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Uni...great places for it (not only for sushi)

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sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 03:26 PM

I was initially afraid to try uni because it looked so weird, but I was intrigued, and I found out it's really good! I've only had it prepared in a non-Japanese fashion once when I had the squid ink pasta in uni sauce at Il Grano and I've really enjoyed it. And I adore Go's Mart and pretty much anything I've tried that Go has made with uni has been very tasty.

What are some other places that have interesting preparations using (one would hope...high quality) uni.

On my list: Takao in Brentwood (various preparations), Villetta in Brentwood (pasta with uni sauce). I think I also saw halibut with uni something or other on the Hungry Cat (SaMo) menu.

I'm located in WLA so local places are great, but if there is a special preparation that is a bit of a drive, that is ok too.

Thanks in advance to all you uni lovers out there for helping this uni newbie learn the ropes!

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Go's Mart
22330 Sherman Way, Los Angeles, CA 91303

Il Grano Restaurant
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025

Takao
11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

Villetta
246 26th St, Santa Monica, CA 90402

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  1. goodhealthgourmet RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 03:44 PM

    places that have done sea urchin pasta, though you'll have to find out if it's currently on each menu:
    Angelini Osteria
    Scarpetta
    Providence
    Locanda Veneta
    Osteria Mozza
    Madeo

    and Craft sometimes offers sea urchin panna cotta.

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    Angelini Osteria
    7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036

    Providence
    5955 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

    Madeo Restaurant
    8897 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048

    Locanda Veneta
    8638 W. Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

    Craft Los Angeles
    10100 Constellation Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067

    Osteria Mozza
    6602 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

    Scarpetta
    225 N Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

    4 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet
      s
      sablouwho RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 15, 2011 03:49 PM

      Picking myself up off the floor after reading the words "sea urchin panna cotta". And smiling and crossing my fingers because I just happen to already have my maiden voyage at Craft next week!

      Thanks for the great list!

      1. re: sablouwho
        goodhealthgourmet RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 04:27 PM

        unfortunately i haven't been lucky enough to catch it on the menu during my visits...but you're in for a great meal and the service there is just about the best you'll find anywhere in LA. just one warning that the chef sometimes has a very heavy hand with the salt, so if that's an issue for you, ask your server when ordering if they can go light on the salt (i think he likes to garnish a bit too generously with fleur de sel).

        the braised short ribs are spectacular, i love everything they do with octopus, and for dessert you can never go wrong with the gelato, ice cream or sorbet that's been made in-house...they do a particularly good job with flavors that use yogurt or buttermilk in the base - somehow theirs turn out creamier and less icy than the ones you'll get at most other places .

      2. re: goodhealthgourmet
        w
        will47 RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 15, 2011 06:59 PM

        The last time we were at Providence, they had uni and runny scrambled egg inside an eggshell. I'm vegetarian, but my wife (who LOVES uni) and one of our dining companions both ordered it as a supplement, even though it wasn't part of the 5 course tasting menu.

        1. re: will47
          goodhealthgourmet RE: will47 Jul 15, 2011 08:09 PM

          [[drool]]

      3. Will Owen RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 04:58 PM

        I have never regretted eating too much good food so much as when we'd been at a club annual meeting/banquet at Delzano's at the Redondo Marina, and then afterwards did a walking tour of the pier. There's a fresh seafood market there - don't remember the name - that had fresh sea urchins on ice in the case. Urchins with bodies the size of a tennis ball, split, with mountains of uni inside. We were simultaneously struck with lust and made all too aware of how stuffed we were.

        And it seems to me they were under $10/lb, although that included the part you don't eat.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Will Owen
          Bob Brooks RE: Will Owen Jul 16, 2011 03:20 PM

          Quality Seafood?

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          Quality Seafood
          130 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, CA

          1. re: Will Owen
            RacerX RE: Will Owen Jul 29, 2011 09:49 AM

            A great casual option I found if you're ever in the South Bay is Spoon House in Gardena. Its a small japanese pasta place that had an amazing dish of spaghetti with cod roe and uni.

            Very reasonably priced and great asian/italian fusion. And best of all, you can get a lunch for around $10 plus tax and tip.

