I like to think of myself as someone who is able to stop the neuroses long enough to smell the roses and enjoy life’s serendipitous little moments.
Like this, which I stumbled upon while trying to explain the ERMAHGERD phenomenon to KnightlyBoyfriend and promptly dissolved into a fit of snorting, uninhibited belly laughter:
As much as I love sharing an apartment with the boy toy (and I miss him so much when he’s gone blah blah blah), hearing that I have the apartment to myself for the occasional evening results in this:
A bottle of wine to myself and UNLIMITED chick flicks? Plus all of Bride Day on the DVR??
But first, I celebrated with a little retail therapy.
Two years ago, Ryan gave me a gift card to Williams Sonoma for my birthday that I foolishly held onto because I wanted to buy the PERFECT kitchen item. I wavered between a dutch oven (HAH. And yes, I’m five.) and a mandolin, and after watching three – ok, ok five straight hours of Chopped my decision became clear. I put on pants, tamed the crazy beast mane, and strutted my big, bad self down to Williams Sonoma where I made out like a MF BANDIT with a mandolin, a new coffee table book, truffle salt (SWEET JESUS), and a few other overpriced kitchen accessories.
Then I stopped by Trader Joe’s and walked aimlessly through the store to decide which foodstuffs were worthy of my new kitchen gadget and borderline-maniacal appreciation for secret single behavior (which, most unfortunately for KnightlyBoyfriend, generally happens regardless of whether I’m home alone…it just reaches new heights when left unbridled for an evening). Finally, the Heavens parted and it became clear what I would be eating with my Cotes du Rhone blanc.
You know how dogs have that spot on their belly that, when rubbed, causes their uncontrollable kicking of the back foot? Scallops are that spot on the belly for me. I love them. I can’t get enough of them. I love that they’re light but meaty and filing, and nothing – NOTHING – beats the sweet, caramelized crust around the edges.
Friends, BEHOLD: Scallops with zucchini and pasta in a lemon, white wine, and garlic sauce. (The zucchini was julienned on the new mandolin!)
(If you want to do a lower calorie version of this, just omit the pasta and double up the zucchini.)
|Scallops with Zucchini Pasta
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 25 mins
Easy, healthy dinner perfect for weeknights. If you don’t have a mandolin, you can thinly slice the onion and julienne the zucchini by hand (or use a box grater). As always, measurements are approximate and should be adjusted according to your personal taste.
- Scallops (4 ounces per person)
- 2 zucchini, julienned (if you choose to omit the pasta, double the amount of zucchini and have zucchini pasta)
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 large lemon, cut in half
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese to taste
- Whole wheat pasta (1 serving per person)
- Set a pot of salted water on a burner to boil the pasta. Cook according to package directions.
- Prepare the scallops by removing the adductor muscle or foot from the side (if it hasn’t already been removed, you’ll see it hanging off – just lightly pull it away from the meat). Pat the scallops dry and season on one side with salt.
- In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Once the oil has a shimmer to it (after a minute or two), lightly place the scallops into the pan, seasoned side down. Don’t crowd the pan – do more than one batch if you need to. There should be about an inch of space around each scallop. Lightly season the side facing up.
- After 2-3 minutes, the scallops should pull away from the pan. Flip them onto the other side and allow them to sear for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan.
- Wash any bits from the bottom of the pan and place it back on top of the stove. Add another tablespoon of oil and set the heat to medium low.
- Add the onions to the pan and spread them out in a thin layer across the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally and allow them to slowly caramelize, a process that takes about ten minutes. After five minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
- Once the onions are soft, translucent, and a little brown, turn up the heat to medium high. Add the zucchini and saute for 2 minutes, until the zucchini becomes slightly pliant. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for an additional minute, stirring as needed.
- Deglaze the pan with the wine. Stir and bring to a quick boil (should happen immediately). Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and stir. Put heat to low and simmer for another minute or two, until the vegetables soak up some of the sauce.
- If you’re adding pasta, now’s the time. Just stir it into the vegetable mixture. If it’s dry, add some of the salted pasta water. Stir in your parmesan to taste.
