You Can Get Andrew Zimmern's Favorite Sea Urchin At Marea In NYC

Andrew Zimmern might not like the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, but he's a huge fan of sea urchin. When the celebrity chef and television personality finds himself in New York City, he's beelining to Marea for some uni and lardo.

"Uni" refers to the five organs tucked away inside a sea urchin's spiky exterior. They're bright orange, tender, and covered in papillae. But the kicker is their complex flavor — simultaneously briny, slightly sweet, and umami-forward with a saline, fishy flavor and custard-like texture. Thanks to their super aromatic and pungent profile, all it takes is one ounce of uni per 75-gram plate of pasta to create a flavorful dish.

Specifically speaking, the uni is the gonads, aka the part of the sea urchin that makes the roe. (Think Rocky Mountain Oysters meets caviar.) Unlike with other sea creatures, you'll want to eat these rather than the roe they produce.

And they're not the easiest (or cheapest) treat to find. For commercial consumption, sea urchins are primarily pulled from the crevices of oceanic rocks and coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean off of Santa Barbara, California, and Hokkaido, Japan. At market price, uni runs in the ballpark of $5-$10 per ounce, and for particularly intrepid home cooks, Fulton Fish Market sells it raw. But if you'd rather leave cooking the gonads to the pros, a trip to Zimmern's favorite Marea could be well worth it.

The uni of our eye

Just steps away from the world-famous Wollman Rink, Marea is an upscale Italian seafood joint on Central Park South. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Lauren DeSteno, Marea is serving handmade pasta, oysters, crudo, whole fish, and more. The menu has an entire section devoted to different types of caviar. But in Andrew Zimmern's eyes, it's all about the Ricci: crostini topped with sea urchin uni and lardo.

In addition to the one-of-a-kind menu, much of Marea's style has to do with its restaurant culture — a fusion of coastal Italy and the metropolitan fashion of downtown Manhattan. Other menu offerings that have fans raving include the tea-smoked golden eye snapper in a smoked fish garum aioli with cucumber and fennel, as well as the Catalonia blue prawn with beech mushroom prawn aioli and Marcona almonds. Michelin Guide ranks Marea with the intimidating "$$$$" price indication, but by Zimmern's estimation, the price tag is well worth such unique offerings. The establishment won a James Beard Award in 2010 for Best New Restaurant and has since earned three stars from New York Times.

If the idea of eating sea urchins still hasn't stoked your appetite, Zimmern encourages a little boldness: "If there's one thing I've learned after a lifetime of dining on delicacies like blood pudding, sea squirts, and camel kidneys, even folks who wouldn't come within 100 yards of a Cambodian tarantula want to hear what it's like to chomp on one!" he wrote for Guideposts.