Arts restaurant review

Entering the realm of fine dining

UNI’s late night dining option might not be the most affordable, but it will impress your date

8387 spicy tuna   foie gras tataki
Spicy tuna and foie gras tataki served at UNI.
Melissa Ostrow

Contemporary Asian, $$$
370A Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Sunday–Thursday 5:30–10 p.m.
Friday–Saturday 5:30–10:30 p.m. (full menu), 10:30 p.m.–1:30 a.m. (late night menu)

Around the corner from Eliot Hotel, Back Bay restaurant UNI opened in 2002 with contemporary twists on traditional Asian cuisine. From the outside, it looks like an unimpressive, shabby nightclub; but through the wooden door was an upscale restaurant, dimly lit and with an elegant atmosphere. The place was certainly bustling like a nightclub, but the air of exclusivity kept things classy among the clientele.

Although its late night option is advertised as affordable, the options are certainly not lacking in flavor. Most are modest options, but their caviar and wagyu beef make their presence known. Some options were a hit or miss, but the overall quality of food was delectable.

Every Friday and Saturday night, 10:30 p.m. marks the start of UNI’s late night options.

Ivy: We started off the night with an order of nigiri, raw fish laid on a ball of rice. The savory toro (fatty tuna) was fresh; the umami and natural flavor were amazing.

Nathan: It had been a while since I had nigiri of that quality. The fish would literally melt in your mouth and just dispersed the flavors in a pleasing way. It was also nice how none of the flavors were too overwhelming. Everything worked well in perfect, tasty harmony.

Ivy: Agreed. Then, our waiter brought in the popular “Uni Spoon”: a literal tablespoon of uni (sea urchin), raw quail egg, and caviar. The spoonful looked like a hangover cure; and I mean, caviar is overrated. But, like fresh uni, the spoonful tasted sweet and rich — just not worth the price. I love uni, but I don’t love a hole in my wallet.

Nathan: I thought the uni was weird, but that’s just because I’m not used to really sweet seafood. Fun fact, uni is naturally that sweet.

Ivy: The waiter also recommended the “Spicy Tuna & Foie Gras Tataki.” The buttery foie gras, with bosc pear to give it some tartness, topped the spicy tuna in a wondrous combination.

Nathan: This actually started a theme among the food we kept receiving. The seared foie gras tasted like the roast duck of our childhood, and we soon came to realize that a majority of the dishes we had were fancified versions of what we ate growing up. In terms of the general dish, the tataki melded together well, keeping it a classic favorite Japanese dish of mine. Another concurrent theme I noticed in their food was the use of spice. The sauce used with the tataki contributed a little heat.

Ivy: Somehow, duck fat became a delicacy. Next were the “Berkshire Pork Belly Steam Buns.” They were an intriguing option, wrapped in parchment paper, appearing as flat buns wrapped around pork belly, pickled vegetables, and chile aioli. The buns resembled Taiwanese gua bao.

Nathan: Yeah, but the sauce just overpowered the entire experience in general. I understand they wanted to make it a strong flavor profile, but the spice and tang masked over anything else they could have wanted to share. Also, even with the parchment paper holders, the sauce left our hands coated and sticky. In short, the steamed buns were a downer.

Ivy: Agreed, the pork belly was tough to chew through. This was definitely a low point in the evening.

Nathan: Fortunately, the quality went back up rather than continuing down hill. We were served more melt-in-your-mouth nigiri and then a small portion of king crab. Usually, I’m not much of a fan of crab, but the king crab here was a treat. The meat fell easily off the shell, taking away the majority of the effort usually involved in eating crab.

Ivy: The crab had smoked tones without losing the natural taste of crab. I’m a fan of crab, so I was biased, but I enjoyed the dish.

Nathan: Well, I do wish they had given us a larger portion. Finally, it came time for their signature dish: pork ramen. It was a filling and delicious bowl of freshly-made ramen noodles, bathing in a salty, rich broth. Again, chilis were present along with garnishes of lettuce, char siu-braised dong gu mushroom, well-cooked pork, and an onsen egg. As one would expect, the ramen had a spice that slowly built into a bearable burn. The char sui-braised mushroom was definitely innovative. I don’t think I ever had fungi that reminiscent of sweet barbecue, but I quite liked it.

Ivy: The pork and soup packed a punch in flavor, with the pork seasoning sometimes too salty and too strong. The fresh ramen was firm yet soft, flavored by the soup.

Nathan: To top it off, our waiter brought in the last dish before dessert: Korean rice cakes. The rice cakes were mixed with kimchi and accompanied with oxtail that was braised for three to four days. Again, I was never really a fan of rice cakes because of how dense they are. The flavor usually just lies dormant on the outside, and the more you chew, the more the flavor disappears, leaving behind the bland gumminess of condensed rice. This time was no exception, although the oxtail and kimchi worked to balance it out. The tang of the kimchi complemented the subtle sweetness of the stringy oxtail. The overall spice was also, again, manageable. It didn’t overtake the rest of the flavor palate of the dish.

Ivy: On the other hand, this is where my dislike of strong and spicy food came to a head. I didn’t like the rice cakes as much as I could have, since the spiciness overpowered everything else.

Nathan: Our night ended with an ice cream sandwich: raspberry-strawberry sorbet between two double-chocolate cookies. The sorbet was initially earthy, or perhaps slightly bitter, but it did not take away from the dessert overall. The aforementioned flavor attributed by the raspberry was reasonably balanced out by the strawberry, combined with the soft, chewy chocolaty goodness of the cookies. Having expected a strongly flavored dessert, however, the ice cream sandwich was rather underwhelming; but I would not warn away intrigued parties from taste-testing this unique dessert.

Overall, we’re grateful to UNI for providing us with this once-in-a-lifetime kind of dinner. We were allowed to indulge in a slice of luxury beyond ourselves as humble college students. If you feel like treating yourself to a pricey late-night snack or hope to be taken out on someone else’s dime, UNI is definitely a place we recommend you try.