Tonight I got my second shot at Kata Robata‘s Ensui Uni sashimi, and it was well worth the $14 for a wee bowl of the jiggly goodness.
I sampled a bit of this yellow-orange treasure a couple of weeks ago at Kata Robata, my favorite local Japanese restaurant. Chef Hori introduced the uni, which is apparently quite popular in Japan recently, as uni that has not been preserved with the usual alum additive, but instead soaked only in a 3% (as I remember it) sea salt water solution. The resulting uni (sea urchin roe for those who haven’t a clue what this is about), is like no other uni I have ever tasted. While I enjoy the usual uni, alum and all, the ensui uni has a much milder, sweeter flavor that is heavenly. It also seems to maintain it’s firmness a little better, which allows you to appreciate the texture of each tiny bead of roe as it falls apart against your tongue. If I am getting a little porny with my description it’s because it IS that good.
With this in mind, I have to back up for a moment and describe my experience with uni up to this point. I was 12 years old the first time I tried uni. I was on a trip to San Francisco with my dad when we ventured into a run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant as we were prone to do when travelling, as Japanese cuisine, and sushi in particular, has been a favorite of mine ever since my dad thought it would be fun to see if he could get his 7 year-old to try a taste of his tekka maki at the old Tokyo Gardens. He would go on to remind me constantly into my adulthood how he regretted creating that monster.
I digress. So we ordered some uni at this San Francisco sushi joint. Neither of us had ever tried uni before even though my Dad had spent some time in Japan, and we were regulars at the few sushi spots that I was aware of in Houston in the 80s. Uni was not readily available in Houston at the time as far as I can remember, and if it was it was off my 12-year-old radar. Ever the adventurous eater, perhaps in spite of my age, I was eager to try it. However, when it arrived, my dad and I both noted its resemblance to cat poop both in smell and appearance. After tasting it, I imagined it must also taste like cat poop, though I could not confirm that for obvious reasons. It made such an impression on me that I did not taste a bit of uni until one of Randy Rucker‘s tenacity dinners last year, which had a delicious uni and cauliflower puree. I have since seen the error of my ways and learned that I should not assume that my tastes are the same as they were when I was 12. I also assume that the uni I tried then was utter crap, thus ruining my taste for it for over 20 years.
What a strange turn of events. Until sometime last year I consistently listed uni as one of things I would not likely eat ever, and now I have found bliss in its unadulterated form. Go figure.
If you love flavors of the ocean, seek out some ensui uni, and please don’t be a stubborn idiot like me and miss out on something wonderful for 20 years. I will admit that uni is not for everyone, and its strong flavor is off-putting to many, but even if you think you don’t like uni you might love ensui uni.
There is not a lot of information about ensui uni around the interwebs, but this Japanese site has some nice photos and a little text that can be translated with google (why must websites use images for text? ugh).
For your viewing pleasure, some other dishes we enjoyed at Kata Robata: