I feel quite sure that Uchiko must hold some sort of record for most people served before its actual opening day. I don't know that I have much to add to the clamor of tweets and blog posts already in existence, but since I took a ridiculous number of photos at this meal (57), I figured I may as well post them, along with my brief comments about each menu item I tried for those of you who may be headed there in the future.
Interior by Michael Hsu, who seems to be the go-to guy for restaurant design these days. The space is larger and more open than Uchi's, and has a nice-sized private room that would be great for accommodating a swanky private or corporate gathering.
Uchiko has a backwards-L-shaped interior; this is the top part of the L.
The sushi bar, with kitchen behind it.
I was excited to be joined in this first venture to Uchiko by my friend Liz, as we share similar food tastes (and she puts up with my ridiculous picture taking). After agonizing over the menu, we ended up ordering eight things to share, plus two pieces of nigiri each and a dessert. With the food at half off, we couldn't miss the opportunity to try as much as possible. Note that the prices listed below are the actual menu prices without the soft opening discount.
First we selected our drinks - I had a couple of pan am's ($12) - sake, agua fresca, granny smith, rosemary. Light and refreshing without being too sweet.
Our meal started out rather benignly, with a bowl of edamame ($3):
Yeah, I know. Kind of a yawner.
Next up, the kai jiru ($6) - Atlantic mussels, celery, and basil blossom in an heirloom tomato water bath. The glass appeared to be tiny, but there were actually six mussels in our serving - plenty to go around. I liked this dish, but it didn't blow me away the way some of the later dishes did.
Then the koviche arrived ($19) - raw day boat scallops served over tomatillos with kalamata, black lime, and white pepper. I started to swoon after my first bite. Absolutely amazing; the tangy, salty, sharpness provided a wonderfully balancing zing to the fresh, mild scallops.
At first blush, the tempura nasu ($4) seemed boring in comparison to the utter delight that was the koviche. But the tempura was truly a perfect specimen - not at all greasy and so expertly fried. I was impressed, although neither Liz nor I were fond of the sweet chili sauce that was served with it and opted for a drop or two of plain soy sauce, instead.
Our nigiri arrived next. I had chosen a piece of gyutan ($3) - grilled beef tongue with fish caramel and maldon.
The mere thought of this bite still leaves me a bit short of breath, over a week later. Although I tasted many fantastic things during this meal, the flavor of this particular morsel has for some reason been the one that has lingered most vividly in my memory: slightly smoky and tender, with barely perceptible hints of sweetness from the fish caramel and the rice that caught me by surprise. Fan-freaking-tastic.
The description for my other nigiri choice, the hirame ($3), sounded intriguing: Atlantic flounder combined with black lime, shiso, and quinoa candy. Alas, it didn't turn out to be as good as it sounded; it was far too mild overall, and if there were any interesting nuances, I was unable to detect them.
Liz had ordered a piece of nasu nigiri ($2) as one of her two pieces - Japanese eggplant and sumiso, which my Googling leads me to believe is a mustard-miso dressing. Happily, they brought us an extra piece. I would never have ordered this, but I definitely would again. Tender, flavorful eggplant over sushi rice is a fine, fine combination.
Our lone sushi roll of the evening was the umaso ($9) - hiramasa with negi, lemongrass oil, avocado, and myoga.
There was nothing bad about this, but it certainly did not stand out, either. I found the lemongrass oil to be too...oily (go figure), and the flavor overall just didn't seem like anything special. I wouldn't order this again.
Are you getting full, yet? Believe it or not, we were still going strong at this point. But we're professionals. Don't try this at home. Just kidding...I strongly encourage you to try this at home. Please invite me. Especially when you eat our next dish, the Bacon Sen ($18) - Berkshire pork belly paired with fried apple puree and apple kim chee. Yes. Apple kim chee.
Truth be told, you really can't go wrong with pork belly, in my book. But I have to give a thumbs-up to the whole apple kim chee idea. Ingenious.
The Ao Saba ($12) was our next selection. Norweigan mackerel was grilled and paired with bluefoot mushrooms, onion, juniper, and huckleberry.
Honestly, I think this was my least favorite dish of the meal. The flounder was fishy, the onions were sharp and very raw, and the huckleberry was too sweet. It just wasn't working for me (although I did help with finishing it, so...).
Fortunately, we got to chase it with this:
Behold the Usagi Yaki ($18), a rabbit torchon topped with a poached egg and a simply lovely pear mostarda. The meat topped with the egg was so rich and succulent, and the pear mostarda was able to cut the heaviness just enough without interfering. Truly wonderful.
As with so many of life's great things, our meal had to finally draw to an end. We topped it off with Uchiko's sweet corn sorbet ($9) with polenta custard, caramel salt, and lemon. Not too sweet, with a surprisingly crunchy crust and a mild but interesting flavor.
Sweet Corn Sorbet
All in all, this was an excellent first outing, particularly considering the fact that we were still within Uchiko's soft opening period. Service was remarkably attentive; we were waited on by no less than five different people (we did have one main server, whose name I somehow failed to get), all of whom were very friendly and obviously knowledgeable about the menu. The only minor concern I have about this system is that it lacked a little bit of continuity; for example, the server who brought our dessert told us it was on the house, but when our main server brought the bill, we had been charged for it. We didn't feel right about complaining, particularly since the food had all been half off, but it was a little disappointing, particularly since we'd read so many blog posts by other diners who had received 2-3 dishes for free.
But in the grand scheme of things, that's clearly a minor complaint. We were so grateful to be able to experience Uchiko at half the regular price and before the long waits that accompany a visit to Uchiko's sister restaurant, Uchi, had arrived. And now that I've sampled so much of the menu, I'll know just where to point my chopsticks next time.