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Uni-versally Spectacular

Sea urchins spike DC’s culinary landscape.

Chef Tetsuya Nakata’s version of uni—reputed to have aphrodisiacal power—is served on its own shell at Perrys.

Uni, the coral-hued lobes of gold found inside the sea urchin, has long been a Japanese delicacy. The tongue-shaped strips resemble roe, but are, in fact, the echinoderm’s sex organs. Their custardy texture, pure ocean flavor and reputed aphrodisiacal powers make uni the foie gras of the sea—and chefs all over DC are crazy for it. José Andrés lines strips of uni on grilled bread topped with butter and sea urchin. Fabio Trabocchi melts them into bucatini topped with prawns. Aaron Silverman melds them with barely scrambled eggs. Two of our favorite versions come from (who else?) Japanese chefs.

Chef Tetsuya Nakata offers quivering orange uni piled in its own shell, a throne of long, dramatic black quills. “Live uni is special because it’s only delivered once a week to us from California, usually on Thursdays or Fridays,” says Nakata. “You can see how fresh it is: Even after it has been cleaned and put back in the shell, the spikes are often still moving when we serve it.” The dish is presented with soy sauce and fresh wasabi from Japan. Nakata suggests using a modest amount of the uni, so you can enjoy its ocean taste. “Ask for it to be torched. That makes the uni buttery,” he says. 1811 Columbia Road NW, 202.234.6218

Kaz Sushi Bistro
Chef/owner Kaz Okochi serves uni intermingled with strips of squid. “The combination of uni and squid is common in Japan, as is uni and egg yolk,” says Okochi. “Bird’s nest presentation is not unique. So I combined all of those pre-existing ideas and added extra elements.” Shiso leaf provides fresh, citrus-like flavor. Truffle oil, rather than wasabi soy sauce, adds an element of surprise. And egg yolk brings out the uni’s sweetness. 1915 I St. NW, 202.530.5500