Uchiko: child of uchi. Tyson Cole's second Austin restaurant with executive chef Paul Qui at the helm. After our dinner at Uchi last spring, I have longed to visit Uchiko. After seeing Paul Qui's quietly professional and humble performance on this season of Top Chef, I knew I had to go now! Once he wins Top Chef, and he should, it may be nigh impossible to get a table.
I made a 5:00 p.m reservation because I am now hip to the sake social hour with it's fantastic menu of smaller bites of regular menu items, and because I am uncool enough to eat dinner at 5:00. On arrival, I was immediately glad for the reservation. The bar area was already humming with activity and the restaurant seemed filled to capacity by 6 p.m. We enjoyed a chile lime salted peanut while we waited for our table--Sophie with a Ramune, me with a glass of Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul (@$7 for a generous pour).
Our waiter arrived with hot towels and steered us through the menu. After dining at Uchi, I knew how well the front of the house staff paced the courses. Kakiage:tempura sweet potato fritter
Watching this arrive at a table next to us, Sophie exclaimed, "we should get that!" Tempura forever eludes me at home. My fritters are always leaden and oil-soaked with the vegetables sliding out of their batter faster than Paris Hilton slips out of her undergarments. These were ethereal without a whisper of grease and disappeared quickly. We also thoroughly enjoyed the brussels sprouts--crispy and tossed with a lemon chili sauce.
More tempura! Sophie's choice--"I like this better than Uchi. There's a lot more for me to eat." Again, that cloud of tempura batter sprinkled with togarashi and white soy, sheer perfection. Lest you think I went to a sushi restaurant for fried vegetables...
Look at these beauties! From the daily special menu: kaiwari and fresh mackarel nigiri. If only every sushi restaurant could give the attention to detail that elevates a slice of raw fish and white rice to this level. Warm rice, tender fish, minimal seasoning to allow the fish to shine. How ironic that the best sushi I have ever had has been in central Texas.
From the sake social menu I tried the koviche: fresh diver scallop, tomatillo, kalamata, black lime. Accompanied by the thinnest "corn chips" ever--it was like a really sophisticated ceviche. Also the yokai berry: atlantic salmon, dinasour kale (a combination of kale chips and fresh kale), asian pear, blueberry and yuzu. What a combination of flavors! Apologies for no pictures of these excellent dishes, but the light was waning, and I was hungry....
Hanna: cauliflower, daishi, white soy
This beautiful dish, laid out like a painter's palette, was Sophie's favorite. It was on the daily special menu, and the chef wanted to know what we thought of it. We thought very highly of it. A simple ingredient, exquisitely prepared and presented.
We finished off the dinner portion of the meal with "ham & eggs" : makimono with katsu pork belly accompanied by a yolk custard dipping sauce. A crowd-pleaser. Sophie finally ate pork belly without removing the fatty layers. This must be a time-consuming roll to make--the pork belly was warm and still crispy, surrounded by warm rice--immediately to the table without allowing pork's coating to steam into oblivion. Amazing.
If you have followed our blog for any length of time, you know we are dessert-centric. Sophie and dug deep and found a corner in our bellies for TWO! desserts. I had the special: coconut gelato with tiny thai tea gelee gems, orange and apricot gastrique. Sophie had the fried milk: iced milk sherbet, fried milk (little purses bursting with a creamy interior), chocolate wafers, cereal crumbs and a chocolate semifreddo. Their pastry chef is a magician, and we'll keep saving room for his creations.
By the time we left, there was a 90 minute wait for a table....I'd wait without batting an eyelash for the opportunity to be enchanted all over again. Top notch service, beautiful food, stunning interior...a winning combination. Worth a trip to Austin, get here soon before Paul Qui wins!