We started calling as soon as reservations became available in mid-January and were able to secure a Saturday night spot about a month later. To suggest this much-anticipated offshoot of the very popular Austin restaurant has the foodies flocking is an understatement. And, judging by the wait the evening we were there, if you don’t have a reservation, don’t bother, unless you have a lot of patience and wear comfortable shoes. There’s not a large bar, so it fills up quickly. Our reservation was honored within 20 minutes which we considered pretty good under the circumstances.
The menu is extensive and, other than the sushi and sashimi offerings, while describing the ingredients, the menu doesn’t provide a lot of insight as to the dish. Our server was very accommodating, but he likely didn’t have the time to review each of the menu items in detail. Given this was our first visit, we decided to go all out and order the Omikase 10-course tasting menu ($180, serving two, no alcohol included). Most of the items were from the daily specials. Virtually every dish was quite amazing. Each dish was artfully served with interesting culinary twists. And at least a couple of the dishes were, to borrow from a popular Food Network show, the best thing we ever ate (at least in recent memory).
We started with an innovative beet salad that included icelandic yoghurt and both fresh and dehydrated beets. This was followed by five raw courses — kusshi oysters (wonderfully briny with lychee granite), mejina (opaleye) and isaki (threeline grunt) nigiri, and flounder sashimi. The raw items were pristinely fresh (we didn’t touch the soy sauce or wasabi all night), with the candied quinoa adding an interesting twist to the flounder. We were then served an item from the regular menu — Yokai Berry — salmon cubes with blueberries, fried kale and yuzu — a refreshing flavor combination.
While we expected nothing less than ultimate freshness in the raw fish offerings, we weren’t sure what to expect from the other cold and hot menu items. Diver scallops were slightly overcooked, one of the only missteps we noted all evening. We’d heard the Jar Jar Duck was amazing — crispy duck breast, with duck confit, served in a jar of which, when opened, rosemary smoke wafts out. We found this a little gimmicky and not as impressive as we’d hope (particularly noting the $30 price tag for not much duck in the jar). But we couldn’t have been more thrilled with the next two daily special items — halibut and wagyu short rib. The halibut, cooked sous vide, was sauced with a shrimp coconut milk and garnished with candied onion. The flesh of the fish was as moist and rich as any halibut we’d eaten. But we were practically crying when we tried the short rib. The waiter said it had braised 72 hours, which we think was, again, via sous vide; but how the chef accomplished the tender, rare, smoky melt in your mouth goodness might better remain a mystery so we can continue to dream about the dish. Our dessert course — carrot rose ice cream (not one of the better uses of carrots), sided by mini creme brulees and sitting on top of marcona almonds — was pleasant enough, but the components didn’t seem to work together.
uchi is not just sushi and sashimi. Whether you call it Asian fusion or something else, the creativity, skill and attention to detail goes beyond most anything we’ve seen in Houston. It comes with a price tag; uchi is not an inexpensive evening out, although the prices are more modest for the tempura items and rolls. Portion sizes are small; uchi’s plates are tapas sized, designed for the table to share a number of dishes. So, go forth and share. Just be sure to call ahead.