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Mar 11, 2009 12:24 AM

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. The original comment has been removed
    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. The original comment has been removed
        1. 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).