In the late '70s or early '80s, sundried tomatoes "arrived" in America, and slowly but surely, they became the coolest thing in town. Restaurant after restaurant started adding them to dishes, because they were fancy and exotic and all around announced that you were classy. Do you remember going to a restaurant in the '90s? There were SO MANY SUNDRIED TOMATOES.
Fortunately, the '90s are over and no one has to subsist on sundried tomato and goat cheese paninis anymore (NOT HATIN'). But there is a quickly rising sundried tomato of our time (or at least of hip New York restaurants in 2015). It is sea urchin.
A couple years ago, sea urchin, or uni, was mostly known around these parts as an "exotic" kind of sushi - the type that divides tables and makes people say, "That looks like a tongue." (It does look like a tongue.) But now, sea urchin's all over the place - and it seems like every new restaurant serves some kind of uni dish. I'm pretty sure there are at least nine Italian restaurants that opened in the past two years which serve pasta with sea urchin.
If you're the kind of person who gets psyched up about uni as if it were a Pokémon card (GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL!), you'll definitely be excited by Sakamai, a Lower East Side Japanese sake bar where a pretty high proportion of the menu includes the ol' sea urchin gonads. The rest of the menu is filled out by other rich, delicacy kind of foods that elicit similar fan-girling: bone marrow, caviar, foie gras.
But despite the over the top ingredients, SakaMai is a pretty relaxed place. It looks like a typical Lower East Side wine bar, straight down to the sake that's served in wine glasses, and nearly all of the plates are small and designed for sharing. For the most part, the rich ingredients are mixed into familiar Japanese-inspired dishes like hand rolls, meatballs, and ramen noodles, so it's not like you're not going to be straight up eating a plate of sea urchin and bone marrow.
How much you like this place will largely depend on how much you like to get down with the ingredients described above. There are both fancier and dive-ier places to eat this kind of Japanese bar food, where the food may be slightly better or slightly cheaper, but SakaMai's a nice Date Night kind of middle ground, and a good respite from the surrounding wine bars. You know, ones where they have sundried tomatoes.
A sea urchin shell gets filled with so soft they're barely cooked scrambled eggs, caviar, and uni. If you're here, you're going to want this.
Turns out raw beef with uni and Japanese pickles in a hand roll is really good. Get this.
Not a beef tartare is not for the faint of heart. It's mixed up with horseradish, and there's a whole bone full of bone marrow to scoop out next to it. This one pushed the "do these ingredients all need to be here" line just a bit.
Meatballs. But with foie gras! And an egg! Of course. These mostly taste like nice, if rich meatballs.
Scallops. But with miso-infused bacon! Again, these taste like nice, if rich scallops.