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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+.

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  1. 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.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tom in austin

      We've never been, so this was so helpful with what to order!

    2. I always have to get at least one order of the sawagani - the teeny freshwater baby crabs.

      1. we tried to go without reservations on a wednesday and were told it was an hour and a half wait, it better be good. Maybe next time

        1 Reply
        1. re: laur76

          Try hitting Uchi at the 5:30 seating time (or get there at 5 when the bar opens and have a glass of wine). I've been twice at that hour on Fridays and both times was seated immediately.

        2. 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.

          1. Fantastic Food. I wouldn't call it Japanese, more like a "sushi Fusion", but the absolute best seafood source in town. Sushi is outstanding. It's pricey but worth it. I have two kids, so I'd recommend going at exactly 5pm, before the crowd sets in.

            1. Hmmm...many reviews have been written about this place but I felt like I had to add my two cents on the matter - even though you'll be paying WAY more than that if you eat at this establishment - because I really do feel that it deserves the hype. WHY you ask?

              Well, I was luckily enough to be taken to Uchi as a special anniversary dinner so that might color my feelings about the night but then OMG, the service was excellent and the food HEAVENLY. I'm wondering if I can convince my significant other that we should go for every other anniversary, or birthday, or on a day that ends in Y. :)

              Warning, this is going to be a LONG review but hopefully helpful to those who haven't checked out this place yet...don't wait too long!

              Here's a breakdown -

              Made reservations online for 7pm on their website for a sunday evening. Very hard to get someone on the phone but the online reservations were a snap. NOTE: they only take reservations from 5:30-7pm and there are only a limited number of reservations available. After 7pm, be prepared to have some drinks and wait, sometimes up to or over an hour, I'm told. However, on the suggestion of a good friend, we came early at 5:30pm to take advantage of their Happy Hour - which literally is only an hour til 6:30pm. Four items from their menu will be on happy hour special w/ sake/drink specials too. We were seated right away and then given the lowdown by our delightfully warm and inviting but not smothering waitress, i wish i could remember her name, who then handed us warm, moist towels to cleanse our hands. Out of everything that she said, one of the things that stood out most was that you can eat their sushi with your hands if you want - they encourage it. We didn't but i might just do that next time.

              now on to the food - we ordered the roll that was on special and it came out looking good enough to eat - imagine that - so we did and it was sooooo good - it had those yummy crunchy flakes on the outside, was pefectly sized and had a spicy mayo and balsamic vinegar reduction sauce that complemented the fish nicely. White pickled ginger and wasabi were brought out on their own little tiny plates - i loved this! Presentation was key to all the items. So far soo good, we then ordered their magura sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, thinly sliced fiji apples and pumpkinseed oil. We both devoured it heaving little sighs of delight - maybe that was just me with the sighing but we both loved it. the fresh, crisp apple slices with the creamy goat cheese was a nice foil for the sliced maguro with the drizzle of oil and bite of the pepper.

              All the items on their menu are designed to be shared and are called "tastings" - ie. they aren't entrees so their size is smaller than many establishments. however, the flavors that are packed into each bite is what sets this place apart.

              We then ordered a few sushi nigiri pieces. He ordered the escolar and I had the hotate - spicy scallop - it wasn't spicy but the scallop melted in my mouth, it was soo fresh and good. The sushi order is for only 1 piece, not two pieces like at some other sushi places. Again, the fact that the fish is flown in fresh daily is the reason for this. Perfectly delightful.

