After reading this month’s Texas issue of my favorite food mag, Saveur, I knew I had to try their top picks during my summer trip to Austin. Strangely, most of Saveur’s TX recommendations focused on the extremely traditional vaquero or Tex/Mex foods of Houston and Dallas, rather than the more worldly and cosmopolitan Austin cuisine. In fact, there was only one Austin restaurant that made it into the entire issue. Of course, I had to eat there.
Plus, who couldn’t get excited about the implications of Japanese/Texan fusion? Giggles erupted when I found Foi Gras nigiri on their menu. I went for the chef’s signature tasting menu. It was my birthday, and I wanted to get on the decadent express, just sit back and allow their most prized menu to unroll before me like fist-sized traincars carrying loads of sushi.
Uchi is the brainchild of executive chef and sushi master Tyson Cole, who aims to expand Austin’s sushi template, offer some inventive cuisine, and give them something to talk about.
My traverse across the smooth terrain of their menu began with the Crudo, number one on their tasting menu, which sections cool items off from hot, creating a successful contrast in the unrelenting sauna of a Texas summer evening. The crudo is merely thick slices of raw sea bass drizzled with orange oil, garlic and black pepper and a citrus vinaigrette. In short, this dish was clean, cool, and mouth watering. We scooped fresh, sweet, citrus-laden fish up with our chopsticks and were left panting and slack-jawed.
Next we received the Machi Cure, maplewood-smoked baby yellowtail with yucca chips, asian pear, marcona almonds and garlic brittle. Probably my favorite dish of them all. Machi Cure offered the perfect blend of Texas home cooking: a crisp, fried yucca and crunchy garlic brittle. Top this with soft baby yellowtail and the silky, eastern flavors of marcona almond and you have found a little piece of Lone Star nirvana.
Partner-in-dine ordered the fried green tomato katsu, and to use a classic southern expression, we ’bout died. I have never sampled a crunchier version of this southern classis appetizer. Much like a certain fast food chain we all know, the sauce was special.
For our hot course, we received the Kona Kapachi, pacific amberjack sashimi with crispy rice, local farm egg, and sweet soy broth. All this was deposited onto a hot stone bowl and left to cook before our very eyes. Amberjack is slightly stronger than I prefer, but the presentation was marvelous and I loved feeling rice crisp up like a breakfast cereal in my mouth.
My friend ordered spare rib, seared with tiny okra chips and apple. This dish also pleased us to great end, but was not in my category of favorites. After this they presented their signature dessert, deconstructed on the plate. A dark chocolate sorbet with a tobacco custard and homemade chocolate syrup. Wondrous.
If you are ever in Austin, and I think you should be, don’t miss the inspired inventions over at Uchi. Just make sure to get your reservation a few weeks in advance, because the crowds could slow you down, and I like my slow food to come fast.