Pasta comes last, after Scottish salmon with yuzu ponzu, karaage and bluefin tuna belly with shiitake salsa. It comes 45 minutes after the tsukune, baked over natural oak charcoal.
Our waiter informs us that every component of uni pasta is made from scratch. “Worth it,” he says. “You will have room.
When it finally comes out of the kitchen, the pasta bowl is the color of a Japanese maple in fall. Two uni tongues rest lazily on top, just timid to blend in with the noodles below. The freshly grated bottarga covers the dish with bright yellow flakes. The bowl smells of a pleasant ocean breeze.
The fanfare that most foodies reserve for uni, the urchin egg-producing sex organs, is often lost to me, but it’s hard not to be uni pasta lover at Robata En restaurant in Las Vegas.
The restaurant is located off the Strip in one of the many shopping malls on Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown. It’s no surprise that some of the best places to eat in Vegas can be found here, and this hub is a great place to start. Two of the city’s most beloved restaurants, Sparrow + Wolf and Lamaii, frame Robata En.
Owners Joon and Jemma Yi opened the Japanese restaurant at the end of 2020 with Executive Chef Ramir DeCastro.
“Everyone in the restaurant loves uni,” DeCastro said one recent afternoon. “We particularly like Santa Barbara united, because we think it has the most united taste.”
DeCastro and his team had been looking for some time to prepare a plain pasta dish, inspired by the AAA quality uni that he sources in Southern California. He searched for the right noodles, but without the perfect pasta readily available, he decided to make his own – elastic half-inch strands made from Jidori egg yolks.
To create the base for the pasta sauce, he makes Maine lobster broth. Then he gradually layers a series of flavors in a pan, sautéing the garlic and parsley in olive oil, adding chopped Calabrian peppers, deglazing the pan with sake and finally adding the broth.
DeCastro cooks their fresh pasta in salted water for exactly two minutes. While the pasta is cooking, he adds a mixture of uni and butter to his pan. He toss in the drained pasta and cook everything together for another four minutes, until the sauce is reduced.
He adds the plain tongues and finishes the dish with crispy parsley breadcrumbs and Jidori “bottarga” egg yolk, which he cures for days and grates right on top.
“It just gives it a dab and a level of umami on the dish,” he said.
Lobster broth provides a strengthening backbone for the sauce, shaping the salty oceanic flavor of the uni and slicing through the richness of the butter with a brackish bite. The subtle warmth of the chili threads creeps up on you.
The noodles have the perfect chew. They coalesce around the luxurious sauce, each strand covered with a brilliant shine.
It’s united to the 10th power. I’m already planning my next trip to the mall.
4480 Spring Mountain Road, Suite 500, Las Vegas, (702) 331-0619, robataen.com