While uni, otherwise known as sea urchin, is a Japanese sushi staple, it’s not as commonly known in the U.S., though its popularity is growing because of the delectable sea creature’s abundance in parts of California. Mendocino County has long been a major producer of uni, and this year’s Unifest, which will be held June 16-18 at various locations in and around Fort Bragg, will celebrate a full range of uni pleasures, including uni-centric food, chef demonstrations, sake and uni pairings, an ocean demonstration on harvesting, cleaning and opening fresh purple urchin, and even shore dives for the most adventurous.
A variety of Mendocino County restaurants throughout the area are offering special uni menus during the festival, from Uni Baked Oysters to Salmon with Champagne and Sea Urchin Beurre Blanc. Participating restaurants include Inn at Newport Ranch, KW Saltwater Café, Noyo Harbor Inn, Izakaya Gama, SIBO, VUE Kitchen and Wickson Restaurant.
Hotels are also getting in on the action. MacCallum House, Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, Elk Cove Inn, Inn at Newport Ranch and Noyo Harbor Inn are offering special packages to festival attendees. Details below.
Friday, June 16, 2023/7:00 PM
Campfire chat with Dr. Kevin Smith of Catch n’ Cook on America’s indigenous peoples and the kelp highway; Free. Van Damme State Beach, Fort Bragg.
Saturday, June 17, 2023/Morning Low Tide 6:00 AM
Follow Kevin Smith PhD, onto the rocks and into the shallows searching for urchin, turban snails and other tide pool treats. Keep your catch or learn how to prepare it at the evening meal.
Saturday, June 17, 2023/1:00 PM
Uni demo and educational talk at Van Damme State Beach, fresh uni tasting, harvest/open/clean demonstrations and interpretive talk on purple urchin impact/solutions on the ecosystem; Urchin provided by the Waterman’s Alliance; Triston McHush/Nature Conservancy; Free. Van Damme State Beach, Fort Bragg.
Saturday, June 17, 2023/6:00 PM
Join Little River Inn’s Executive Chef Marc Dym and Master Sushi Chef Frank Takao for a prep-and-cook session followed by a five-course repast focused on the purple sea urchin in all its glory; Sake expert and educator Kerry Tamura will pair each course with sake and discuss the nuances of each. $250.00; Tickets: www.littleriverinn.com. Little River Inn, Little River.
A variety of Mendocino restaurants are offering special Uni menus during this timeframe, from Uni Baked Oysters to Salmon with Champagne and Sea Urchin Beurre Blanc; various prices. Pull a seat up at Inn at Newport Ranch, KW Saltwater Café, Noyo Harbor Inn, Izakaya Gama, SIBO, VUE Kitchen and Wickson Restaurant. See full list: www.urchinfest.com.
A variety of hotels are offering package deals, uni menus, sea foraging and weekend value pricing including MacCallum House, Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, Elk Cove Inn, Inn at Newport Ranch and Noyo Harbor Inn. www.visitmendocino.com/see-do/deals-and-special-offers.
Little River Inn ups the ante with two new packages including guest accommodations, tide pooling/harvesting, a shore dive led by the Freedive Shop and fresh-from-the-sea urchin-focused repasts. This is a one-of-a-kind experience for those seeking and up-close-and-personal encounter with Mr. Uni; $2500++; www.urchinfest.com.
Open to the Public
Noyo Center for Marine Science will be offering special programs at each location:
Discovery Center Science Museum, 338 N. Main Street
Slack Tide Café, 32430 North Harbor Drive
Crow’s Nest Interpretive Center, South FB Coastal Trail;
Fort Bragg, www.noyocenter.org.