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Meh! Experience @ Uchi!?

My fiance and I just got back to Seattle from our long weekend in Austin. After reading gushing review after gushing review we were most excited about our Sunday reservation at Uchi. We both left feeling very unsatisfied, not really understanding what all the fuss is about.

Let me preface this review by saying that this restaurant is doing alot of things right as ambiance, design and customer service were all exceptional. Our expectations were definitely pretty high and we can be over-critical sometimes, but nothing even came close to wowing us the entire meal.

We ordered something from nearly every section of the menu:
- We started with a Sunomono seaweed salad that was lacking acid, but was overall very good.

- Next we had the Maguro Sashimi and Goat Cheese from the Cold Tastings. It was a well conceived dish, but the tuna was bland and everything was overpowered by the goat cheese.

- Next was the Omarru Ebi off of the daily specials menu with Lobster, Apricots, Garbanzo Beans and Basil. This dish first grabbed our attention because we love each of these ingredients separately and couldn't figure out how they would work together. The dish came out and absolutely nothing worked!!! Everything was thrown together on a plate with a red wine vinaigrette. The lobster was incredibly bland and watery and none of the flavors were harmonious. Not only was this dish a trainwreck, but it was way overpriced at $22 with 5 little pieces of clawmeat!

- Next up was the Avo Bake which was a surprising highlight of the meal despite the use of Krab. I realize we are crab-snobs from Seattle and that Texas is land locked , but I just don't understand why a restaurant of this caliber would resort to using fake crab. The flavors worked wonderfully though and we were both surprised by the creamy texture of the baked avocado.

- Next up was some sushi, a couple pieces of Unagi and the Zero Sen roll with yellowtail, avocado, crispy shallots, yuzu, roe and cilantro. Once again this roll contained some of our favorite ingredients, but was just so "middle of the road" void of any flavors that popped or even stood out. The unagi was fine, but was served with this balsamic glaze that just overpowered the eel completely.

- Throughout the meal, our waitress asked us how each dish was and we were honest with her saying many of the same things I mentioned above. When she arrived with the dessert menus she said that she was very sorry that we did not have a fantastic experience and that dessert was on them. We thought this was a very nice gesture and the cracked black pepper sorbet with fresh strawberries piqued our attention. The strawberries were delicious, but the sorbet misfired on a few points. The consistency was very grainy and we could barely taste the pepper. We understand that pepper needs to be used delicately, but it barely showed up. We also wish we could have gotten some of that balsamic glaze back from the unagi as it would have worked wonders to bring this dish together a little bit.

The bill came and we respectfully paid our $100 + tax and tip and left. As we were leaving, one of the managers stopped us and asked if we were the couple from Seattle who weren't impressed with our dining experience. We told him our thoughts and he said he was sorry and offered us a $25 gift certificate to come back next time we were in town.

We were very pleased with the exceptionally high level of customer service, but did we just come on a bad night or are we missing what all the buzz is about? Our meal was on Sunday night, which I know is notoriously the worse day to eat sushi, but we were expecting alot more.

To people that have eaten here before and rave about it: What happened here? Are we just over-critical snobs or was it an off night? We appreciate your feedback!

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  1. Chef's night off perhaps?

    I had a contrary meal elsewhere and I could not understand it. How could everyone but me think so highly of this place?

    With a little investigation I found that Chef was not there - Sunday - which I have come to understand is traditionally the day off for many hard working and dedicated chefs.

    While not an excuse, I accept this information and do not schedule a highly anticipated meal on a Sunday.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Rene

      That's definitely not an excuse, and definitely not THE excuse, either! We have been going to Uchi for a while, ever since they opened, and recently (past year?) pretty much every Fri. Tyson is usually not there on Fridays. We have also been there a few times on weeknights, for anniversaries, or before long weekends, etc. I have not detected any variation in quality depending on the day of the week.

      In any case, even when Tyson is there, it's not like he fixes every plate his own self! :) Each chef appears to be responsible for a small number of dishes, and nothing else. I suppose, if a chef has a really REALLY bad hangover :) , that could affect his work...

    2. I've never been to Uchi, but I totally agree about the Krab. I don't understand why any place that wants to be known as fine dining serves this stuff.

