August's Can't-Miss Dish

By Ellen Bhang · 08/03/2020

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.

On the plate: Fried Clams

Where to find it: There’s no doubt that you already know Uni—Back Bay’s premier izakaya in The Eliot Hotel—as a place for sushi-grade fish and caviar-adorned refinement. So, it might surprise you to learn that the spot is showing its casual side all summer long. Every Wednesday through Sunday, the restaurant transforms into Uni Clam Shack, inspired by the childhood haunts of executive chef and partner Tony Messina.

The James Beard Foundation Award winner, who garnered the title of Best Chef: Northeast in 2019, explains that he can’t get to North Shore institutions like J.T. Farnhams in Essex or Clam Box in Ipswich as often as he would like; so he’s cooking up his favorite beach eats in the heart of the city. “Fried food is very New England and it’s a good time to make—you can steal a French fry now and then,” says the East Boston native. “I’m trying to pivot in ways where all of us can have fun.”

The smiling staff member who takes your order at an awning-shaded window certainly has pep in her step. And don’t be surprised if Messina stops by to say hello when you take a seat at a patio table. “Unless there’s a hurricane, we’ll be here,” reassures the chef.

Notes on the nosh: It’s impossible to think of a finer example of summer seafood than Uni’s Fried Clams. Brined in tangy buttermilk, dredged in seasoned flour, then fried at a high temperature, every morsel offers plenty of crunch while its pristine insides stay supple. “The flavor is in the belly,” explains Messina, referring to the whole belly clams (a.k.a. steamers) from Mullaney’s Fish Market in Scituate. (The chef never uses clam strips—the trimmings of tougher species that often emerge rubbery from a fryer.) Piled high in a paper tray, these beauties come with your choice of Onion Strings or skin-on French Fries, plus a rich tartar sauce for dunking.

Sip alongside: Kimino Yuzu Sparkling Juice (listed on the menu as Yuzu Soda) is the summer’s spritziest non-alcoholic sipper. In this bottle, yuzu—a tart citrus fruit, aromatically akin to bergamot—is grown by farmers on Shikoku island in western Japan. The beverage’s ingredients are refreshingly simple: just fizzy mountain water, a squeeze of yuzu, and organic cane sugar. Bubbly and perfumed, it’s the invigorating drink you want as you tuck into a tumble of crispy clams.

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