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            Spoon House
            1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247

          2. f
            foodiemahoodie RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 07:01 PM

            I'd be curious to know how you like Villetta's pasta with the uni sauce. I was a little disappointed with it. I liked everything else I've tried there. A lot. But this tasted like it wasn't as fresh as it should be.

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            Villetta
            246 26th St, Santa Monica, CA 90402

            1. J.L. RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 08:13 PM

              Uni: Contrary to most of the board members here, who prefer Santa Barbara uni, my favorite is actually the uni from San Diego. I think it's got a very delicate, but still ocean-y taste to it. The Santa Barbara uni is great, don't get me wrong (when fresh, SB uni packs a great "punch"), but there's still a special place on my tongue for that SD uni. The best place for San Diego uni is at Sushi Ota in San Diego.

              Back in L.A., my favorite uni is at Mori Sushi. Incidentally, Mori Sushi frequently offers uni from the cold waters off Hokkaido also. Itamaes Mori-san & Maru-san both serve a dish showcasing both Santa Barbara uni AND Hokkaido uni, side by side, to compare/contrast them.

              Hiro-san at Urasawa often carries fantastic Japanese uni as well, but it's a seasonal call. And as you already know, Go's Mart has some pretty spectacular Santa Barbara uni too.

              A great plate of uni spaghetti can be had on Sawtelle, at Blue Marlin.

              Many sushi joints in L.A. will serve up freshly-shucked uni, presented still in its shell. However,, though fresh, this is often not the best quality uni to begin with. Be warned.

              Chef Niki Nakayama serves up some really great uni & truffle pasta during her kaiseki tasting courses at her restaurant, n/naka. But again, this is seasonal, so call ahead.

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              Urasawa Restaurant
              218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

              Go's Mart
              22330 Sherman Way, Los Angeles, CA 91303

              Blue Marlin
              2121 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

              15 Replies
              1. re: J.L.
                Porthos RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2011 08:28 PM

                Many sushi joints in L.A. will serve up freshly-shucked uni, presented still in its shell. However,, though fresh, this is often not the best quality uni to begin with. Be warned.
                ====================

                I cannot second this statement enough. I've had uni in the shell at some sushi place in San Diego that claimed to have their own fishing boat (with spines still moving), uni in the shell at Hungry Cat, and uni in the shell at Blue Ribbon in NYC. At the SD sushi restaurant and at Hungry Cat the roe was slightly bitter and much smaller than the delicious sweet uni you get at a high end sushi restaurant. It makes sense if you think about it. The highest grade, most pristine stuff goes to these restaurants. The uni at Blue Ribbon was pretty good actually. Maine uni. Good stuff.

                I also agree that the best uni in LA, bar none, is the Hokkaido uni in season at Mori. Nothing is sweeter and more fragrant. When SB uni peaks and when Hokaido uni isn't in season, the SB uni can outshine Hokkaido uni.

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                The Hungry Cat
                100 W Channel Rd, Santa Monica, CA 90402

                1. re: Porthos
                  goodhealthgourmet RE: Porthos Jul 15, 2011 10:23 PM

                  I've had uni in the shell at some sushi place in San Diego that claimed to have their own fishing boat
                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~
                  that would be Zenbu.

                  but back to LA, thanks for the tip re: the SB uni at Mori...though i assume you're talking about the one in WLA on Pico? for some reason the place link is showing an address in Dana Point...

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                    Porthos RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 15, 2011 10:46 PM

                    There is only one Mori Sushi :-)

                    It's the Hokkaido uni you want there. Smaller, darker orange, and more concentrated in flavor and sweetness.

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                    Mori Sushi
                    11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                      J.L. RE: goodhealthgourmet Jul 15, 2011 11:40 PM

                      Bad link to Mori Sushi removed...

                      Truth be told, the Hokkaido uni is excellent at Mori, but (indubitably) it is absolutely transcendent in Japan.

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                      Mori Sushi
                      34320 Pacific Coast Hwy Ste B, Dana Point, CA 92629

                      1. re: J.L.
                        s
                        sablouwho RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2011 11:45 PM

                        When is Hokkaido uni in season at Mori?