      2 Replies
      1. re: TroyTempest

        "Fine dining" places serve Spam too. It's not about how expensive or sophisticated or rare or pure or traditional the ingredients are; it's about what I put in my mouth.

        All that said though, I suspect that the "Avo Bake" is a big seller, else it wouldn't still be there on the menu.

        Oh, and speak of expensive, one of our fav Uchi dishes is not: "Ton Tamago: house-cured bacon, grilled soft-boiled quail eggs with black pepper tare and caramelized negi [scallions]". The "bacon", really a much leaner pork belly, nicely charred, along with the gooey egg yolks and the sweet sweet scallions, makes for a kick-@ss dish.

        1. re: aqn

          I'm taking your last post literally.
          What fine dining place serves spam as something other than a novelty item?

          aqn, Are you on the Uchi payroll now? You posted about 10 times yesterday about the merits of Uchi. We get it, you like the place.

      2. You're goring a sacred Austin ox here, chowda, but I gotta agree that not all of Tyson Cole's dishes work all the time. And with the level of experimentation he does - possibly the secret of his success - that's to be expected; when you push the envelope, sometimes you go too far. My GF and I had the tasting menu once, and as with your experience not everything worked (it was about a year ago so I don't remember it well enough to go into more detail - except for a vivid memory of some fried fish scales that I really did not care for....). As with your experience, service was excellent, and several dishes were outstanding; but some, alas, were not.

        To the other responders who are defending Uchi without eating the same meal that chowdahead had, it seems to me he gave a balanced review - some props for things that were good (service, customer care, a few of the dishes) and some demerits for things that in his opinion did not work. Sounds like he was being honest and evaluating the restaurant objectively. Isn't that what we're supposed to do on this board?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bat Guano

          Agreed, BG, about this being a sacred Austin ox (as seen by the roasting chowdahhead got. I guess I'm just not "sophisticated" either, but I kinda thought Emporer's New Clothes when I went to Uchi. Service was excellent, but the ambiance was too loud and while it had its high points, the meal just wasn't worth the price. I'll be turning in my club jacket now.

          1. re: Bat Guano

            True 'nuf: experimentation does lead to some failures. But I have to point out that:

            1. I find it difficult to believe that a new experiment would make it out of the kitchen without the blessing of Tyson and possibly several of his aides de camp: chef de cuisine, pastry chef, sous-chefs, etc.

            2. Food is highly subjective. Just because Uchi puts it on the menu doesn't mean everybody is gonna love it. Indeed, I've had a few (but less than a handful!) of not-quite-hits at Uchi. The OP's "Omarru Ebi" could have been one of those.

            It's too bad that the OP found Uchi wanting. I do want to point out a couple of things though:

            1. The "Avo Bake": OK, so it's "krab". It's tasty, no?

            2. Nigiri sushi and rolls: confession time: of the small fortune we've spent at Uchi, I think we spent less than $20 on the sushi and rolls!!! :) I think it's because if we really wanted "traditional" sushi, we'd have gone to the place that Tyson apprenticed at, Musashino. :) If by some miracle the OP comes back for a second beating :) at Uchi, I'd def say, skip the sushi and the rolls. There just doesn't seem to be much room for creativity there. They may be good, but IMHO, they're not "Uchi".

            3. Dishes to try: "crudo", "uchiviche", "machi cure", "maguro sashimi and goat cheese" (just kidding! :) ), "hama chili". Most of the "cool" section on the menu, actually.

            Also try: the "Ton Tamago", "kona kanpachi", "bacon sen".

            Absolutely MUST have: whatever dessert special is on the menu! (Though any of the "regular" dessert items would be worthwhile as well.)

            Probably should skip (IMHO): "saba shio", "hot rock wagyu beef" (but lots of people like this, so what do I know).

          2. Hi:

            We've had to remove some posts that were more about the poster than about the food. Please remember that we're here to rate the chow, not the 'hound.

            Thank you.

            1. I've been to Uchi a few times and while it's always been fairly pleasant, I've never been wowed, as so many other posters seem to have been. One night the omakase menu had at least three dishes that were a variation on the exact same theme: nuts + sashimi + citrus infused soy. Other dishes were uneven, as you pointed out. Truly I think that Uchi's an untouchable because nobody wants to hurt Tyson Cole's feelings, and while I appreciate what he's doing, I think that constructive criticism will get him there so much quicker than "This is great!"

