Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Austin - Each time I visit a new city, I always ask locals and research about the best eats in the city. I spend most of my free time watching cooking shows and culinary competition to know the kind of food that the city offers. I rarely (almost never) go for food that I can find in Montreal - typically French, Italian and maple-bacon flavoured gelato/doughnuts. I watched all the seasons of Top Chef. I recalled very well Season 9 in which Paul Qui won this season which was aired in san Antonio and Austin, Texas. I have a strong admiration for his creativity throughout the season. His use of Asian ingredients and transform them into something refined and sophisticated is just remarkable.

Uchiko is a recipient of the prestigious James Beard award, and I did not hesitate to reserve early. This is my first experience dining in a James Beard award winning restaurant. 

In Montreal, a major issue is how to deal with no-shows. It seems that Uchiko found a nifty way to deal with this situation; only half of the tables can be reserved online or by call. The other half gets filled by walk-in customers. In case of no-shows, it can be filled with walk-in customers.

I was seated at the sushi bar and was greeted by three sushi chefs who were my chefs throughout the whole evening. Luckily, my neighbouring diner was Patrick, one of the front-of-the-house staff from Ramen Tatsuya. We had a wonderful chat about the Austin's food scene throughout the whole night.

To my surprise, my meal did not cost over $50. Most of the order came from the happy hour menu where I was able to afford a variety of dishes.

Our sushi chefs are knowledgeable and take good care of their customers' need. They know how you should begin a meal, and how you should end your meal. They gave great recommendations.

I started off with something light: a large bowl of Brussels sprouts. It is a whole meal for only $3 - perfectly charred seasoned to the right amount of acidity. Texans sure knows their Brussels sprouts. Sadly, this ingredient is mostly underappreciated by many people. I next chose the p-38 roll (japanese yellow­tail, avocado, yuzu kosho, grilled negi, cilantro) - light and flavourful accommodated with a sweet dipping sauce. Then arrives the koviche - pieces of glistening scallops complimented with tangy tomatillo, salty powdered kalamata olives, zesty black lime and sail-shaped chip for scooping. My last roll was the komaki - a vegetarian roll stuffed with crunchy gobo root, pickled peppers, romaine and lemon miso sauce garnished with a generous amount of basil, cilantro and mint - a very herby roll.

Uni Nigiri
Komaki Roll - Romaine, Gobo, Pickled Red Pepper, Lemon Miso
I ordered a good number of nigiris to taste. I started off with the avocado nigiri drizzled with tamari (an aged soy sauce without wheat), topped with a tiny amount of yuzu kosho. I think this is my first time having avocado in the form of a nigiri. The idea using avocado is for its rich, fatty taste which replicate the taste profile of fish. Next was the madai - clean with a delicate sweet aroma complemented with the fragrance of meyer lemon zest and shiso leaf. Next up was the aka nameru (beef tongue) - very well-prepared, uber-tender. 

Finally I ordered two luxurious nigiris. This is my first time trying both ingredients: sea urchin (uni) and wagyu beef. I heard how wonderful these ingredients are that I should try it at least once to have a sense of what it tastes like. The sea urchin here is sweet, briney and creamy, similar to crab tomalley. Coming back to Montreal, I tried sea urchin at two sushi joints, both time, they do not taste as fresh as the one at Uchiko. I have been told by a chef, the moment uni tastes slightly weird, it is likely that is not fresh. There are no words for the wagyu beef, it literally melts in your mouth.

Finally, both of my neighbouring diners and the sushi chefs recommend the infamous fried milk. It is good interpretation of a deconstructed cereal. It is a dessert that combines disparate textures and temperatures, using milk and corn flakes in several possible form. 

Not a single dish was a disappointment. It was a memorable dining experience with entertaining sushi chefs in a James Beard restaurant. I would happily go back if one of the sushi chefs decide to open this kind of restaurant in Montreal...

Avocado, Yuzu Kosho, Tamari
Aka Nameru - Beef Tongue, Yuzu Kosho
Wagyu Beef Nigiri

Fried Milk - chocolate milk, toasted milk, iced milk sorbet and corn flakes two ways
My sushi chefs and Patrick from Ramen Tatsu-ya

4200 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX
(512) 916-4808
Uchiko on Urbanspoon
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