Uchi – revisited

One thing I miss most from LA is the sushi. While nothing can compare to Jinpachi, here in Austin, we have Uchi, which is very good. AEJ and I went for dinner one night last week. We started with the Uchi Salad.

I didn’t save the menu, so I might get some of this wrong, but I think this was the Hirame Usuzukuri (flounder with smoked sea salt, yuzu zest, daikon, and quinoa candy).

This was the “toro nuta” — bluefin toro with dried cranberries, marcona almonds, and white soy. It was awful. No joke. It was really fishy-tasting, and if anything, toro shouldn’t taste like anything but butter. We sent it back — our waiter was very nice about it — and they explained that the white soy had fish oil in it, giving it a fishy taste. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it makes sense to add something to sushi to make it taste like old dead fish. It was pretty, though.

In a complete contrast, the next dish was “hama chili” — yellowtail sashimi with ponzu, sliced thai chilis, and orange supremes. This was spectacular. I love the taste of fruit with zesty spice. It was just incredible — and the yellowtail was perfect.

This next one was just silly. This is maguro sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, fuji apple, and pumpkin seed oil. Basically, it just tasted like goat cheese and apple; the fish was completely lost, both in flavor and texture. It was tasty and kind of funny, but it may as well have been a tiny $17 cheese plate with only goat cheese.

I love scallops, so I tried their version — “hotate,” a spicy scallop with avocado. It was good, but it just couldn’t compare to the scallop at Jinpachi, where it’s a large scallop served butterflied over barely-warm rice (as all their sushi is; Uchi’s sushi rice was cold, a major point against them) with just some Hawaiian sea salt and fresh lemon juice. The scallop at Uchi was a good scallop, but it was served wrapped in seaweed — and I hate seaweed. When I asked if I could have one just on rice, they said no, because it would fall apart. It wouldn’t fall apart if you used a full scallop and you butterflied it, but whatever — it was still pretty good, after I picked off the seaweed.

Some more of the exceptional yellowtail, so fresh it was almost translucent. Would have been even better if the rice had been the proper temperature…

Dessert was peanut butter semi freddo with apple-miso sorbet and ringo crisps. This was incredible. This would be an insanely great dessert at any restaurant.

Uchi is very good, but I wish they’d trust their fish more and not feel compelled to cover everything with sauces and other distractions. Nothing is better than a fresh piece of tuna, lightly brushed with soy on fresh-ground wasabi on warm rice. I’ll definitely go back to Uchi — I just miss Jinpachi…


Cathy says

Rarely will I eat sushi somewhere that is not owned by a Japanese family...no matter how esteemed the chef/owner might be. This is why. Try Origami in Round Rock. Tell them I recommended it. ;)

tyson cole says

Sushi is about the freshness of the fish and the quality of the rice. That's it.
Uchi is the busiest sushi place in Austin, and from that alone has the best and freshest product each and every day.
The owner who is not Japanese, trained with Japanese in Austin,NYC and Tokyo for 15 years....and some of that time was actually with the people that OWN origami.

Get your facts straight before you rush to judge something based on your ignorance. New style dishes at Uchi are optional only for sushi beginners; they offer everything in very traditional preperations as well if you took the time to read the menu further.

John says

I totally agree about sushi being about the freshness of the fish and the quality of the rice. That was my complaint -- that the tuna didn't taste fresh in the "toro nuta," and that the rice that was served with the pieces was not the proper temperature -- it was cold. Had the toro tasted better in the toro nuta, I would have ordered several pieces of it, although toro isn't my preference for tuna. (I'm a big albacore fan, but that wasn't offered. I also prefer lower-grade blue fin to toro, as toro, to me, doesn't have much flavor, but toro and akami are the only options. Toro is expensive, but that's not enough to make it good.) As for the rice, maybe with a restaurant the size of Uchi it isn't possible to serve sushi with anything other than cold rice, but don't expect me to like it.

The pieces of yellowtail, as I wrote, were absolutely exceptional, and certainly fresh, and I'll take the waiter's word that the toro was equally fresh (but the white soy made it taste otherwise). The eel, which I forgot to mention, was exceptional, but I would have preferred it to be a little more toasted.

I do wish there were a simple scallop-on-rice (maybe with a few drops of lemon juice and sea salt) option, not only the hotate version, which was tasty, but hid the taste of the scallop. (And to order a scallop on rice requesting that it be served without it being wrapped in seaweed only to be told "no?" Give me a break.) Hotate was the only "traditional preparation" option offered for scallop, and delicious as that spicy sauce was, don't tell me it's traditional, or lecture about offering traditional preparations.

Again, it's not that Uchi isn't good -- it's very good, particularly considering how far it is from the Pacific. And it's not that I didn't read the menu, as you suggest; I ordered selections throughout, and I did end up with several pieces, in addition to selections from the special menu that day, as well as from the permanent menu. I've been there before and had omakase, and I felt the same way overall. The place is very good, but there's better sushi out there.

Wow, I sound old and crotchety.

Kevin Howlett says

Beauty's in the eye of the beholder I guess, but the toro nuta looked like a millipede scraped off my shoe.

Elizabeth says

Hi! I'm a clarinet player in the symphonic band at Texas Tech and found out today that you are coming to visit in a few weeks since we are playing Clocking. I played Turbine at all state two years ago and since then I've been reading your blog. I love reading what you write and I am really looking forward to playing another one of your pieces.

PS I love the pictures of Loki and your new house.

Greg says

yeahh man, you'll definetly being to see texas definitions of different types of food, even though I've lived here all my life I get what you're saying.

I'm Greg and I go to Judson High School in Converse. I'm in the 2nd highest band and we're doing Strange Humors this year for UIL. It should be very fun! I enjoy your work much so, especially Redline Tango which our Honor Band preformed last year. I'm a trombone player so you probably know what I mean when I say I love your music. But hey I can't wait to see updates on the trombone and wind ensemble concerto you're writing. I heard the soprano sax one you wrote from the Texas Tech band and I was very impressed so this trombone piece should be phoenomenal. Well good luck and good writing! You are a musical genius!

Kasey says

I think you would fit in well with the judges on Top Chef.

trish says

Was that ACTUALLY Tyson Cole who commented?

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