Uchi - a trip report
This is probably familiar territory for many of you but its a shame that it took me so long to visit arguably Austin's most celebrated restaurant.
I arrive at 6:40 and ask for a single spot at the sushi bar. The space is vibrant and energetic though there seems to be one chair too many at the bar. Nevertheless, I am able to converse with a lot of random fellow diners which is nice.
I am served an amuse of cucumber sorbet (a very nice touch) -it is fresh and full of cucumber flavor and works as a palate cleanser though I wouldn't call it delicious. But interesting.Its just I am of the opinion that flavors other than cucumber works better for a sorbet.
next I start with an uchi shooter - quail egg, sea urchin, in sparkling wine. I was annoyed that the uni served to me were the last broken bits from the box. It did not have the typical tongue like appearance of the uni in the next box. Also, this appetizer/mini amuse felt more like a cocktail than a dish since there was so much more sparkling wine than quail egg or uni. The sea urchin had also clung to the bottom of the shot glass so I wasn't able to taste everything together. felt like a very unbalanced dish.
Tsukiji sushi selection - Shima Aji (skip jack), Aji (horse mackeral), Sanma (Japanese saury)
I ordered this because I wanted to see the quality of the sushi and because I love both shima aji and aji. First, the rice was very good. Right amount of vinegar, sticky yet still retaining individual grains, the fish did not fall off when I inverted the piece which is good, and the rice balls were of uniform size. It could have been more loosely packed but most likely the sushi chef probably assumed I would be eating it with chopsticks like 95% of the diners there instead of with my hands. All 3 fish types were immaculate and had very subtle variations in flavor from each other. The mild use of sesame seeds on the Aji accentuated the butteryness of the fish beautifully. Just wonderful and pricewise not unreasonable at $27 for 6 pieces of nigiri when considering the sourcing.
More Sushi - Akami (tuna loin), Toro, Foie Gras
Akami is the part of the tuna on the side between the regular maguro and the Toro(belly). This piece was very clean with a meaty consistency. Tastes like the best maguro but not sure if worth the premium.
Toro was a very clean piece that was just extraordinarily soft and buttery. flavor was surprisingly muted but perhaps this was due to something I drank. lack of tough stringy tendon which is good.
The seared Foie Gras sushi was on the special menu, simply put, delicious. The foie had a mild liver flavor and was seared to perfection. The outside had a caramelized char while the inside was soft and buttery, melding together perfectly with the texture of the rice. Wish I remembered to add just a tiny bit of wasabi to offset the richness.
Ika Tataki - Baby Portuguese cuttlefish with peaches, sea bean, and cuttlefish ink sauce. The cuttlefish were expertly grilled and exceedingly tender. Probably the best cuttlefish/squid I have ever had texturally with a nice smoky note. I am also fond of restaurants not being afraid of using exotic ingredients and challenging their diners with things such as cuttlefish ink. The sauce was smoky, briny, with a complex flavor of the sea. The peaches were ripe and very sweet and here is where I had some issues. The cuttlefish were awesome with the ink sauce and the cuttle fish were awesome with just the peaches but the peaches did not work with the ink sauce. The strong briny ocean flavor of the ink is just too much of a contrast from the nectar sweetness of the peaches. oddly I don't remember eating any seabeans. This dish is still my favorite of the night.
Bacon Sen - Pork belly with ciopollini onions, apple, and shaved fennel. The pork belly were very meaty with a few pieces of crispy pork skin. There was just a smoky richness that was accentuated by the onions and at the same time wonderfully tempered by the herby notes of the fennel and the crisp sweetness of the apple. A wonderful dish. Pork and apples are a classic combination but I didn't imagine the fennel to work so well here. The fennel brought a lightness to a dish that I would have imagined to be heavy. Very good.
I would have to say that Uchi has very solid cold as well as hot dishes. The baby cuttlefish dish was thought provoking which is not something that I often use for dishes in Austin. Execution was wonderfully efficient and well paced even on a busy night. As this restaurant matures, I definitely look forward to more return trips.
Side note, I wish they did a Omakase for one. The current Omakase is designed for two. While they can serve it all to you, its probably too much food and a bit too heavy on the wallet.
Lixlix, thanks for this excellent report!
My last two visits to Uchi have been DOA'd by multi-hour waits mandated from the front of house. In a way, I'm grateful -- both times I've explored new venues as my alternate that turned out tasty. And! If they ever deign to again seat me in under an hour fifteen, I'll happily Omakase myself (alone, despite the lack of a singular portion) into debt-inducing oblivion.