Friday, April 3, 2009

The Uchi Omakase Experience

We celebrated mum's birthday last summer at Uchi without knowing what to expect. We've never been to or heard of Uchi (Remember? I'm still new to the Austin food scene). Plus, my parents are Japanese food traditionalists. Executive Chef Tyson Cole's menu and Chef de Cuisine Paul Qui, who prepared our dinner, took us for a culinary ride that tingled, tickled, and awakened our taste buds.

This is going to be a long post since we had a 10-course omakase plus amuse bouche and 2 dishes outside of the prix-fixe.

I ordered for my mom the Choya Plum Wine Spritzer. My friends will attest that I'm far from a wine connoisseur. I can never drink one full glass of anything with alcohol, so I judge the quality of alcoholic beverages by my ability to consume it. This outranks everything on the list of alcoholic beverages I've tried, given that it's a very short list. The only other spritzer that tops the list is a French sparkling peach that's like 2 euros from Monoprix.
Choya Plum Wine Spritzer
1. Amuse Bouche: So many flavors in such a tiny bite! This was an unusual amuse bouche because the flavors were very pronounced (especially for such an unassuming set of ingredients) for something that is supposed to ease you into the meal. I wanted a gigantic bowl of greens topped with these ingredients for lunch one day!
Amuse Bouche-red beet gelee, julienned breakfast radish, pickled garbanzo beans, lemon vinaigrette
2. Hirame Usuzukuri: I've never been fond of sashimi. The idea of eating fish that tastes like jell-o dipped in soy sauce and wasabi always made me think of the chills I get when I eat something that looks like it should be savory but is in fact sweet. This was the beginning of my semi-conversion. That's right, I said, "semi" because I'll only enjoy raw fish à la Uchi or something comparable. This was light, refreshing, save a couple of right punches. The lingering taste of the amuse bouche carried over to this dish masterfully.

Hirame Usuzukuri-thinly sliced flounder, spanish olive oil, smoked sea salt, yuzu zest, daikon, crispy quinoa

3. Nairagi Toro: My favorite dish of the night. When the waiter walked in our direction with this dish, we thought that it was a cooked dish because there was a smoky aroma that hovered over the plate. The fish, definitely wasn't smoked. We suspect that it's the shishito pepper puree. I love this because it threw me off guard. From the looks of it, I was expecting another light and refreshing dish, but the nairagi toro had body and substance. Throwing in yellow watermelon also won some brownie points with me.
Nairagi Toro-Hawaiian billfish, ugly ripe tomatoes, shaved yellow watermelon, shishito pepper puree, sundried tomatoes
4. Aji Viche: I don't think I've ever had Spanish jack. I didn't like how flavor slides off the fish; the jack joins tofu as one of the few flavor retardant foods. I liked the texture of eating it with its flash-fried bones though.

Aji Viche-Japanese Spanish jack, oven dried cherry tomato, spring onions, ichiban dashi, flash fried bones of the spanish jack, breakfast radish

5. Hotate Tataki: I would have preferred less fiddle heads because its bitterness was enhanced by the citrus. The scallops with everything else on the plate tasted warm and comforting, especially after the Spanish jack.

Hotate Tataki-seared maine diver scallops, fiddle head, citrus confit, fennel marmalade, nori-green tea cloud

6. Kare Sake: This may be colorless compared to the preceding dishes, but this was the most mature dish of this omakase set. The halibut was uncharacteristically tender. The dish focused on the sweetness of the fish. Something about this dish reminds me of a homecooked meal at a rural fishing village. I guess I'm trying to say that this dish felt intimate.
Kare Sake-sake lees-poached dayboat halibut, melted leeks, fresh garbanzo beans, karashi mustard
7. Tombo Crudo: This is my best friend's favorite dish. This certainly was good, but for me, the tuna somehow had that same natural ability to repel flavors like the Spanish jack even whilst soaking in the sauce and mingling with shallots! If I were more of a purist, I would have appreciated the freshness of the tuna. But this review is coming from someone who's timid about raw fish.
Tombo Crudo-seared Hawaiian albacore, pomegranate zu, pickled cipollinis, california cherries, sweet chili
8. Opaka Paka Ume: The skin was especially nice and crisp. By this time, I was already worried about the meal ending.
Opaka Paka Ume-grilled snapper, nectarines, ume, parsley cream
10. Tako Pops: (added to the omakase) This was super fun to eat. I wanted more.
Tako Pops-sesame oil marinated baby octopus
11. Foie Nigiri: This is my 2nd favorite dish. It's ranked second only because of the fact that there's foie gras, and it made me feel guilty. This tasted like a Japanese BBQ-ed rice balls.
Foie Nigiri-hudson valley foie gras, chicken crackling, sansho, lime juice, radish

12. Wagyu Tomorokoshi: I cringe at big chunks of fat, and they were expectedly present all over this steak. The parts where the meat was marbled with fat were brilliant.
Wagyu Tomorokoshi-grilled kobe-style ribeye, bluefoot mushrooms, baby eggplant, ramps, miso-corn butter

13. Bacon Steakie: (added to the omakase) This tasted very similar to my mom's braised pork belly, which is fab so this wasn't as mind-blowing as the other dishes
Bacon Steakie-twice baked kurobuta pork belly with green apple onion salad and Indonesian soy sauce

14. Cuvee Panna Cotta: The fleur de sel gives this dessert a hint of savory intrigue.
Cuvee Panna Cotta-cuvee panna cotta, mango gelee, shiro chocolate sorbet, coffee soil with fleur de sel, mango & "yolk"
I would dine here every month if I can afford it! It pains me to write this review because I know I'll have to wait for another celebratory excuse to eat here again.

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