Monday, February 21, 2011

Supreme Sea Urchin at Nobu in San Diego

A Sea Urchin Seduction

If you're a sea urchin skeptic like I used to be, then perhaps it's time to take a trip to San Diego.

Sea urchins, as I've come to learn, feed directly on kelp, and the kelp beds in San Diego are among the richest in the world. As a result, this purple porcupine of the sea produces in the second-largest city of California the biggest, fattest, and juiciest gonadser, that is, after all, the part that is eaten.

Despite its insidious outer appearance, with its hard shell and spiky spicules, this edible echinoderm contains fluffy, spongy insides that are considered a premium delicacy worldwide (although the yellow-brown goo on the interior, the part you eat with seaweed and rice at the sushi bar, isn't exactly pretty either).

Nobu of San Diego, however, has a few ideas on how to dress it up. Wasabi salsa, perhaps? Maybe truffle oil, caviar, and a few flakes of edible gold? The sushi chefs went to town in their efforts to defeat my disdain toward this briny-sweet sea staple. Perhaps I never had it fresh, they insisted. Perhaps I never had it done right, they assured. Perhaps, perhaps...

But how could anyone resist a tray laden with plump golden-brown uni sitting atop a veritable glass of edamame puree, complete with the works and an accompaniment of seared scallop and tart baby peaches?

For effect, even a portion of the sea urchin shell was cut and used for display, as a chef might sometimes use pieces of crustacean shells for decorative purposes. It was a sea urchin seduction-platter, designed to enchant and convert me, so who was I to resist?

The transformation was complete, but now I was ruined for life: how could I ever eat uni elsewhere? Certainly, there are other cities in the world with top-grade sea urchin, especially in restaurants that serve it live as opposed to processed, but for the most part you don't get uni this grand in size and taste and presentation very easily, not to mention sauces like the house-made wasabi salsa, which contains onions and olive oil, or the ever-pungent and exquisite white truffle oil.

Without any add-ons, eating uni is like tasting the ocean, with a creamy consistency; it's smooth and raw and rich...and it's definitely an acquired taste.

207 5th Avenue, San Diego