the underground gourmet

The Cutest Sea-Urchin-Egg Sandwich Ever at El Quinto Pino

Uni Panini

Have you ever seen a cuter uni presentation?Photo: Melissa Hom

There is no end to what you can shove between two slices of bread and call a sandwich, and that, of course, is the beauty of the thing. But is everything edible suitable sandwich material?

That was the point brought up for debate the other night at El Quinto Pino, the new taperia from the Tía Pol folks, where the UG tucked into a ficelle smeared with rich blobs of sea-urchin roe. Oddly, the sandwich in question was listed on the otherwise all-Spanish chalkboard menu as an “uni panini.” It came swaddled in a wax-paper jacket like a Danny Meyer Shackburger, still warm from a gentle turn in the sandwich press and smeared with butter flavored with a zingy Korean mustard oil. And although it was only about the size of a Tootsie Roll and the UG could have finished it off in a bite and a half, it was the kind of toothsome tidbit you want to savor slowly.

After a while, the man sitting next to the UG at the bar, who had ordered one of everything on the menu, turned to the UG and said that he was a purist and that the only way to eat uni was right out of the spiny urchin thingy. The UG said he begged to differ and that, although uni straight from the source is hard to beat, the delicately crisp ficelle didn’t mask the uni’s flavor and he liked the way the mustard oil set off the unctuousness of the custardy stuff. Ms. UG, for her part, said she thought the sandwich looked cute, and as we parted ways, we all agreed to disagree, although the uni aficionado declined to offer an opinion re the subject of cuteness.

To shed some light on the situation, we called EQP chef Alexandra Raij the next day and asked her to tell us how she came up with the uni panini. She said that she’s always loved sea urchin on toast and that she had recently gotten a panini press and gone a little berserk (“I just wanted to put everything in it”), and that basically, it was a case of one thing leading to another. As for the name, she defended her choice by saying that it was natural to appropriate things in the language that you experience them, and that as far as she was concerned anything that comes out of a panini press is a panino, and presumably anything that comes out of a spiny urchin, uni. “And besides,” she said, “uni panini sounds cute.” —Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

El Quinto Pino, 401 W. 24th St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-206-6900.

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