Night Owl: Ramen and Pork Buns Worth Waiting Up for at Uni
You’ll have to wait up late for the ramen at Uni in Back Bay, but that’s all part of the allure.
Need food-centric plans tonight? Enter Night Owl, in which Man Food blogger Richard Chudy tackles the city’s late-night options, one at a time.
If something is wildly popular, how can it feel so underground? That’s the vibe at Uni, Ken Oringer’s sashimi bar set in the lower level of The Eliot Hotel, just steps downstairs from Clio. Late night ramen is the name of the game, starting at 11 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, but the story starts well before then. As the regular Uni hours come to a close, ramen-hungry patrons start gathering in Clio, eagerly awaiting the chance to snag one of the limited seats and the promise of a bowl of noodles. A few suits appear to have been lounging at the bar at Clio for hours, presumably discussing the stock market (at least that’s how the conversation plays out in my mind).
Some college-aged young adults, clearly out of place and under-dressed for Clio, have the look of someone who is up to no good. They’re more comfortable in the hip hop setting of a late night ramen joint—we all are for that matter. We anxiously check the clock to see if 11:00 has struck, and after taking a few sips of beer upstairs, we’re quickly whisked down to Uni, the limited tables all but filled in a matter of moments.
The menu is written on a piece of cardboard, thus quickly removing any indication of this being a “fancy” meal. Three bowls of ramen are featured, (when I visited, this meant classic, short rib and kimchi, and vegetarian) and the limited menu is filled out with pork and duck buns, a spin on a hot dog, and an ice cream sandwich. I went for the short rib and kimchi ramen, and, being a ramen novice, was completely unsure of what to expect. The music was blasting, while two chefs work meticulously and quietly to prepare for the inebriated and sober alike.
Steam and the gentle slush of noodles and hot broth echo in between requests for bottles of sake and another round of Pork Slap brews. First to arrive is a single pork bun, boasting a soft bun that is on the thicker side but giving way to a supremely tender and plump slab of pork belly. A sriracha aioli engulfs the pork and a good majority of the bun, offering the requisite heat and sweet to balance the succulent belly. It’s a perfect couple of bites, and even for $6 it’s completely worth it.
The star of the show, a large bowl of ramen, was next to arrive to the table. The bowl is about the size of my head, even if the liquid and noodles only reach about halfway up. Strips of seaweed tower above the noodles, and the broth is complicated and enticing, completely unique from one slurp to the next. It’s funky, salty, and richly satisfying in the most unusual of ways. To throw out the word “umami” is justified here, if not clearly defining the entire experience. The noodles are chewy and hearty, but play second fiddle at the end of the day to the broth, the true showstopper. Tender short rib is akin to the aforementioned pork belly; succulent and fatty, it pairs beautifully with the biting kimchi and robust soup.
A bowl of ramen at Uni is a $10 masterpiece. Surely the allure and adventure of a late night meal is part of the enjoyment, the minor exclusivity of it all a factor that can’t be overlooked. But the food is what will keep me coming back, a late night craving that is sure to please the ramen junkie and newcomer alike.
Uni, 370 Comm. Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, unisashimibar.com