santa barbara uni best.

                                      My first time trying it was not good because I ate it on a dare at a so-so sushi restaurant. Waited until we were in Japan to try it with friends and we all instantly loved it. I was hesitant to get it in the US but ordered it at yasuda and was hooked. I've heard great things about Soto too, you may want to try it elsewhere first in case you dislike it.

                                      If you get it in pasta you probably won't notice it, the flavor easily gets lost. None of my uni-loving friends liked the uni panini at El Quinto so I havent tried it. I will say that I had an amazing uni dish at Ssam Bar but they are always changing the preparation style.

                                    2. Kanoyama. Sit at the bar, order uni, then get on to the omakase.

                                      Yasuda and Marea are fantastic, for certain. But you can walk into Kanoyama any night of the week and get some of the best sushi in the city. And you won't completely break the bank...

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: mpcassaro

                                        I don't think Kanoyama is that much cheaper anymore but its my favorite in the east village. You wont break the bank at Yasuda if you order the set menu and an order of uni a la carte ($5). But if you do omakase or a la carte it will be very pricey.

                                        Kanoyama - in season you can get fresh uni in a half shell but it is from Maine. (not my personal favorite, I like the sweetness of SB uni) I assume after the season, like now, they would serve SB uni though I have not tried either at kanoyama

                                        1. re: silverlainy

                                          Uni panna cotta at Picholine was disappointing. Soto is the uni prepared dish master.

                                          -----
                                          Picholine
                                          35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

                                          1. re: guttergourmet

                                            Why?

                                      2. Try it at Marea. Uni on top of toasted bread, with a thin layer of lardo on top, heaven.

                                        -----
                                        Marea
                                        240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: minhjle

                                          i agree with the marea suggestion. it's not the best uni i've had by any means - not enough flavor from the sea for me. but for a uni virgin, that might be a good / safe introduction

                                        2. yasuda, be sure to ask for the alaskan uni...the maine one pales in comparison.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: pkyc0

                                            It is not so much that one "pales in comparision" to any other. They are all great at the right time.

                                            Uni comes from many places. At different times of the year, it is better than at others. Unlike fish, uni do not migrate, so the difference is water temperature.

                                            Maine uni is best in winter, when the water is cold. In the summer, it gets metallic tasting.

                                            The most consistent is the uni from California. Mostly from Santa Barbara and San Diego. I have had some from Malibu.

                                            Uni also comes from Hokkaido, Aomori, Kyushu, British Columbia and Russia.

                                            The other thing to know is that they grade uni. The best grades are sweet and amazing, the worst not so great.

                                            Years ago in NYC, most chef's would put the yolk of a quail's egg on the uni to make it taste better. That was because they were using lesser grades of uni.

                                          2. Hatsuhana. Sit at the bar with Oishi-san. Pure Brilliance!

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                                            Hatsuhana
                                            17 E 48th St, New York, NY 10017

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: safenervine

                                              Osihi was my first sushi chef way back in 1977. I have not been to Hatsuhana is ages, but walked in to say hello to Mr. Ichimura, who is now working there. Oishi was in the first position. Oishi had his own place for years, I did not hear through the grapevine that he was back at Hatsuhana.

                                              -----
                                              Hatsuhana
                                              17 E 48th St, New York, NY 10017

                                              Ichimura
                                              1026 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10022

                                              1. re: sushiman

                                                i have had several wonderful meals recently at Hatsuhana. I think that it gets overlooked. I just returned from an exceptional meal with Mr. Seki at Hatsuhana. It was a real treat and i find the downstairs room there to be nice and relaxing, especially compared to other places where the sushi bar is in the main room. It is much more pleasant to sit at a small bar in a small room with one chef.

                                                -----
                                                Hatsuhana
                                                17 E 48th St, New York, NY 10017

                                            2. JEAN GEORGES. They prepare it wonderfully there, where it is topped with yuzu and jalapeno, served over butter/creme fraiche and a thin piece of toast. However, if you would like to try uni in its purest form (without any accompaniments) i would reccomend a high-end sushi restaurant, those being Nobu, bar masa, or SUSHI YASUDA.

                                              -----
                                              Nobu
                                              105 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: mjm1218

                                                That's a great dish at Jean Georges. I don't think Nobu is anywhere near the best sushi though in NYC. I'm not even sure I would classify it as high-end. Never had their uni there though. Maybe its good.

                                                Also, Shimizu has very good uni.
                                                JeremyEG
                                                homecooklocavore.com

                                                -----
                                                Jean Georges
                                                1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

                                                Shimizu
                                                318 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019

                                                Nobu
                                                105 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013

                                                1. re: JeremyEG

                                                  i agree that nobu is a bit overrated. However their fish is fresh and of pretty good quality. i suppose i shouldnt have recommended it... bar masa and sushi yasuda definitely are better choices.

                                              2. I dont find it super fishy, just rich and delicious. I'm sure I've had it incoroprated into dishes, but straight up as its served in sushi it didn't really take much getting used to. If you like oysters and marrow imagine they made a baby. Yum. Had it at Kanoyama last week. Good stuff.

                                                -----
                                                Kanoyama
                                                175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: 2slices

                                                  Oysters and marrow having a baby - brilliant!

                                                2. Soto is the uni whisperer...