              3 Replies
              1. re: addlepated

                Thanks addle and Bat Guano. Those are exactly the kind of responses that I was hoping for. I did not know alot about Tyson Cole and was just really expecting to be wowed. Knowing that he can sometimes be hit or miss makes me feel better. The experience was very pleasant and nothing was "bad," but next time I go back I will have to keep my expectations in check.

                1. re: chowdahhead

                  The Maguro Sashimi and Goat Cheese is one of my favorite dishes, and I'm surprised and slightly irked to hear it maligned. I wonder if the fish just wasn't up to its usual quality.

                  1. re: wwiggins

                    Uchi would be nothing if not consistent with their "stock-in-trade" dishes such as the said maguro/goat cheese. It's highly unfortunate that the OP's felt that "the goat cheese overpowered everything". To me, cheese and apple is obviously the principal, and classic, combo here. And what about the pumpkin seed oil? I also don't understand the contention that "the tuna was bland". Tuna (maguro, not the fatty tuna variety) *IS* bland!

              2. Thanks for the honest review. Just to let you know, we Austinites are usually pretty friendly, but talking bad of Uchi is apparently tantamount to urinating on Stevie Ray Vaughan's grave.

                1. I have to agree with chowdahead. when we moved back to austin from LA, we heard nothing but raves about uchi. decided to check it out for our anniversary (on a saturday night), and we were sorely disappointed. granted part of this, as other posters have mentioned, may be b/c we went primarily for sushi, although at least for rolls, i would argue there is a great deal of room for creativity. we aimed for the more original rolls (endo, zero sen, mustang pitchfork), but either the flavor was all over the place (and not in a good way) or the meat/fish just wasn't up to par. while the restaurant is lovely, ambiance is great, and the service is top notch, i wasn't wowed by the meal and, for all the hype and the price, i definitely expected to be.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: aprileee

                    For good sushi, try Tomo up on Parmer. When my wife and I just want good, fresh sushi, we usually go to Musashino or Tomo. (Disclaimer: I haven't been to either establishment in like 4 or 5 months, but I have no reason to believe they have gone downhill.)

                    1. re: pwang

                      Frankly, the very first review in this string is almost verbatim how my husband and I felt upon leaving this restaurant. The tuna WAS bland and the goat cheese DID overpower the dish. I put my chopsticks down and did not finish. I felt that was a waste of stomach space and I was hoping it was a fluke, and that the rest of the meal would be divine. The waitress and I had started the evening with a polite discussion about whether we should share each plate or not. I insisted that with such small portions, we should not. She said "it's family style here" and I said "That generally means that htere is a large portion at the center of the table." She said it was important that we share everything. In the spirit of the restaurant, we agreed. Our second dish was the Egg Shot. Wait...it's only one shot? I called over the waitress and asked, "Ok, how do we share this?" and she said, "Oh let me get you a second one." Which I took to mean she would pay for, and not charge us for, because this coming just minutes after this whole debate and not being "shareable" was sort of ridiculous. But, it was on the bill after all - both shots. That left a bitter taste in my mouth at the end of the evening. For a third dish we went with the Avo Bake. It was out of this world good, as many others have noted. However, given the prices, 1 out of 3 isn't going to cut it. We have an eight month old. We don't get out much. I've waited ONE YEAR to make it to this restaurant and my husband took me there for my birthday. This was a truly disappointing meal on many fronts. The food was not very good, and I think Mikado on 183 and Burnet does a much nicer presentation.
                      Now let me be very honest. I was upset because I could not hear my husband, we were shouting to hear each other, and the food was so off. So, we decided not to spend anymore of our time being disappointed, and we politely let the waitress know that we were leaving early...and then we went to Burger King.

                      Uchi Restaurant
                      801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                      1. re: insearchofdessert

                        Sorry about your birthday. :(

                        I just went there with my wife; our outings are rare as we have a lil' baby too. While some things weren't mindblowing, other things were jawdroppingly kickassopolis.

                        Uchi's biggest problem is the dumb wait for a table. The food jams are strong.

