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Japanese Grilled Eel Restaurant With Live Fish Tank Opens in Nolita

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Unagi opens Saturday, dedicated to the delicacy

Another restaurant focused on the endangered Japanese eel is opening in NYC tomorrow. Unagi — named for the Japanese word for eel — swings opens its doors on Saturday, December 15 in a small space centered by a tank filled with live eel.

The restaurant, located at 60 Kenmare St., between Mulberry and Mott streets, fits 20 to 30 people, plus a 1,000-pound eel tank where the sea creature will live before getting pulled out for meals.

Chef Hiroki Fukushima will marinate eel in sugar and soy sauce before steaming and then charcoal grilling it. The eel is then served the traditional way, over rice. Other options include grilled eel livers and grilled seaweed. All the eels are imported from a farm in Isshiki Japan, by the restaurant’s owner Samuel Pierce. They start at $29 for half an eel, and takeout and delivery will be available. See the full menu below.

Unagi can be found in sushi restaurants across the city, with the sweet, caramelized meat appearing both in sushi rolls and on top of rice bowls at a slew of different Japanese spots. But few restaurants focus just on the delicacy, and now, there are at least two here. Earlier this fall, Unagi-Ya Hachibei opened in Midtown. It, too, is dedicated to grilling freshwater eel.

That’s partly because eel is a luxury — they are considered an endangered fish, with dramatic population declines over the years mostly due to its significance in Japanese culture and subsequent consumption. Some environmentalists suggest that Americans not eat imported eel, and while there are limits on the number of juvenile eels people can catch to raise in farms, demand has not toned down despite limiting supply and rising prices. Illegal fishing of eel is also rampant.

Unagi-Ya Hachibei only serves 50 orders at lunch because of this, and the new Unagi claims that its eels come from a farm that’s sustainable and can supply eels, Pierce says in a statement.

Seafood sustainability is already a big issue in the restaurant world, and it might seem counterintuitive to further popularize an endangered species. When asked about this, Pierce’s take was that his new restaurant will raise awareness of the environmental issues surrounding eel. Long-term sustainability, he says, will require “technological advances,” and more people knowing about it can contribute to that.

“Hopefully that’s going to galvanize more support for investment in technology and improved methodologies for harvesting in a sustainable way,” he says.

Unagi opens tomorrow and will be open Monday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Unagi Menu PDF.pdf

This post has been updated to reflect that Unagi-Ya Hachibei now only sells 50 orders at lunch, instead of the 100 they were previously offering.

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