- To plate, put the pasta into a bowl and top with the desired number of scallops. Lightly squeeze lemon juice onto the tops of the scallops.
I used the mandolin to slice my onion paper thin and to julienne my zucchini. I love it – I’d recommend it to anyone. For forty bucks? It’s basic, but what more do you really need? I can’t WAIT to get my greedy little hands on some eggplant…
Anyway, start by searing the scallops in olive oil over medium-high heat (about 2-3 minutes each side). They’ll pull away from the bottom of the pan when they’re ready to flip, but it’s critical that you heat the oil first.
While that’s going, saute onions and garlic with a little red pepper until translucent and also caramelized.
(Pretty onion ribbons from my new mandolin!!)
When they start turning brown, turn up the heat and add the zucchini.
Once the pan is dry, pour in a splash of wine and the juice of half a lemon. Keep stirring over medium heat for another 3-5 minutes, until the zucchini is wilted but still has a bite to it and the liquid has reduced slightly.
Add in the pasta and toss with parm. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the whole thing and voila!
The whole shebang took all of 20 minutes. Easy for a weeknight, a show-stopper for company, and perfect for nights at home when you’re parking on the couch, sipping wine, and catching up on your lady shows.
Spill it. What’s your secret single behavior?
- 5th September 2012 at 8:58 pm
As someone who grew up in a region characterized by bold and zesty cuisine imparted by its Cajun, Southwestern, and Southern cultural underpinnings, I am drawn to complicated dishes that pack the punch with complex spice combinations, intricate sauces, and tongue-singeing heat. While living in New England has certainly honed my appreciation for allowing the natural flavors of ingredients to shine, I still find my palate piqued by the robust flavors of my youth.
Uni’s food does something amazing by marrying these divergent philosophies through inventive ingredient combinations. Intriguing and unfamiliar flavors play across the tongue with each bite, while also elevating the natural flavor of the fish and allowing it to sing.
Uni needs no introduction.
370 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Uni Sashimi Bar
Uni is located in the Eliot Hotel, connected to Ken Oringer’s acclaimed venture, Clio. I’ve been to Clio for drinks, but it was my first experience stepping down into Uni. The area was much smaller than I had originally thought – I think there were only five tables and a bar bordering the very small preparation area. We opted to sit at the bar and watch the action, something I’d highly recommend to first-time visitors or anyone who wants to watch the meal preparation. Watching the care taken and attention paid to every piece of fish and every minuscule detail made the meal that much more special.
It was quiet, but it was clear that the people in that small space were there to sample the well-reputed delicacies. Diners were examining every plate intently and taking the time to taste each component, action rarely seen collectively among patrons. We were certainly no exception.
I’m OBSESSED (obsessed) with Clio’s cocktails, meticulously perfected by the ingenious mixologist, Todd Maul. If I knew someone who only had three hours to spend in Boston, I would tell them that sipping a cocktail at Clio should be a priority. In fact, Clio’s Bull’s Eye Gin & Tonic was recently named on of Boston’s top 15 most iconic drinks.
(It’s worth the hype. But that’s another story for another time.)
Part of Uni’s appeal is that you can enjoy the impeccably fresh sashimi while sipping a cocktail from the 24-page menu at Clio. Tonight, I opted for the Mary’s Liquor Cabinet, a mixture of Tanqueray, Cocchi Americano, Grand Classico, Wormwood Bitters, and Lillet Paint, all deconstructed/evaporated in a rotovap and brought back together to create something magical.
NERD ALERT: While the concept of a rotovap is a little beyond the comprehension of my liberal arts education and lack of scientific understanding, the best comparison I can fathom will only make sense to other Harry Potter lovers. You know how, in The Half Blood Prince, Slughorn kicks off a potions lesson with the task of separating the components of a poison to find its antidote? If I comprehend correctly, it’s kind of like that. The purpose is to concentrate the flavors of the various components before mixing them back together, and the effect is mind-boggling.
(If I’m wrong about/grossly misunderstood this, please feel free to correct me in the comments!)