              Next we ordered the bacon steakie - it was one of our favorites! it's pork belly (bacon) that has been cooked twice - over oak charcoal and then braised - and the four pieces were so tender that they literally fell apart in your mouth...mmmmm, my honey reached over to nab a bite of one of mine (we had split it two and two and he had finished his two) and i almost stabbed him with my chopsticks - but then i relented and let him crib another bite of my portion :)

              our next tasting was the sake (fresh atlantic salmon) cure from their daily menu which duh, changes daily, based on what fish they get flown in that day. this dish had white soy drizzled over the sliced sashimi salmon with marcona almonds, golden currants and yucca chips. sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth - all these flavors and textures came together in your mouth to create what i like to call a foogasm - a food orgasm. i wanted to lick the plate clean but given the surroundings, refrained from doing so.

              we tried another daily special of the day that was served en papillote - enveloped in parchment paper. the fish was steamed in a lemongrass and ginger broth and had a sprinkling of pine nuts and cilantro. our server brought it out on a dish and then used scissors to cut open the envelope releasing the fragrant aromas of the tastiness inside. this was the dish that stood out the least but it was still tasty.

              and lastly we were almost full but wanted just a little something more and decided to order another maguro sashimi with goat cheese - it was just that good!

              1. I went to Uchi for the first time last night and was rather underwhelmed. Got there at 6:30 (this was for a moms' night out, so that was the earliest we could get there without shirking our domestic responsibilities) and were told that there would be a 45-minute wait. So, we settled down in the front yard with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and waited. An hour later, it was raining on us, so we went in -- just in time for our table to be ready. While we were waiting for our table, we were offered a few bites of tempura-fried Japanese eggplant, which was absolutely amazing. So buttery and crisp, with just the right amount of salt. Lovely.

                Because I am a grad student and must dine out on a somewhat limited budget, and was really just in the mood for sushi, I ordered the chef's choice (5-piece) and a mustang roll. The chef's choice included sake, shiro maguro (albacore tuna), ohyou (halibut), kurodai (snapper), and maguro. The shiro maguro was amazing. It just melted in the mouth. The sake and maguro were unremarkable. The kurodai was a bit fishy, and the ohyou was leathery and didn't seem very fresh. Additionally, the rice (as others have mentioned here) was tasteless and not very sticky or fresh-seeming. For $14, I would have preferred slightly less pedestrian choices and fresher selections. In my mind, chef's choice shouldn't really be "stuff we need to get rid of now, before it goes bad."

                The mustang roll, which has unagi, tuna, and avocado, was fine. It was smallish for a roll, but tasty. I wouldn't call it "intensely delicious," but it was passable. I love unagi, so you really have to screw it up for me not to like it. For $10, I would have liked a bit more in the portion, but that might just be my academic indentured servant mindset talking.

                The experience was altogether nice, although I felt like I was too old, fat, and poor (and I am fairly average in all of those categories in reality) to be there. The service was unobtrusive (good) and efficient, and the decor was lovely. Great people-watching opportunities galore, between the painfully emo hipsters and the suspected call girl. But as far as chow goes, I guess I'll either have to go back when my husband is footing the bill or accept the fact that I'll just have to wait until I can afford a more thorough exploration of the menu before Uchi really wows me.

                I'm still thinking about that eggplant, though.

                4 Replies
                1. re: bookgrrl72

                  Thanks for a great posting! It's terrific that you used the "call" names of the various fish as well as providing the english version. So often, I will read a post about Sushi (I'm a novice) or another ethnic menu item, and have to google to find out what the poster is referring to. I hope some of the other regular posters recognize how helpful this is to those of us who don't quite know our way around the world.

                  Your posting still encourages me to get to Uchi... maybe not as urgently, however.

                  1. re: Rene

                    Try the Avo Bake - this is Tyson's take on the Avocado Kama at Musashino. I never, ever share this with anyone I go to Uchi with. It's a great recipe.

                    My absolute favorite thing at Uchi is the Magur Sashimi and Goat Cheese. Tuna on top of thin sliced fuji apple with chunks of goat cheese scattered on it and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil. Can't go wrong with that.

                    Uchi has great service, great presentation and the freshest, cleanest fish I've ever had.

                    1. re: chispa_c

                      Chispa, the Sashimi/goat cheese is also my very favorite thing there. So much so that I've tried doing it at home (and been decently successful). But I have to say, the bacon steakie might move ahead of it soon. The first time I had it, I loved it. The second time, I actually swooned.

                      For me, I don't like to get any of the sushi as much as I like to mix and match the hot and cold sharing plates, some tempura and yakatori, as well as maybe split one or two of the specials, depending on who I'm with and how much I want to spend.

