El Quinto Pino
401 W. 24th St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-206-6900
If there’s a quibble we have with sea-urchin roe, it’s that, much in the same manner that a handful of steakhouses hog all the USDA prime beef, sushi bars and upscale fusion fantasists seem to have cornered the market on it. Worse, there’s a tendency among certain high- flying chefs to adorn the custardy stuff unnecessarily with all manner of caviar, Alba truffles, and any other big-ticket ingredients they have lying around in the pantry. Happily, El Quinto Pino’s Alexandra Raij takes a refreshingly democratic approach, applying the popular panini principle to the delicacy. Inspired, perhaps, by the Euro tradition of simply serving sea-urchin roe on a split of baguette with a splash of lemon, Raij has invented the “uni panini,” a singular sandwich that’s been about as well received as the hamburger was at the 1904 St. Louis Fair. Her take is almost as simple as its inspiration, and involves sandwiching the roe on a length of buttered Tom Cat Bakery ficelle, then giving it just a little bit of a smoosh in the presser so that the uni retains all its firm but wobbly integrity. The stroke of genius, though, is the butter, which Raij flavors with sea salt and an invigorating Korean mustard oil. Adding to its uni-for-Everyman appeal, every panino arrives tucked into a wax-paper jacket like a Shackburger, as if it were just another splendidly engineered riff on fast food.