Austin, part 2 : Uchiko

Did you read part 1 of my blogification of Austin, covering the UT-Baylor football game?  If not, you can read it here.  But on to part 2, Fancy Meal Number 1: Uchiko.

Back in 2009, I blogged about dinner at Uchi, at the time Austin’s best sushi restaurant.  My overall assessment: it’s pretty good, but it couldn’t touch the sushi at Jinpachi in Los Angeles.  Uchiko is sort of a spin-off restaurant of Uchi, owned by the same person (Tyson Cole, who, if the comments on my Uchi post are to be believed, actually commented on my review of Uchi), but with a different executive chef, Paul Qui, who recently won Top Chef season 9.

Let me just get this out of the way: Uchiko is just about perfect. The fish is incredibly fresh (and always celebrated, rather than “hidden” for the benefit of those who fear raw fish), the flavors are creative, the presentation beautiful (pics on the way), the service first-rate but friendly and casual.  It’s the best Japanese food I’ve had outside of Japan or Los Angeles.  I think it’s better than a meal at Morimoto in New York (as in Iron Chef Morimoto).

A photo note: these pictures were all shot with the Canon 5D Mark III and the new 24-70mm f/2.8 L II lens. This is the first meal I’ve shot with this lens. The restaurant was very dark – a bit too dark, considering how beautiful the food looked – but other than a bit of noise in some shots (these were shot at ISO 4000, and I didn’t run any noise reduction software), at this size at least, you wouldn’t guess that the lighting was so bad. (I do think they could turn up the lights a little.)

We started with grilled edamame with sea salt. Yes: grilled.

Next: Crispy brussels sprouts with lemon chili. It doesn’t photograph particularly well (but it would if they’d TURN UP THE LIGHTS), but damn, these were amazing. Easily the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. The bar for that may be low, but trust me on this: if you’re ever in Austin, you need to go to Uchiko even if it’s just for these, with their incredible sauce.

Some sushi: madai sashimi: Japanese sea bream, san bai zu, meyer lemon, and garlic. This fish was a little bit less tender than I like, but it was by no means tough, and the combination with the lemon and garlic was bright and perfect. Those things enhanced the fish, rather than hid the fish (which was my complaint at Uchi).

This is maguro sashimi and goat cheese — tuna sashimi, fuji apple, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed oil. Goat cheese with apple is always delicious. Add tuna and it only gets better (although I’d prefer not to be served tuna in general due to overfishing).

Tempura! This is “tempura nasu” – togarashi (a Japanese chili pepper) with white soy. That sauce was on the right was spicy and damned yummy, like a Japanese BBQ sauce.

Tiger cry! :'( Yes, the dish is called “tiger cry.” It’s cured wagyu beef, rice paper, red pepper, charred green onion, and the yuckiest vegetable: cucumber. I didn’t eat this one because CUCUMBER IS YUCKY.

This is pork jowl with brussels sprout, kimchee, preserved lemon, creme fraiche, and romaine. It was like Super Bacon.

Kaki ebi : prawn, persimmon, trumpet mushroom (me, I want a damn trombone mushroom), and kaffir lime.

We had a selection of nigiri (fish with rice). This one was sake toro, or salmon belly. That’s ginger on top. This was spectacular.

Suzuki yaki : grilled Mediterranean sea bass, tomato, mint, and thai chili. This was exceptional – but I couldn’t get it into focus. I can’t even blame the alcohol because the one bummer about Uchiko: they don’t have a full bar. I was hoping for some creative Japanese cocktails — maybe something with ginger, another cocktail with yuzu, who knows — but they only have beer and wine. Bummer. Great dish, though.

Tennen kanpachi crudo : amberjack, cucamelon, grilled grape, and sorrel. Another perfect dish with the fish enhanced — rather than buried.

Wagyu shortrib nigiri with fresh wasabi — not that awful fake wasabi that comes in a tube — the junk you’d find at bad sushi restaurants.

Aki dashi : creme fraiche, yuzu, saikyo miso, and kohlrabi. It was very pretty to look at, but it was one of the less interesting dishes, tasting mostly just like a good fresh cold soup.

Hama chili : yellowtail sashimi, sliced thai chili, and orange supreme.

This is “jar jar duck” : Countryside Farms duck, candied citrus, endive, and rosemary smoke. It’s tough to capture the smoke on film, and even if I could, you’d still miss the aroma, which was the best part of the dish.

We had three desserts. This is “fried milk” : chocolate milk, toasted milk, and iced milk sherbet.

Sweet corn sorbet. I loved this one. It was so… corn.

And this is peanut sorbet with concord grape, sourdough, miso dots, and cognac.

The service was great. I asked for a copy of what we’d been served — we had the waiter pick all of our courses for us — and they prepared the menu by hand and brought it out to us about 15 minutes after we finished eating. As an added nice gesture, they brought us glasses of sparkling wine to drink while we waited.

If I can find any complaint about Uchiko, it’s the lack of a full bar with a mixologist as brilliant as the chef. Considering only the food, though, this has to be one of the best restaurants in Austin, if not the entire southwest.

There’s another great new place in Austin: Barley Swine. And that’ll be the next blog post…


Robyn says

Those Brussels sprouts are among my favorite things anywhere. SO AMAZING. And I had to scroll down to see if you had the corn dessert. That was a revelation to me. I've never had anything like it.

Too bad you're a cucumberist, because the Tiger Cry is pretty darned good, too.


Mitchell Robinson says

wow. just wow.

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