Uni’s Chef Tony Messina was raised on pasta, but knows his way around a piece of sashimi

Chef Tony Messina plating behind the sushi bar / credit: Erin Baldassari
Chef Tony Messina plating behind the sushi bar / credit: Erin Baldassari

Uni Sashimi Bar, the Eliot Hotel’s small lower-level eatery, provides a great escape from the sweltering (we’re still recovering from this weekend’s heat wave, which has yet to fully break). They keep the restaurant’s AC cranked up high — but it’s not just for the patrons’ comfort. It preserves the precious raw fish’s delicate oils and ensures that each dish is served as fresh as the day it was caught.

“It may sound funny, but we keep the temperature low because the fish are more comfortable,” says chef Tony Messina, who took over the kitchen last September. He’s currently designing new summer dishes, which he road tests on the nightly omakase — a chef’s tasting menu subject to Messina’s whim, which is subject to seasonal produce: “It gives diners the full breadth of what’s on offer,” he says. “It goes from lighter flavors to heavier, to dessert, so it’s like a traditional tasting menu.”

Uni’s culinary aesthetic might seems like a far cry from the 32-year-old’s East Boston Italian roots, but Messina’s career route has taken him on a similarly exploratory trajectory. His time in the kitchens of Legal Seafoods, Alta Strada and Menton eventually led him to Lincoln’s French/Japanese split AKA Bistro, where former Uni chef Chris Chung tutored him as his assistant.

“It’s certainly not pasta,” Messina says of making sashimi. “That said, I am bringing some of my Mediterranean roots. I see Uni’s as a global menu that might have elements of Europe or North Africa. It’s fun. It’s very fun for me to do. I get bored easily and it’s perfect for me because I don’t sleep much.”

So, instead of counting sheep, “I lie there thinking up my next sauce for raw fish.”

ON THE MENU

Messina’s summer omakase whims:

Ankimo with wild ginger, nori, samphire.
“Monkfish liver is a traditional dish usually with yuzu and daikon. I like the ginger element and samphire adds that crispness. It’s the foie gras of the sea,” he says.

Toro with banana glass, black truffle vinaigrette, and pork belly croutons
“The banana looks difficult, but it’s just tapioca cooked till soft then pureed with banana, then laid out on a tray in a dehydrator.”

Uni’s famous Uni spoon of sea urchin, quail egg yolk, caviar
“I doubt this will ever leave the menu, but I do it with smoked sea urchin. It’s more fun and it’s more me.”

Uni
370 Comm. Ave., Boston.
Omakase $85–$125
Entrees: $30-$40
617-536-7200.
unisashimibar.com


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