In California, sea urchin wasn't always considered to be the delicacy it is today. You could walk along any beach and find sea urchins by the dozens languishing undisturbed in tide pools and crevices. Of course, Japanese and Italians as well as anybody who's immigrated here from the Mediterranean knew exactly what a treasure they were. Now the best of Santa Barbara's catch fetches high prices at raw bars and sushi restaurants. I love ordering a black purple sea urchin the size of a Russian fur hat at the Hungry Cat, Connie and Ted's or Fishing With Dynamite, and eating it raw out of the shell, with a glass of Txakoli or Albariño.
At Bestia, Ari Menashe serves a sea urchin crudo with crisp, grassy Armenian cucumbers, lard and the surprise of smooth, cool nectarines and snipped mint. It's an inspired combination. He also does a wonderful version of spaghetti with raw sea urchin dressed up with shaved dried squid ink, along with garlic, bread crumbs and hot chiles from Calabria, Italy. Eaten at the bar, late at night, the spaghetti carries all the funk of the sea in one plate. Let wine director Maxwell Leer pick a wine for it — or even a cocktail, maybe the white Negroni from Julian Cox.
2121 7th Place, downtown Los Angeles, (213) 514-5724, http://www.bestiala.com. Sea urchin crudo, $24; spaghetti Rustichella, $25.
Past the vast lobby bar at Koreatown's Line Hotel is the über-casual dining room, the newest from Roy Choi, where you can order any of 10 hot pots to share. Tables are outfitted with induction burners to keep the family-style dishes boiling hot. You might order the Shorty with braised galbi, chestnuts, dates and other goodies, and banchan on the side. But if you're a sea urchin fanatic, you are going to order the Beep Beep, an uni dynamite rice bowl that's basically crispy rice crowned with fresh sea urchin roe. P.S.: You won't want to share this one.
Line Hotel, 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213)368-3030, http://www.eatatpot.com. Beep Beep, $18; Shorty hot pot, $35, $59 and $85.
One of my favorite dishes at République is "eggs on toast," a section of the baguette overlaid with softly scrambled eggs and crowned with uni. It's the perfect rich little bite at the bar, completely satisfying on its own or as the start to a full-on meal. Just what I wanted last week when I dropped by, only it wasn't on the menu: Winds were too high for the divers to go out. Instead, I went with the Tasmanian sea trout tartare with cucumber, mint and yogurt — and crispy pork rinds for dipping. On a hot night, delicious in its own way.
624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 362-6115, http://www.republiquela.com. Eggs on toast, $16; chips and dip, $12.