Uchi - Austin
Just ate at Uchi again last night, and it was really great - not perfect, but a memorable, delicious, wonderful experience. We had 5:30 reservations, and were seated right away. The server clued us into the happy hour offerings, of which we chose the mussels and the tako pops. The mussels were great - so fresh and briny, firm enough to remove easily from the shell in one piece, but soooooo soft and pillowy. The broth was heavenly - kaffir lime was understated in the cloudy miso broth, but kicked right into play when a piece of cilantro was added to the mouthful. Yum. The tako pops are cute and yummy...baby octopus marinated and grilled, served on skewers with little mounds of salt, pepper and a japanese ground chile mix. Great presentation, nice tender flavorful octopus.
The happy hour sake, every time I have been there, is the Takara Nigori. I am no sake expert, and this is the lowest price of all their sakes, but I love it. Cloudy, rice-y, cool and ever-so-slightly-sweet, they serve it in a wooden box...the fragrance of the wood (cedar? cypress?) and the unfiltered wine is very nice, especially with spicier foods. They only offer one cheap hot/warm sake, which I think is a shame, especially in winter, but this saved me from having to choose one wine to go with the many different tastes we had.
Next up was the bacon steakie. I seem to remember a couple of Austin 'hounds debating the merits of this dish...I love it. It is like meat candy, in a way honeybaked hams could never aspire to. The boar belly is meltingly tender, with a true taste of MEAT. Rich, sure, and the portion size is perfect. Four skewers, with the amazingly perfect complement of peppery micro-arugula and little tangerine segments...this combination of flavors is one of the reasons I think Uchi is so special...no matter where you are from, or what you think you know about sushi, Japanese food, fusion cuisine...I think Uchi is a unique gem, and Austin is lucky it is here.
Whoa, sounded like I was ending, but I haven't even talked about the sushi yet! Calling Uchi a sushi restaurant, I think, is a mis-nomer. Yes, the fish and the sushi are great, but it is the creativity and execution of so many other things that really elevate this place. Oh, the sushi....there was a discussion here that I can't find right now (why i wanted to give Uchi its own topic/report) about their sushi....I ALMOST remember who said that the rice was sub-par, and I wholly agree. Tiny mounds with a dry-to-the-touch exterior, no vinegar taste...they almost seem pre-made, and are certainly not the foil they should be for the great fish. The saba was outstanding, and I am a saba fan. Toro was fine, suzuki was fine, hamachi was GREAT, binnaga was great, unagi was very good...we ordered the chef's choice, and the only one that brought us back for more was the lowly saba, although if we had more room, the seared binnaga was a contender.
In fact, the mackerel was so fresh and tasty, that we decided to try their saba shio. I am a huge fan of saba shioyaki, and this was a version of that...successful, but I missed the salty crispy skin. The fish was cooked nicely - and it was served with grated daikon, which, without a mess of salt to counter, was a little lost. The spicy cucumber salad was a great counter, however, to the fresh, oily, meaty morsel.
Looking for some vegetables, we got the asparagus tempura...and what a hit it was! The fat spears must have been blanched first... when I saw their size I was apprehensive, but the feather light batter clung to bright green stalks that were tender all the way through. And the dipping sauce was the best I have ever had - SF, LA, and many cities in Japan included.
Finally broke down and got the "hot rock." Always avoided it, thinking it might be more gimmick than delicious, and I'm afraid my intitial suspicions were confirmed. The raw beef looked amazing - vivid, well marbled, and the hot rock was fun...but the taste was just not at all memorable. Ponzu didn't help. Just not at all worth the calories or cost, when you are having a meal like this.
Wishing we had more room, we decided on "dessert" of another order of the saba nigiri, and the second round didn't disappoint. I will be dreaming about these two bites for a long time.
I can't speak at all to makimono - I just don't eat rolls, but the sushi here, although the rice isn't the best, is great. Still, Uchi is so much more. The space is beautiful, the service is gracious, and it toes the line between being a loud fun young spot and a serious meal spot. I think it is a unique and wonderful restaurant, and one i will be visiting over and over.
Oh - After we had started, I heard another waiter selling the omikase menu - $142.00 for two. Probably worth every penny.
This was an anniversary dinner - and it was between Wink (getting some good 'hound love, would have been the first visit) and Uchi ... and I'm sated. Happy. I had to go home and crack a bottle of good zin to get my wine on, but the meal was A+.
Thanks for this fantastic report! Reading it makes me very hungry.
Couple things worth trying: the masterful super toro, the anago, and the exceptional sake toro.
Like you, I've found that the hot rock is a little disappointing. You can order it with scallops instead, but that doesn't solve the basic problem. Then again, the sheer fun of being served a rock so hot that it seems to melt salt can't be denied.
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I've only been there once but, contrary to the prevailing opinion, the hot rock(with Wagyu) was one of my favorites, not only for the novelty but for the taste of the beef quickly cooked rare.