                        I've been to Mori twice, but only for lunch and did not sit at the sushi bar. It was just ok--I guess that I must not have ordered well judging by the all the CH love it gets.

                        Now that I know they have "dueling unis" at Mori, I will have to give it another try--sounds like I should at the least sit at the bar?

                        1. re: sablouwho
                          J.L. RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 11:52 PM

                          As far as I'm concerned, the ONLY place to sit at Mori Sushi (and most other high end sushi-yas) is at the bar. You get a far less than optimal experience at the tables.

                          Uni is best in winter/spring (Northern hemisphere), I believe.

                          -----
                          Mori Sushi
                          11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                          1. re: J.L.
                            s
                            sablouwho RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2011 11:58 PM

                            Dang--I just missed the spring!

                            Well, even so, I will have to give Mori another try -- this time at the bar. Do you think it matters much whether I go for lunch or dinner?

                            1. re: sablouwho
                              J.L. RE: sablouwho Jul 16, 2011 02:38 AM

                              I've never been to Mori for lunch, though I've heard great things about lunch at Mori from the other Hounds. The itamae is now Maru-san.

                              1. re: J.L.
                                s
                                sablouwho RE: J.L. Jul 21, 2011 11:59 AM

                                OK, so I went to Mori for lunch and sat at the bar (first time at the bar). Very nice guy behind bar (not the new owner, someone else). Had a combination of cooked food and sushi.

                                I had their uni tempura--this was definitely a new way for me to try uni. I was wrapped in shiso leaf (how I love shiso!), then wrapped in nori, then tempurified! Pretty interesting!

                                I had a few other cooked dishes, they started me out with the homemade tofu, then there was a vegetable dish, then spot prawn with manila clams and tomatos, then uni tempura, and then some nigiri.

                                While it was all very good, for some reason I was just underwhelmed. I guess I just kind of like Zo better. Not saying Zo "is" better, but rather, just a personal preference...Zo's is more "saucy" perhaps?

                                Of course, I still love Go's, I think it is my fav...again, just personal opinion, not fact!

                                1. re: sablouwho
                                  J.L. RE: sablouwho Jul 21, 2011 02:36 PM

                                  Plurality of opinions makes Chowhound great!

                                  Thanks for reporting back! I didn't know Sushi Zo served lunch too.

                                  -----
                                  Sushi Zo
                                  9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                                  1. re: J.L.
                                    Servorg RE: J.L. Jul 27, 2011 06:33 AM

                                    As far as I can recall Sushi Zo has always served lunch. In fact, I've never been there for dinner. (Do they serve dinner? ;-D>)

                                    -----
                                    Sushi Zo
                                    9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                  2. re: J.L.
                    f
                    foodiemahoodie RE: J.L. Jul 27, 2011 12:23 AM

                    J.L. - where can I find San Diego uni in L.A.?

                    One thing that is always fun about Mori - is the little tast comparo with the S.B. and Japanese uni. I like them both. I might even prefer the Santa Barbara. Both are great. Took a friend there recently who doesn't like uni. I made her her try it. (it was an omakase) Her eyes went wide with surprise and delight. "Hey, that's pretty good."

                    1. re: foodiemahoodie
                      s
                      sablouwho RE: foodiemahoodie Jul 27, 2011 06:54 AM

                      What happened to your friend is similar to what happened to me when I -first- tried uni in Jan 2010. It was hard to imagine something so weird looking could taste good, but boy was I surprised!

                      1. re: foodiemahoodie
                        J.L. RE: foodiemahoodie Jul 27, 2011 11:15 AM

                        I fell that uni is one of those things that cannot be enjoyed properly unless it's above a certain quality & freshness standard. Unfortunately, often times lower-end sushi joints serve below-standard uni which, while not spoiled, will not garner any new uni fans, wither.

                        The market for SD uni is nowhere as large or developed as for Santa Barbara uni, so I have yet to find a consistent purveyor of SD uni in L.A.

                        1. re: J.L.
                          f
                          foodiemahoodie RE: J.L. Jul 30, 2011 12:37 AM

                          I've had mediocre uni - and it has kind of - hm...a hint of an ammonia and/or latrine to it. Just a faint hint, but enough to where you're getting an uni taste, but you're not really enjoying it.

