The word uniikura usually conjures the image of a luxury donburi, a bowl of steaming rice draped with a gorgeous shawl crocheted by the ocean: half of it a rich, translucent orange salmon roe, the other half sea urchin lobes the color of brown mustard. The ikura pearls pop in your mouth, releasing a bracing concentration of salinity, and the foie gras-like uni harmonizes with a more delicate ocean note and a light, almost mousse-like texture.
At Sasano, a Roppongi-area izakaya that’s secreted away on the second floor of a nondescript apartment building, the uniikura comes in a different but equally delicious form. The luxury blanket of orange and gold is still there, but the seafood delicacies have been cast over rows of norimaki, or nori-wrapped sushi rolls. Not carefully placed over each individual roll, but really draped, afghan-like. Since it was fall, and sake’s hiyaoroshi (highly-prized autumn releases of early spring bottlings) season, we matched our food with a fresh yet harmonious Hakugakusen hiyaoroshi from Fukui Prefecture.
Owner Atsushi Aizawa has been presiding over Sasano’s nightly scene of conviviality for 20 years, and says he aspires to open a branch in New York one day. I hope he does. We would be lucky to have access to his uniikura, his super-popular negiton (tonkatsu aside a huge mound of chopped scallions, grated daikon, and ponzu sauce), and his excellent sashimi.