The "butter of the sea" is just about the perfect way to describe the creamy, decadent innards of the hedgehog-like sea urchin—known as uni in Japan. The golden-hued foodstuff is popular all across the globe, prized for its complementary sweet and salty notes, which can be appreciated simply on their own or to add flavor and richness to a dish. Just like butter, uni makes everything better.
"Uni isn't just eaten raw in sushi or sashimi or crudo. It's also available cooked in pasta, pizza, paninis, ramen, udon," explains Erina Yoshida, general manager of French-Japanese restaurant Autre Kyo Ya in the East Village. "I've also had it in desert form in Japan in a soft serve ice cream."
Apart from Autre Kyo Ya and sister eatery Kyo Ya, there are dozens of ways to experience uni in New York City. Nearby Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Soto specializes in employing uni in exquisite dishes like Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri, wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso, and served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction. There's nearly always an uni course in the omakase, where the chef sends out a selection of fish, at sushi restaurants, too.
Uni Mushroom mazemen-style ramen (courtesy Jun-Men Ramen)
Raw preparations are common, but as Yoshida points out, sea urchin is a popular addition to cooked dishes like udon noodles at newcomer TsuruTonTan and in ramen like the umami-rich Uni Mushroom at Chelsea's Jun-Men.
In the Mediterranean vein, uni's a common sight draped on pizza or folded into a rich pasta sauce like the now-legendary Strozzapreti pasta at Michael White's Marea, where the chef doubles down on the briny and seafood-forward delicacy by pairing it with jumbo lump crab.
We can't forage for uni locally—most of what we get in NYC is imported from either Japan or California—but there's no shortage of places to dive into the Echinoidea gonads in the sea of restaurants here at home.