Photos and Words by Ivy Tran
Walking into Uni sashimi bar, you’d never expect “Late Night Ramen” to be included in this trendy, upscale restaurant’s features. The crisp, modern bar, orderly tables and dim lighting create a polished atmosphere that stands in rather stark contrast to the basement setting and underground feel of Uni’s pop-up Late Night Ramen every Friday and Saturday from 11pm-2am. I arrived at 11pm and after a wait of about fifteen minutes, I was led down a short staircase into the cramped, yet intimate, basement of Uni. Gangster rap blasted on the stereo and each of the small tables and bar seats was ornamented with a tiny tea light, a vase filled with chopsticks and a roughly cut piece of cardboard on which the menu items are scrawled in Sharpie.
The menu items were few but intriguing: starters included shishito peppers, and steamed pork or duck buns, while the ramen itself was limited to “Umami” or “Traditional.” The other half of the menu was devoted to a list of ambiguously named craft cocktails and wines. Perhaps to add to the underground and slightly mysterious feel of the pop-up restaurant, the menu offered no description of what was actually in the food, instead making the diner ask specific questions of the somewhat unfriendly waiters.
I ordered the steamed duck bun as an appetizer and, for seven dollars, I expected to get either a rather large bun or a few smaller ones together. After getting over the initial surprise at receiving a less-than-average-sized bun, I was incredibly satisfied with the flavors and combinations of textures I discovered in my first bite. The outside of the bun itself was a pillowy steamed rice flour dough, and the inside filled with fresh bean sprouts and cilantro, hoisin covered smoked duck and delicate flakes of crispy yuba, the skin that forms on the surface of boiled soy milk. The bean sprouts were crisp and slightly sour, the cilantro fresh and bright and the duck tender, smoky and perfectly tinged with sweetness. What was lacking in the portion size of the bun was absolutely compensated for in flavor.
After my overwhelmingly positive experience with the duck bun, any reservations I felt about the menu items were expelled as I eagerly awaited for my Umami ramen. The giant, traditional plastic bowl arrived a short time after my appetizer and was filled with an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of ramen noodles, smoked eel, a soft boiled egg, assorted matchstick vegetables and topped with flakes of dried seaweed. Clearly, this wasn’t your typical college-microwave ramen.
Like the duck bun, the first bite of my Umami ramen explained why I was paying 10 dollars for about the same amount of ramen that comes in a 15-cent package. The broth was rich and thick with a slight pork taste, the ramen cooked to that perfect two minute al-dente that’s so easy to overdo, and the eel was perfectly flaky with just the right amount of sweet and salty soy glaze. The ramen also packed a little bit of heat with a dollop of chili sauce hiding beneath the topping of crispy seaweed and adding to the gradient of flavors in the dish.
Though the atmosphere of Uni’s Late Night Ramen appeared, in some ways, to be trying too hard and the prices were relatively steep, venturing out at 11pm to taste the food they have to offer is absolutely worth it. It will probably be a while before I can reasonably justify spending 10 dollars on a bowl of ramen again, but the Uni experience was a memorable one and not too shabby a way to kick off a Friday night.
Phone number: 617-536-7200 Hours: Friday & Saturday 11pm-2am Address: Basement of 370 Commonwealth Ave. Boston, MA 02215