I and a friend had supper last night at Uchi, and were pleasantly suprised: yes, there is great sushi in Austin! Service was an excellent combination of informed and informal, the eating environment was pleasant if a bit loud, and the food ranged from pretty good to world class excellent.
We had a 6:00 reservation, arrived at 5:50, and were seated immediately. The Omakase for two was offered at ~$175, but fearing the expense we chose to order off the menu as we went along. Here’s what we had:
Brown Butter Sorbet: We started with a small serving of the brown butter sorbet that would have begun the omakase: tasty, but so sweet and buttery that it felt like an odd beginning to a meal.
Higawari Carpaccio: About six slices of madai snapper with a delicious tangerine oil and a scattering of golden tobiko. Delicious, and put us back on track after the oddly buttery beginning. We had it accompanied by a shared glass of Aneri Prosecco, which matched wonderfully.
Japanese Pumpkin Tempura (two orders): Excellent, although a bit greasy from the perspective of perfect tempura. Served with a strong and tasty ginger dipping sauce which we happily drunk as a soup broth after finishing the tempura. Two orders because we really like pumpkin, and because it was on sale as a ‘Happy Hour Special’.
Kai Mushi: The mussels were also ordered because they were a Happy Hour Special. This was the one failed dish of the night. Some of the mussels were quite good, and others, umm, not so good. Not spoiled, just stronger in flavor in a bad way and not too tender. We mentioned this, and were happy to see we weren’t charged for it at the end. Mussels were served in a mild but tasty Thai coconut curry broth.
Hiya Yako: A delicious and delicate cold tofu dish served over shaved ice, and at $4 probably the best bargain of the meal. Sprinkled with bonito, scallions, and I think some yuzu. Large enough to share comfortably.
Kabocha Hotate: A delicious single fried scallop with a pumpkin puree. I thought it was really good but not a good value, my dining partner thought was OK but nothing special.
Saba Shio: A small but very tasty piece of boneless mackerel, served with small piles of salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Delicious, and for $5 we probably should have ordered one for each person.
Miso Soup (one with shiitake, one without): Solidly good miso soup, well priced at $2/$2.50. Nothing extraordinary, just good.
Sushi Selection: 2 Hamachi, 1 Super Toro, 1 Hotate, 1 Uni. The hamachi was tremendous, probably the best I’ve had (including in Japan). I had the scallap which was good but nothing special. My dining partner had the uni with quail egg, pronounced wonderful. The bluefin toro was great, but not great enough to justify the price or probably the killing of such a rare fish.
Sake: We shared a single glass of the Wakatake “Demon Slayer” with the suchi, which was very good on the smooth and subtle side. We also sampled three others, and found the unfiltered California Takara Nigori to be the tastiest (good balance of sweet, sour, and body), the Hokkaido Otokoyama to be wonderfully pure and clear, and the Suishin Ani sort of artificial tasting. As the Takara Nigori was the cheapest on the menu and I liked it best of the four, I’d probably get it next time, although the Wakatake was certainly a more refined flavor and we liked it better than the other two. But I know little about sake, and the samples were tasted after the sushi, so you might be better trusting your own tastes and the generally accurate descriptions on the menu.
Bacon Steakie: Horrible name, but a truly delicious piece of boar belly bacon. Although pork not beef, it’s a worthy homage to the local BBQ scene, but served with a tangerine glaze it fit in well with the meal. Large enough for two to share at the end of a meal when most of the hunger has been sated.
Chocolate and Wasabi Fondant: Better than it sounds. My dining partner thought the chocolate/wasabi combo was perfect; I think I would have preferred pepper to horseradish for contrast. I thought it went great with the pistachio ice cream and tuile cookie; dining partner thought it best on its own, unadulterated.
Including the two shared drinks (and minus the not-the-best mussels) the total came to $115 pre-tip — pretty expensive by our standards, but it felt like a very fair price for a wonderful hours long meal.
Hamachi Sushi — probably should be ordered periodically through the meal, and as dessert. That good.
Hiya Yako and Saba Shio and Pumpkin Tempura — low priced and delicious. I’m interested in trying the other lower priced items on the menu, as these were hits.
Bacon Steakie — high end BBQ rivalling the traditional stuff around Austin. Perhaps awkward to find a place for in the meal, but worth fitting in.
I'm a huge fan of Uchi, so it's nice to find out when others have favorable experiences, and what may have detracted from their experiences.
Sorry to hear your Kai Mushi turned out badly. It was great the first time I had it, but less than so on subsequent visits. I think it may be the case that it is the specialties of one of the chefs, in which case they ought to move it off of the permanent menu and offer it on the daily menu when that chef is working.
Not a happy hour special, but try the Maguro Sashimi w/ goat cheese and pumpkin seed oil on your next trip. It's one of my favorites from the permanent menu.