                      I could be perfectly happy sitting at the bar with an order of bacon steakie and a glass of Ridge Three Valleys, and I'd get out of there for like, $30.

                      1. re: foodiegal71

                        I don't think I've ever had that. I'll give it a try next time I'm there. Thanks for the tip!

                2. I know that I've put in my two cents about Uchi before in other posts, but I wanted to update and also put a plug in for those a little wary of the price (believe me...I'm on a grad student budget). To be honest, I haven't been for over a year, but the urge struck yesterday and I drug a friend along for the experience. We arrived at around 6 and aside from a bit of a mess in the parking lot (we opted to use the valet as half the-very small- lot was given over to this service) things weren't too crazy. We were told it would be 20-30 minutes so we grabbed a drink at the bar (my friend got a round of drinks, I bought the food, so I can't expand on price for this). After maybe 15 minutes we were seated.

                  The waitress was prompt and pleasant. She was quick to tell us that the happy hour specials were running for just 10 more minutes and let us in on the deals. We opted for the sake steamed mussels (kai mushi) and the tako pops (yakitori grilled marinated baby octopi). Both were discounted from 3-5 dollars off the menu price. The tako pops were great as always. A simple tomato based marinade and the smoky grill flavor was great. And, the mussels (although some were a little small) were quite good in a subtle sake flavored broth with lots of cilantro.

                  From there we ordered the maguro and goat cheese (sinful, smooth, and silky) along with a bond roll (sun dried tomato, avocado, cucumber) with salmon added. The bond roll was sprinkled with roe and was cut into 10 small pieces. This was different from my last time eating this (larger width of roll and fewer pieces...plus it was formerly served with a little both of kewpie mayo as a dipping sauce). The maguro was actually big eye that evening but equally tasty. The goat cheese tasted like local fave Pure Luck.

                  Still hungry we ordered one final round. We opted for the crudo and two pieces of hamachi (yellowtail). The yellowtail was awesome. Like a perfect little dessert. And, the crudo has always been a favorite of mine (snapper sashimi dressed with a light orange oil/vinagrette and cracked pepper).

                  To sum up, Uchi can be done relatively budget friendly (for sushi at least). We ate all this (again bill had no drinks) for $57 before tip....not too bad for one of the pricier joints in town. And, we didn't leave hungry. I for one was stufffed. The trick with enjoying their food is balancing the budget friendly items with the pricier (happy hour specials with pricier sashimi style cold dishes). Suprisingly, this early the place had a tolerable wait and was not too uber trendy...although a shift was occuring as we left around 7:30 or so. Four years after opening, Uchi is still doing things well. Creating the dishes I love and also remaining innovative (I will admit that my pocket book didn't allow me to try more of the kitchen specials that were very appealing). So, if you have several hundred to blow on dinner, go here. And, if you want to try some damn good sushi, but don't have the hundreds, go early, hit the specials, and reward yourself with a pricier item or two.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ashes

                    Ashes, thank you for reitterating what I've been saying for ages! My friend and I can go to Uchi and get out of there for under $60 with no problem (without drinks of course) and have a great meal that leaves us both fully satisfied.

                  2. One of these days I'll breakdown and go to Uchi. I'm still holding out, holding a grudge. I met Tyson a few months after Uchi opened, when the critics were calling him one of the best chefs in the nation. He was at a Whole Foods sponsored food & wine festival, serving up freshly made ginger ale saketinis. The cocktails were delicious. Tyson's attitude was so offputting that I vowed never to give him my business dollars. He was fronting the table, giving out drinks to the public yet the entire time he had a scowl on his face and gave off a vibe that this was just so beneath him to do. My friends and I watched him for a long time, surprised that he never gave time to the people who tried to talk to him, shocked at his blatant rudeness and discussed why he was there when he obviously would rather be anywhere else on earth. Despite the fact that the man may be a magician in the kitchen, his demeanor that day left a bad taste in my mouth that has lasted years. I mean, really, if he was in such a foul mood why not have his staff, of which there was plenty, hand out drinks and schmooze with the crowds?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Kaya_n_Austin

                      Could be he was having a bad day. I gotta say I've met him a couple of times at Uchi, and he seemed very affable there. I work as a lowly line cook in the business, and gotta say I've only heard one bad thing about Uchi in the behind the scenes talk--which can get really nasty, lemme tell you. The things I've heard about some of Tyson's peers...whew!