                    2. k
                      ken RE: sablouwho Jul 15, 2011 09:09 PM

                      According to StreetGourmetLA, La Guerrerense from Baja will be at the LA Street Food Fest (www.lastreetfoodfest.com) tomorrow (Sat 7/16) at the Rose Bowl with uni tostada's topped with pismo clams. I've never had it, but it sounds amazing!

                      Skipping the drive to Ensenada to try that may alone be worth the price of admission (and the possible carmageddon woes.)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ken
                        k
                        ken RE: ken Jul 16, 2011 10:57 AM

                        In case you needed another excuse to make the smooth drive to Pasadena, StreetGourmetLA just revealed, "Drumroll. ONE of the Manzanilla surprises from @benitoysolange? Abalone!abalone, sea urchin, oysters +clams at Baja booths @lafoodfest"

                      2. f
                        fizzy RE: sablouwho Jul 27, 2011 10:41 AM

                        Take a road trip down south! :)

                        There used to be a lady who sold whole uni at the Little Italy Farmers Market (Saturdays) in San Diego. I think her husband was one in a group of divers. She stopped for some reason and the uni is now being sold by another vendor -- the price went up a bit, but I tried them out recently + it seemed just as good/fresh.

                        An old article on the lady:
                        http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...

                        I've been trying to go to La Guerrense forever, but they weren't working on the days I was down there on my last two trips to Ensenada. I've heard she does some awesome stuff with uni. The seafood in general is amazing down there.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: fizzy
                          f
                          fizzy RE: fizzy Jul 27, 2011 10:51 AM

                          Forgot to add that Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego probably also offers fresh whole live uni like the ones sold at the market. You just have to learn to cut them yourself.

                          The experience is so different from what you get from the restaurants. That stuff is great... but this stuff is *amazing* esp over fresh pasta or risotto -- so creamy, it absolutely liquifies in your mouth. Really pure flavor, no other garnishes needed.

                        2. s
                          sushigirlie RE: sablouwho Jul 29, 2011 07:35 PM

                          Water Grill opens up a whole, fresh sea urchin and scoops out the sea urchin for you.

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                          Water Grill
                          544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: sushigirlie
                            J.L. RE: sushigirlie Jul 29, 2011 10:18 PM

                            ... And that's where I found out that the starting urchin, while fresh, was not that great to begin with.

                            1. re: J.L.
                              s
                              sushigirlie RE: J.L. Jul 30, 2011 06:09 AM

                              Well, I'm no sea urchin connoisseur, but I think Water Grill's sea urchin tastes very rich and "sea urchiny," and not very different from, say, Mori's Santa Barbara sea urchin.

                              -----
                              Water Grill
                              544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

                              1. re: sushigirlie
                                c
                                cls RE: sushigirlie Jul 30, 2011 10:39 AM

                                second Water Grill on the live sea urchin.

                                -----
                                Water Grill
                                544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

                              2. re: J.L.
                                Porthos RE: J.L. Jul 30, 2011 11:43 AM

                                Second JL. Live uni/uni in shell is often inferior to the uni you get at a high end sushi restaurant. I've not had uni in the shell anywhere near as large and sweet as uni at Mori. Even a giant sea urchin ends up having some pretty small tongues of roe.

                                1. re: Porthos
                                  s
                                  sushigirlie RE: Porthos Jul 30, 2011 05:36 PM

                                  The Uni gonads I had recently at Water Grill were larger than those I had at Mori recently. They tasted the same. But I'm sure you're right.

                                  -----
                                  Water Grill
                                  544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

                                  1. re: sushigirlie
                                    Porthos RE: sushigirlie Jul 30, 2011 07:39 PM

                                    And that is why I was careful to point out that "I have not had" sea urchin roe in a shell larger than what I've had at Mori and that uni in the shell is "often" inferior. I didn't make any crazy grandiose statements that uni larger than the ones at Mori do not exist.

                                    1. re: Porthos
                                      f
                                      fizzy RE: Porthos Jul 31, 2011 01:50 AM

                                      I think you guys are circling around some good points, but not really looking at the right things.