With each sip of this cocktail, new hints of flavor sparkled across my tongue. It started out sweet and floral with accents of caramel, slowly melded into the slightly bitter, slightly citrusy flavor of caramelized lemon peel, and ended with a mellow oaky-ness. The sensation lasted for several seconds after each sip. It was a delightful and surprising way to enjoy a cocktail.
For dinner, we wanted to supplement the Restaurant Week menu with something from the regular menu, so we chose to be adventurous and try something new – the restaurant’s namesake, Uni, or sea urchin.
I’m not going to lie. My experience with uni made me consider dismantling my blog altogether. Ryan and I had a long discussion on our walk home about whether or not I should even mention trying it in the write-up, but ultimately decided in the interest of authenticity it would be ridiculous to pretend it never happened.
I didn’t like it.
With everything you read and see about this and that professional food critic absolutely RAVING about uni, I’m actually terrified that any respectable food enthusiast will see this and assume I’m some bumpkin who has no business blogging (if they haven’t already), but I’m just putting it out there. Texturally it was lovely, a cross between a custard and a foam that actually dissolves upon hitting your tongue. The color was a vibrant orange, and I don’t doubt for a second that it was impossibly fresh. The accompaniments brought out the briny sea flavor in a lovely way. However, the underlying flavor was a mouth-puckering bitterness that I just couldn’t get past. While I would definitely give it another shot, it’s not something I’m eager to eat again.
This isn’t a knock on Uni at all, but a reflection of my palate. Perhaps, for me, uni is an acquired taste. If this makes me a simpleton, I guess I’ll have to deal. I’m really disappointed in myself for not loving it, but I just…didn’t. I feel like there’s something wrong with me.
Now that I’ve ripped that bandaid off, we’ll move to the rest of the meal, which was absolutely stellar. One of the best I’ve had in a long time, and definitely in the top five ever.
We both started with the sake sashimi, which was thinly sliced Scottish salmon lightly dressed in a cucumber jalepeno vinaigrette and garnished with minced grilled pineapple and Japanese puffed rice. As a general rule, KnightlyBoyfriend and I try to order different things, but the appeal of spicy jalepeno was too much for either of us to pass up so we both ordered it. And we were so glad we did.
(This picture would have been so much better on a real camera.)
Salmon is usually not my first choice due to the underlying fishiness that often runs through the flesh. This salmon had none of that. Thinly sliced and impossibly tender, it was only slightly sturdier than the uni that dissolved in our mouths. It tasted like fish butter – bright, fresh, and meaty, offering little resistance to the tooth. You would assume that the bold flavors accompanying it – the spicy jalepeno, sweet pineapple, and toasted rice – would overpower the delicate flavor of so fine a fish, but they only served to enhance the natural flavor of the fish itself. I couldn’t eat it with my eyes open – I had to focus all my energies on making that glorious taste last as long as possible. This is a dish I’ll remember for many years, and has completely altered my perceptions about what is possible with salmon.
For our main course, we both ordered the Chirashi, a bowl of seasoned black and white rice topped with the chef’s choice of sashimi and pickled cabbage. When placing our orders, we asked if we would each receive a different selection of fish to sample, and we were delighted that the chefs obliged.
I had bigeye tuna topped with wasabi mustard and fried shallots, hamachi (yellowtail amberjack) topped with sea salt and minced Japanese peppers, and local striper ceviche (did they read my mind? how did they know I’m a ceviche enthusiast!?).
The texture of the bigeye tuna was similar to the salmon – a delicate block of meaty tuna that offered no resistance to my bite. The bright, fresh flavor was enhanced by the acid from the mustard, and the paper-thin fried shallots provided a nice textural contrast.
After gushing to the waiter about how much I loved the salmon, he relayed my message to the chefs. They specifically chose hamachi for me because it’s another fish that has a reputation for being temperamental and, at times, fishy. It obviously was not in this circumstance. While meatier and sturdier than the buttery salmon, it had a light, delicate flavor. Its inherent sweetness was highlighted by the Japanese peppers.