                        I really do feel for you, though. One night out a year, such a long wait, and the big bill. Killing fast food at the end just doesn't feel fair. I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't succumbed to the same temptations. I hope that if you give Uchi another chance you have the experience I have on average. I've had bad stops too, but the median experience is pretty darn good chow.

                        Uchi Restaurant
                        801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                  2. I suspect that all of the removed posts on this thread ridiculed chowdahhead for incorrectly and absurdly stating that Texas is landlocked.

                    We've been dining at Uchi for several years and I can't remember eating anything that wasn't delicious. Our family favorites include the machi cure, shag roll, pitchfork roll, shiromi nabe, kona kanpachi, tempura tiger shrimp, endo roll, spicy tuna roll, wagyu beef hot rock, and we enjoy the specials, too.

                    Uchi Restaurant
                    801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: HookEm

                      Posts were removed because Chowdahead was basically called a rube for "not getting" the uchi experience, as i recall.

                    2. i have had MEH experiences at Uchi, but i do think they are a world class restaurant and i would continue to patronize Uchi if we were in NYC together.

                      is everything fantastic? no.
                      are even some standards that i usually love there not winners occasionally? yes.

                      i do think that anyone who is focused on the nigiri/sashimi or the maki is misguided. a bit of any of these to round out a meal is fine, esp. if you love the stuff -- but the thing about traditional sushi/sashimi to me is that once a sushi chef is ACCOMPLISHED, there is little difference between quality in any fine establishment. and fusion-maki should be approached as a novelty, there are too many flavors going on in any of them for them to truly sing.

                      that said, i usually order at least 5 pieces of nigiri and occasionally enjoy a roll ... my favorites are either the Zero Sen (which the OP didn't care for) and the Pitchfork.

                      when at Uchi, i focus on the daily specials. if there is a scallop dish, you can't go wrong. constructed sashimi with a special fish of the day and herbs is also a sound choice. a curveball, the meat/duck/ribs dishes on the specials page are always impressive.

                      the foie nigiri is to die for ... the preparation used to change daily/weekly but it has been the same for months now and i pass it up a lot, as the current is one of my least favorite of the combinations.

                      i have been disappointed by the lobster dish as well and never bother anymore and same with the mussels.

                      the pork belly dishes are wonderful, and the sweetbread specials (when available) have been truly inspired.... more like dining with David Chang than as a "sushi" restaurant.

                      the cold tastings that i love, in which the ingredients compliment but do not overpower the fish: machi cure, madai carpaccio, hama chili

                      i rarely bother with the hot dishes on the regular menu, excepting the bacon sen or the age dofu (their tofu is really good, and filling if you are trying to stretch your food dollars).

                      a typical dinner for two hungry people may be:
                      - 2 daily specials
                      - 2 cold dishes
                      - 10 nigiri (pulled from daily specials and rounded out with uni, sake toro and/or hamachi) or 6 nigiri + roll
                      - dessert

                      whereas Uchi is sometimes disappointing, it's a much better restaurant in general than i've experienced otherwise in Austin. and honestly, when i try to branch out i end up being so disappointed that it makes me afraid.

                      Uchi Restaurant
                      801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: charlie_b

                        this is a great uchi menu "formula".
                        thanks for posting.

                        1. re: charlie_b

                          Charlie, you and I would eat well together at Uchi.

                          I was in on Saturday night and everything we had was exceptional: uni, unagi, sashimi/goat chese, pork belly, a special flounder (I think), pitchfork, zero sen, shag, biendo, and...something else I can't remember right now. It made me realize I'd stayed away too long and I need to make a monthly visit to Uchi.

                          Uchi Restaurant
                          801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                        2. As someone born in Washington state and currently living in Texas, I feel that I need to point this out:
                          Washington coastline: 157 miles
                          Texas coastline: 367 miles

                          The Gulf might not be a great source of seafood after the current mess, but Texas isn't landlocked.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: emoore

                            i think the OP meant Austin is landlocked (hopefully), but what's the difference anyway. We have an airport. We get fresh seafood flown in from all over the world daily. I'll wager at least half of the seafood eaten in Austin doesn't come from the Texas Gulf coast anyway.