                      Now one other thing is it could be he was doing this at a Whole Foods event, and though there is much to like about Whole Foods (for example, it is easily the best place for the average shopper to buy red meat, now that The Meat Shop is closed), I have experienced so many problems with Whole Foods as a customer and a professional since they went corporate that we don't really have the space to do it here. Add to this all the horror stories I've heard from Chefs, Kitchen Managers, and people who supply them. Plus the nightmarish stories from people working there. I've heard more than my share of bad things about Whole Foods that I would give Tyson the benefit of the doubt on that one.

                      1. re: brownbutterball

                        I called to make reservations for Fri. the other day and they said there already full, but take first come first serve also, doe's anyone has exp. with this and on 'average' how long is a typical wait-TIA~

                        1. re: familyof3

                          If you can get there in person by 5:30, even on a Friday, there's a decent chance you can get seated right away. The closer you get to 7pm, the more you're looking at an hour or more's wait. Seriously. Last time I went, I got there around 5:30 and had my pick of places to sit. I got the best seat at the sushi bar where I could see both kitchens, and could admire the $3000 Japanese chefs knives and cutting skills I wish in my dreams I had.

                          1. re: familyof3

                            I have been on a Friday night with a large group of 9, so this may have made the difference. We waited an hour and 45 minutes!!!! We arrived mid-rush and were seated just before closing. I would say with your group, go as early as possible and you should have just a short wait of 30 minutes or so.... I love Uchi and would wait hours once the craving strikes :)

                          2. re: Kaya_n_Austin

                            Kaya, your perception of Tyson Cole is pretty far off from my experiences and possibly a little unfair. I've only dealt w/ Tyson Cole at Uchi itself, where I've seen him work behind to sushi bar a couple times. In my experiences there, he has always been supremely humble, attentive, and generous.

                            1. re: tom in austin

                              +1, One night I was given a nice piece of jewelry from the person I was having dinner with and Tyson immediately had 2 glasses of champaign sent over. He didn't even know what the occasion was. I met him when he was a kid working at Kyoto on Congress, followed him over to Musashino and am so excited for his success with Uchi. He's a great guy with major skillz.

                              1. re: chispa_c

                                The last time I tried to go to Uchi, we got there at 6:30 on a Saturday night because we figured the wait wouldn't be as bad. Wrong. 2 hour wait. When we were told that (which in my experience, they are pretty dead on when they tell you wait times), we immediately left and went to Starlite.

                                I was under the impression that Uchi only took reservations on weeknights before 7pm. Is this still the case? I haven't been in a year because I'm just not willing to wait that long, or to eat at 5:30pm.

                                1. re: foodiegal71

                                  I just saw an opentable reservation for Saturday, August 16, at 6PM, and the following Saturday is beyond their reservation window....but they do limited reservations each night, and if you are willing to play around, you should be able to snag a weekend reservation. Personally, I reserve and go early, since they never, EVER rush me...I can linger over a cocktail and appetizer and good conversation for as long as I need to, before tucking in proper.

                          3. We love Uchi. Last time we went we hadn't been there in a few months, and sat at the sushi bar. The chef NEXT to us remembered us from our last visit, and he even remembered what we had eaten! I'd say that was a pretty great experience, and it is one of many reasons we will go back over and over.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: lshoes

                              I definitely need to go back to Uchi and lay off the drinks so that I can spend all of my money on the delicious food -- I love that thinly sliced raw beef that you cook on the hot rock. YUM!
                              Here is my review of Tomo where I mention Uchi: http://foodtouring.blogspot.com/2008/...
                              WeFuse is also a great option for a japanese-fusion downtown lunch: http://foodtouring.blogspot.com/2008/...