The local striper ceviche was my favorite. Thinly sliced and very lightly seasoned with an acidic component (I believe it was lemon, but I can’t remember for sure), it was light and flavorful but also sturdy in texture.
Ryan’s plate contained the same bigeye tuna, sea bass from Italy topped with goji berries, and striped jack from Japan dotted with wasibi.
We both agreed that, while we enjoyed trying less familiar fish varieties, the bigeye tuna was a superb version of a favorite. I said that in light of everything else the tuna was like a comfort food, and Ryan took a bite and said thoughtfully, “Yeah. When I eat it, it’s like ‘hey, I know you.’” and then he smiled as if recalling a good memory. That’s just the type of reaction it evoked. No, it’s nothing exotic or unusual, but it was a classic done better than ever, and for us, that made a stronger statement than anything else.
The sweet and slightly acidic notes of the goji berries intensified the subtle sea flavor of the Italian sea bass, which had a slightly more gelatinous texture than the other fish varieties. The striped jack was very mild and almost fruity in flavor, with the same sturdy texture as the hamachi. All were phenomenal.
The rice served with each plate was a mixture of black and white rice lightly seasoned in a way that nicely complemented the fish. It did not compete with the flavors in the fish and enhanced the sweetness, and also provided a palate-cleanser between bites.
For dessert I had the green cardamom flan, served with sweet corn ice cream, dehydrated blueberries, and coconut powder.
The flan was more custard-like than gelatinous as I expect with flan, and I loved it. It was creamy and contained the perfect balance of sweet cream and cardamom. I kind of gave the idea of sweet corn ice cream the side-eye, but was delighted by the combination of sweet custard and the hint of nuttiness from the corn.
KnightlyBoyfriend ordered the blackberry cocoa cremeux.
There were two small dots of the cocoa cremeux, but it was so packed with rich chocolate flavor it was enough. It had an underlying saltiness that satisfied sweet/salty cravings, and the presence of tart blackberry sauce pulled out the complexities of the cocoa. Delicious.
Our total (before tip) was roughly $101, and included:
- Two Restaurant Week meals ($33.12 each)
- Uni Sashimi ($16)
- Mary’s Liquor Cabinet cocktail ($13)
A Note About Uni and Cost
If you’re anything like me and burdened with offensive student loan payments that will likely last until you’re 5,000 years old (or, you know, living in the real world where resources are scarce and recreational activities have to be triaged), you might find it difficult to justify the expense of places like Uni during non-Restaurant Week periods. Even so, I urge you to try Uni. The care they take with each individual ingredient is inspiring, and it really allows you to taste the natural flavors of the fish through inventive pairing and preparation. It’s also a great opportunity to try the cocktails at Clio, which CANNOT be missed.
Even if the tasting menu is out of our price range, Uni offers some really great deals to diners looking for a bargain. They end each week with Sake Bomb Sundays, where diners can enjoy a 4-course prix fixe menu that includes a Sapporo and sake (a better deal than Restaurant Week!). They also offer late-night Ramen on Fridays and Saturdays after 11pm. If you go to either of these you can supplement with one or two items from the regular menu and have a well-rounded experience.
So…what are you doing next Sunday?
Summary of this Knight at the Restaurant
- To put it simply, Uni is amazing. Go. It’s not like you’d expect anything but perfection at a Ken Oringer establishment, but still…go and experience it for yourself.
- The waitstaff is very knowledgeable and passionate about the food and cocktails. We had two waiters and they were both able to describe each ingredient – from the fish to the obscure garnish – in detail, down to its geographical origin. Oh and there’s a refreshing absence of snobbery, so even the most timid of diners can feel free asking questions.
- Each component has its place on the plate – nothing is there “just cuz.” The flavors all combine to enhance the main attraction, and the result is a bite with beautifully balanced flavors that play on the tongue long after the bite is gone.
- I know Uni isn’t cheap, but they offer some really great alternatives to diners on a budget. I highly recommend taking advantage, but supplement it with an item from the regular menu so you can experience the dishes that have contributed to Uni’s stellar reputation.
FINAL RATING: 4.7/5.0