On Friday night, I had the privilege of kicking off this 4th of July weekend with a top-notch “Japanese farmhouse dining and sushi” experience at renowned chef Tyson Cole’s latest culinary venture: Uchiko. Uchiko started off on a generous foot, opening up the restaurant to media and Austin’s foodie community during its first two unofficial weeks in operation before opening to the public tomorrow, Tuesday, July 6th.
On one hand, this provided the restaurant and its staff with an opportunity to get into the groove of delivering refined dining service and dishes to its guests. On the other hand, serving to a crowd that really knows and critiques every bite is a bold move that proves ambition and perfection are driving this gastronomic concept. Since many of Austin’s top food bloggers, critics, and influential media dined at Uchiko over the past two weeks, and for some, more than once, I will let them cover the layered flavors of every dish. After all, that’s what they do best. For example, check out TastingBuds’ photo essay for perfectly captured images and listings of their menu selections. I just realized we had the same idea for our main picture, but I like theirs better! I’ll take a slightly different angle and cover the aspects of our dining adventure that really stood out to me and combined to create what I will call: The Uchiko Experience.
- Two Week Media Soft Opening. As mentioned above, a restaurant that opens its doors not only for a soft opening night or two, but for two complete weeks, to a culinarily critical crowd really shows its dedication to getting every dish and its presentation right.
- Branding. From the moment guests sit down at their place setting complete with chopsticks presented with an Uchiko label, diners are reminded of the quality of service they will receive at every bite.
- Warm towels. When you start off a meal by cleansing your hands, encasing them in a warm, damp cloth, you begin fresh, renewed, and ready to savor.
- Attentive Customer Service. After sitting down at our corner booth for about 60 seconds, I was already equipped with the knowledge that Tim would be our server for the evening. His attention was impeccable, and when our next dish was ready to be served, another server would deliver it to our table, even if he was occupied. This proved that the kitchen was so organized, any server would know which dish should be delivered next, and to which table.
- High Quality of Service. When I mentioned I accidentally got the menu dirty (mostly because large delicious pea pods with chili oil were delivered to us while we were studying the menu to make our selections and I just had to dig in), I was told the menus are replaced daily. Every day, they start off fresh, clean, and ready to serve their next best customer.
- Stand Alone Makimono (Sushi Rolls). What this means is that there are so many layers and flavors in the sushi rolls, that not only do they compliment each other perfectly with each bite, but the sushi rolls can be, and should be, eaten without being masked by the ubiquitous soy sauce/wasabi sushi dipping mixture. I appreciated the roll in its natural state, each ingredient, and the harmony they came together to create. *Our favorite was the Jiiro- smoked atlantic salmon, avocado, preserved lemon, skyr yogurt.
- Tasting Plates and Greens. The experience was enhanced because we were able to order and taste several dishes, including some we wouldn’t typically order in a setting where a single appetizer and a single entree are selected per person. The cool (raw) and hot tasting plates enable diners to try many bites of many dishes in smaller servings. My favorite Greens dish was the Roasted Golden Beet, skyr yogurt, bitter greens, acacia honey. De-lish.
- Something for every taste. The menu is simple enough that you can read through it all and not forget the first item on the menu. However, it is extensive and comprehensive enough that vegetarians can find their delicacies, non-raw eaters can enjoy the Grill offerings, meat eaters can enjoy what they love, and sushi-lovers, you are set.
- Japanese River Rock. Uchi is known for it too. The hot rock that fish or meat can be cooked on. It’s a star at Uchiko too, and I was a big fan. We ordered the Hot tasting plate, Albacore Tataki, with seared Albacore tuna, kaffir lime oil, ponzu sauce. The dish was served to us with the smooth, hot stone in a dish that housed rock salt at the bottom. The flavored square tuna pieces were laid out on a long rectangular dish, ready for each of us to cook our piece to our own liking. It was delicious!
- Sweet Corn Sorbet. The Sweet Corn Sorbet with polenta custard, caramel salt, and lemon was one of the most unique and delicious desserts I have tasted. The sweet corn sorbet was gritty in a good way, and refreshingly chilled. Combined with the polenta custard, this dish was rounded out with tastes of sweet citrus– just bright, refreshing, and memorable! Even if you only visit for dessert, you must try it!