The special uni flight intrigues me and I ask the chef to tell me more about it. The flight features two kinds of uni from Maine and Peru.
"The Maine uni is like the Japanese uni from Hokkaido, up in the north where the waters are colder," the chef explains. "That's why the pieces are smaller. The Peruvian uni is like the Santa Barbara uni, much larger and sweeter."
I wonder about these new geographical locations that are probably not so new to sushi chefs and others in the know. Until recently, I had never thought to ask about where the uni comes from and how that might affect their flavor. Then, about two years ago, in the space of one month, two different sushi chefs offered me uni from Hokkaido. That is when I learned that much of the uni in sushi restaurants comes from Santa Barbara.
The beau always shivers upon seeing uni and I remember the first time he tried it over 10 years ago. "Roadside ditch sewage," he proclaimed after choking it down with pure revulsion. Uni definitely saves itself for more adventurous palates with its profane flavors of burnt rubber and ocean sludge. I did not acquire the taste for uni until my late teens even though I grew up eating sushi.
And yet the beau still struggles to acquire the taste for uni so I always offer him a taste. He tentatively digs his chopsticks into the Maine uni and pulls out a teeny, tiny gob. His face scrunches up in pure revulsion as he nibbles for a bit and then washes down the hateful taste with a half glass of water and a huge swig of Sapporo.
"I can taste the quality," he declares once he clears his palate with another swig of beer and a sip of sake. "But," he shakes his head, still shivering at the memory of the horrific flavor, "I just can't..."
"Try the Peruvian uni," I urge. "It should be milder than the Maine one."
He shakes his head. No, no, and no. No.
I happily dig in, sampling the Maine uni first. Strong notes of brine and ocean with hints of burnt rubber and ocean sewage hit my tongue and I savor the lighter texture that makes the Maine uni similar to Hokkaido uni. Part of me wishes the flight offered Hokkaido uni so I could compare them. The Maine uni seems a bit milder than the Hokkaido uni from what I can remember. The same is true of the Peruvian uni in relation to its Santa Barbara counterpart, also milder and a notch less creamy and sweet. I revel in the mouth feel of the Peruvian uni as the briny creaminess coats my tongue and throat. Yum.
I am curious about the sourcing of these new regions for uni. Sea urchins are found all over the world so what is it about Santa Barbara and Hokkaido that made them the main sources for uni? Perhaps, this last question reveals my complete ignorance about the industry that farms or gathers sea urchins to sell to sushi and seafood restaurants around the world. I regret not asking the chef more in-depth questions but hopefully, sushiDOKKU or another sushi restaurant will offer an uni flight in the near future.