In an unassuming house on South Lamar, you will find culinary treats whose equal I have yet to find in Austin. Uchi is a restaurant that prides itself on using fresh local produce and for having a wide variety of seafood, at least some of which comes from the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. I had been wanting to try Uchi for a long time. We finally decided to go to celebrate both our recent wedding anniversary and my recent departure from my miserable, soul-sucking job. It was meant to be sort of a culinary last-hurrah (at least for a little while).
When we got there at just past 6:30, we were told the wait would be around an hour. Fortunately, during that wait, there was a very pleasant seating area outside in which we could lounge around and have drinks while we waited for our table. The scene, at least at first, seemed entirely too trendy, but there were a few families with kids and less hip-and-happening folks thrown in there for color. At one point during the wait, a couple of servers made the rounds with trays of a sort of dessert sushi. It was tasty enough and pacified the grumbling beast my stomach had become.
Once we were shown inside (at least a full hour later) and seated, a waiter came by promptly to refresh our drinks and talk to us about the menu. Uchi has both a regular permanent menu and a menu that changes daily in response to which ingredients are fresh and (presumably) the chef’s whim. There were so many choices, both cooked and raw, and everything sounded like something we wanted to try. To make our lives easier and to get the most out of our visit, we elected to go with the chef’s tasting menu, which is served for two.
The tasting menu consisted of 10 small courses (one of which was dessert). Once they started coming out, we were treated to a mesmerizing array of dishes, each one seeming to top the one before it. Choosing favorites amongst them is ridiculously difficult - everything was just so good. Here were some of the highlights. The hirame usuzukuri (thinly-sliced flounder with Spanish olive oil, smoked sea salt, yuzu zest, daikon, and crispy quinoa) was a fascinating display of fresh flavors and interesting textures. The aji rei (Japanese horse mackeral, spring onion, yuzupon, ginger crisps, and olive oil) was our first introduction to mackeral and was plated with the fried body of the fish. The tan escabeche (grilled beef tongue, sherry vinegar, nasu, spring onion, parsley) could have passed for pot roast it was so tender and flavorful. The foie hanna (hudson valley foie gras, parsnip truffles, cauliflower, porcinis) was cleverly arranged decadence on a plate. Even the dessert was a surprise on the tongue. We had a coffee panna cotta with a mango “yolk”, shiro white chocolate sorbet, and a coffee soil. The coffee soil consisted of salty coffee-flavored crumbles strewn about the plate. It provided an interesting complement to the sweeter panna cotta and sorbet.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet - the service was impeccable. We were brought each of our courses promptly and had them described completely, and the one time it might have taken a little longer, the staff came out and warned us. Our waiter answered my (sometimes silly) questions with patience and clarity, and when I asked, he even brought me a menu on which he had tagged each of the dishes we’d be served so I could know what I was eating.
If you love food, you must visit this restaurant. The food was delicious, the preparations were inspired, and the service was fantastic - certainly well worth the wait. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate important milestones than a great meal.