***Please note: Uchi is take-out only at this point. Descriptions of Uchi’s menu is based on our experienced before the closure of restaurant dining rooms***
Last Sunday, I threw a surprise dinner at Uchi for my friend’s birthday. This had been the first time we had gone because Uchi is one of the toughest restaurants to get into. To put it into context: I made the (original) reservation one month prior to the birthday dinner.
Uchi is a Japanese restaurant in a South Austin bungalow. This non-traditional restaurant opened in 2003 by James Beard winner Chef Tyson Cole. The place itself is intimate. The lights were low in the dining area. The sushi bar was the brightest section of the place, highlighting the fresh seafood in the case. Since SXSW was cancelled earlier this month, the place was busy but not packed, which was a plus for us to experience minor social distancing.
Uchi’s menu offers sushi & sashimi, hot tastings (cooked dishes), cool tastings, makimono (rolled sushi), among other things. We were tempted to go for the six course chef’s tasting, but the market price of $92 deterred us from doing so. Plus, I’m sensitive to spicy foods, my friend can’t eat pork or beef. Our options were limited enough. We ventured to share a variety of plates over hot tea and bottled prickly pear lemonade.
We started off with an appetizer of grilled shishito peppers, served with a thick dark orange sauce that had a pinch of spice. Eating shishito peppers, for those who don’t know, is like playing Russian roulette. The pepper’s spice can range from a sweet mild to full-on burn your tongue spicy. I lasted two peppers before I got spiced out. Yes, I am a wimp when it comes to spicy foods, but let me tell you: my friend who has a high spice tolerance did not tolerate this one pepper. We figured out the overcooked peppers were more mild, so I ate those. 9/10 and 10/10 for the sauce.
Our next plate were two types of sashimi: madai (japanese sea bream) and shime saba (Norwegian mackerel). The dish was decorated beautifully, the colors of the fish contrasting blue and red, thin and thick. The sashimi sat on a bowl of ice, dressed with edible leafy greens, grated daikon, and two sauces. The madai had a dash of lemon zest. The shime saba was dressed in the nude, its shiny skin the star of the show. Both of these pieces of sashimi were excellent. The shime saba was like butter, melting in your mouth. The madai was more thick, rich in flavor, while also melting in your mouth. We wanted more, but the portion was perfect to allow us to fully appreciate the flavors and creatures. 11/10 for both.
Uchi has a daily selection menu, filled with dishes and other sashimi options. There was sea bass, flounder, you name it. We got a piece of the kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) from the daily special menu. We split the piece half and half with our chopsticks. (don’t gawk. You try being someone with high student loan debt or a law student). It was thicker than the madai, but not as flavorful. You can taste how fresh the catch is, which is wonderful. 9/10.
My friend has never tried unagi (eel), which was surprising to me since I always go for unagi at sushi restaurants (it’s cooked and the sauce is addicting). We ordered a piece for him to try. The unagi was over rice and wrapped in seaweed and dressed in the delicious sweet sauce. My friend enjoyed it and was surprised it was cooked. 10/10.
Our next dish was the biendo, off the makimono section. The biendo is a tempura shrimp spring roll with nuoc mam, leafy greens and topped with a grape. It was served with an orange rice vinegar that gave the roll more depth flavor-wise. There were an even number of rolls, so we got to happily share 50/50. The roll was exquisite and the combination between the fried shrimp and the cool grapes proved to be an excellent choice. 10/10.
Our time at Uchi was amazing. It is definitely a special occasion place and not a dining on a budget option. The wait staff was great and explained each component of the dish they brought in. My one wish is to turn the volume down on the music. Great music choices, but it was hard to hear the waiter at times.
I am so happy this was our last hurrah before quarantining. Shortly after, the City of Austin announced that all bars and restaurant dining rooms would be closed until May 1st. Once this is all over and things return to normal, I will definitely be coming back.
Uchi Austin is located at 801 South Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704. For other locations of Uchi, Uchiko, and Loro, check out Hai Hospitality’s website here.