                                      What you get at a high end sushi restaurant is premium grade uni that has been sorted so that you only get the best pieces of roe.

                                      You take a little bit more of a chance with a live sea urchin... each urchin will give you several pieces of roe, some that are really beautiful and/or some that aren't as nice. It's the same chance you take when cutting open fruit, you can only make a guess as to how good the meat will be inside. How good live uni is will depend on the quality/conditions of the kelp beds that it lived in, transportation time, storage conditions, etc... so you can really only depend on the restaurant to choose a reliable source who will ensure that the uni comes from a good place and is treated well. I believe the same species of sea urchin are harvested from Santa Barbara + San Diego. The difference in quality and taste probably depend more on the above factors.

                                      I don't think size really matters. I've noticed that SB/SD uni tends to be on the larger side. Hokkaido uni tends to be smaller -- but they're different species, so size really doesn't play into how one compares to the other. Both can be amazing. Size within each species probably depends some on how close the urchin might be to their mating times when harvested.

                                      My experiences with live uni on the shell at restaurants have been mixed -- though my experiences buying from people who source directly from the divers have been generally very good. Unless you kind of know more specifically where your uni is coming from, I would probably stick with the prepared uni at higher end sushi restaurants since they do provide the extra selectivity and care in preparation that ensure consistently amazing experiences. You *can* have equally amazing live uni on the shell experiences -- you just have to either know/trust your source or take a chance.

                                      1. re: fizzy
                                        J.L. RE: fizzy Jul 31, 2011 04:25 AM

                                        Nicely worded. Gonna have to agree with all of it.

                                        1. re: fizzy
                                          s
                                          sablouwho RE: fizzy Jul 31, 2011 07:58 AM

                                          Go-san at Go's Mart explained it to me in a similar manner to what you said above, fizzy, when I asked what he thought of live uni. He told me you pretty much don't know what you're gonna get inside that shell until you open it, and that some of the pieces can be better than others even within the same shell. Or that sometimes you open the shell and it just isn't good enough to serve.

                                          I have to say, the uni I had at Go's (which was not live) was better than the live uni I had at Sushi Iki. (That was my first time having live uni). For that matter, my entire meal at Iki, while fine and good and fresh, didn't wow me the way Go's does.

                                          -----
                                          Go's Mart
                                          22330 Sherman Way, Los Angeles, CA 91303

                                          Sushi Iki
                                          18663 Ventura Blvd Ste 106, Tarzana, CA 91356

                                          1. re: fizzy
                                            Porthos RE: fizzy Jul 31, 2011 08:07 AM

                                            I think that's what we've been trying to say but with much less clarity and detail. Great post!

                                            1. re: Porthos
                                              s
                                              sablouwho RE: Porthos Jul 31, 2011 08:24 AM

                                              Thanks Porthos! I just thought of yet another way to look at it...

                                              ALL uni starts out live and fresh...even the inferior uni that is not top grade was at one point live! But -THEN- it is graded and sorted.

                                              This isn't to say that fresh uni is unimportant -- anyone who has had a whiff (or, unfortunately, a bit) of less than fresh uni knows what I mean--it just doesn't have the wow factor. (I've been fortunate to never have had a piece of really off uni).

                                              But the top grade uni I've had at really good sushi places that has not been live was better than the ginormous piece of live uni I had at Iki. Not saying the live uni was bad, it wasn't--it was good, just not as good as the top grade uni I've had other places.

                                              The places that serve live uni have an interesting situation--THEY have already paid for the live uni without knowing the quality of the contents. What happens when they open a shell and see "just ok" uni inside? Do they serve it, or throw it away? Or only serve the "good/great" pieces? Seems to me it's a problem of economics (they've already paid for it) butting heads with a desire for high quality.

                                2. r
                                  Robert Thornton RE: sablouwho Jul 31, 2011 01:07 PM

                                  Once when I was eating at Nishi-ya in Glendale, he gave me San Diego vs. Santa Barbara uni on the same plate to compare them. Really interesting comparison. The SD was a bit richer and rounder tasting, whereas the SB was a bit more subtle but complex. I prefered the SB.

                                  Oh, and I've had a few different uni dishes at Providence and all were very very good.

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