I was fortunate enough to attend a media reception at Uchiko last week. I had been once before during their soft opening in July and had a great meal - so I was very excited to go back and sample more of their menu. A few days after the reception, Chris and I went back and enjoyed a regular meal there, as well. I want to incorporate both experiences into one post, so I'll try to limit the photos from the reception a bit.
Most exciting thing about the reception? Tyson Cole and Paul Qui were standing at an open window at one end of the room making our food. Let's just say that the moment I realized this, I made my way over there and kind of refused to leave. It was amazing to watch both of these talented chefs at work and be able to taste each item as they were completing it.
Tyson Cole serving up some chicken yakitori with candied peanuts and garlic
(left) Paul Qui putting the finishing touches on a batch of koviche bites
(right) Fried tuna tendon. This is usually an inedible part of the fish, but in the hands of these amazing chefs, it became incredibly delicious - with a crispy, flavorful batter outside and a slightly chewy texture when you bit into it. Tyson said when he served it up, "This is what we eat." Tyson, I want what you eat.
This doesn't look like much, but it was stellar - housemade chicharrones with a fragrant truffle sauce that is still indelibly etched in my memory. There were also some gorgeous black chicharrones (colored with squid ink), but my little camera just couldn't do them justice. I beg the powers that be at Uchiko to add these fantastic morsels to the menu!
Could this be any more gorgeous? This is the Akami Te - big eye tuna with watermelon, cilantro and coriander. I love the way the colors of the tuna and watermelon are so closely matched, making it difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.
We got to try quite a few other things at the reception, but I'm going to fast forward to our sit-down meal here, now. To start, we were treated with an amuse bouche of tomatoes with basil blossoms. So fresh and bright and crisp - perfect.
Then we had a bowl of their wonderful roasted edamame. The roasting process really coaxes an extra level of flavor out of these. I think these had a little douse of oil somewhere along the way, as well, which added a nice sumptuousness to them.
Next up was the koviche, one of my favorite dishes from my first visit to Uchiko and on my permanent to-order list here. Ridiculously fresh raw diver scallops atop tomatillos, dressed with kalamata powder and black lime. Put a scallop/tomatillo bite onto an architectural cracker, insert in mouth, make gutteral mmmming noises as your eyes roll back in your head.
Our order of chicken karaage arrived next. Half a chicken is expertly fried and served with a lemon juice/salt mixture and a side of marinated onions.
I know pork belly has become nearly cliché at this point, but I personally haven't tired of it - and Uchiko's version is well worth putting your pork belly suspicions aside. Done just as pork belly should be - crisp, yet rich and juicy. The roasted carrots that were served with it made my eyes widen with pleasure and delight - and I usually hate cooked carrots.
Also on my permanent to-order list are two of Uchiko's nigiri offerings: the nasu (eggplant) nigiri and the shiver-inducing beef tongue. The eggplant is smooth and silky and pairs so beautifully with the slight vinegar flavor in the sushi rice. And the smoky char to the falling-apart-tender beef tongue is simply revolutionary.
Our last savory selection was the tiger cry roll - grilled wagyu steak with yuzu kosho, toasted rice, and cilantro. The flavor of the beef was wonderful, but based on the two rolls I've had at Uchiko so far, I really think Uchiko shines more in its other offerings.
We closed the deal and the meal with their sweet corn sorbet, served with polenta custard, caramel salt, and lemon. I love that this dessert isn't too sweet, and the way the clear corn and polenta flavors challenge your palate to re-interpret the meaning of dessert.
I think Uchiko has worked out some of the minor kinks that were present during my first visit; between the media reception and the outstanding meal we had there this week, Uchiko just earned itself a place in my list of favorite restaurants in Austin. Everything here - from the service to the space to the food - marries excellence and accessibility in a way that really appeals to me. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love great food, and I enjoy it even more when it's served in a context that doesn't take itself too seriously. Uchiko nails this for me. Big thanks to Tyson Cole and Paul Qui for bringing this wonderful dining experience to Austin.