Chaya's All-Uni Menu Is Serious Uni Porn

Live uni sashimi with dashi jelly, $22EXPAND
Live uni sashimi with dashi jelly, $22

Forget foie gras. This month is all about uni. Locally sourced uni currently is in peak season and is washing up on dishes across the city, from tacos to udon, pasta to bone marrow.

This creamy edible portion of the spiny sea urchin actually is the creature's gonads, which typically are eaten raw or lightly cooked. Raw uni has a fresh ocean taste — briny and slightly mineral — with a nutty flavor followed by a sweetness similar to lobster. It's also surprisingly versatile, as evidenced by Chaya's $80 uni-centric four-course menu, available at the French-Japanese restaurant's Venice and downtown locations from March 10 through March 31. 

For the special menu, executive chef George Inoue is using Santa Barbara uni, which is larger and more flavorful than the Japanese varieties. It also holds more moisture and has a softer texture.

House-made uni tofu with wasabi soy, $12EXPAND
House-made uni tofu with wasabi soy, $12

Chaya's uni feast starts with a dish of house-made uni tofu with wasabi soy served over ice, Inoue's uni take on a traditional Japanese cold sesame tofu dish. A live uni sashimi with dashi jelly comes next, with a whole live uni cut in half used as its presentation vessel. The third course includes an uni snow-crab cake with mitsuba leaf, a high-calcium Japanese parsley. The snow crab is marinated in a spicy dashi-soy sauce mixture, then tossed with onions, shiitake mushrooms and miso for a soft-baked patty.

The last dish is an uni and abalone Akita Komachi risotto. For this Italian mash-up, uni is mixed in with the risotto along with white wine, chicken stock and Parmesan cheese before being topped with seared abalone slices, chervil and pickled purple cauliflower. 

Rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins A and C (it can also be an aphrodisiac), sea urchin is a food trend that, in the right hands, deserves the hype.

“Uni is so popular these days that it’s becoming as mainstream as caviar," Inoue said at a recent media preview for the menu. "You can put it on nearly anything."


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