Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Austin Restaurant Week Spring 2011: Uchi

When I attended the "Uchi, The Cookbook" signing party a couple of months ago, I was overjoyed to score a $25 gift card when I purchased a signed copy of Chef Tyson Cole's book!  What better way to use it than during Austin Restaurant Week

Austin Restaurant Week Prix Fixe Menu and Sake Social Menu!

I made early dinner reservations because I wanted to be able to get home early to do a boat load of school work.  This turned out to be another great deal because knowing how I can never be satisfied with just 3 dishes at Uchi or Uchiko (see the ridiculous amounts of food consumed during Sake Social and Austin Restaurant Week Fall 2010 at Uchiko and 2008 Chef's Tasting at Uchi), I'm bound to exceed the prim and proper 3 course meal.  I unabashedly added 4 sake social hour dishes to 3 orders of the Austin Restaurant Week prix fixe dinner so that our party of 3 shared 13 dishes.  Yes...3 courses just turned into 13 courses.  I have no self-control.  I got an inkling that this was a wee bit insane when the waiter thought that we wanted to share one order of the prix fixe menu in addition to the sake social dishes.  Nope.  That's not how I roll.

Even with all this food, the bill came out to be a 1/6 the amount I paid for the chef's tasting for a party of 4 back in 2008.  An aweome bargain!  And yet we managed to eat a feast that Louis the XIV would undoubtedly envy.

Zero Sen - yellowtail, avocado, shallot, yuzu, golden roe, cilantro 

Sakana Carpaccio - sliced daily selection of fish, citrus, olive oil 

We started off with the Zero Sen Roll with a sweet and spicy tamarind sauce and the Sakana Carpaccio. Although I've never had the Zero Sen Roll, it tasted familiar and comforting, but did not have the "wow" factor of other makimonos I've had at Uchi, like the Pitchfork (wagyu beef, avocado, caviar, leek crisp) or the Toledo Makimono (big eye tuna, chorizo, fried almonds, grilled garlic) at Uchiko. On the otherhand, I don't think every dish at Uchi has to have a "wow" factor to be considered a great dish. The quality of the ingredients and execution of the dish matter even more than creativity, and I think this is what makes Uchi so consistent. The Sakana Carpaccio was a simple and elegant dish.  The flavor is crisp, cool, and clean.  It's the perfect way to wake up your appetite.

Walu Walu - oak-grilled escolar, candied citrus, yuzupon, myoga 

The next dish was astonishingly amazing.  This teensy weensy, humble-looking "main course" was impeccably cooked.  The escolar was super crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.  I loved how the super citrusy yuzupon was used instead of regular soy sauce.  This was my absolute favorite of the evening.

Hamachi Baby Yellowtail, (I forgot the type of fish of the sushi in the middle), and the Hotate Spicy Scallop with Avocado

The be-lated first course (trio of sushi)  from the Austin Restaurant Week menu came after the luscious grilled escolar.  Fresh and simple, but it's too bad that this dish isn't conducive to sharing.

Hama Chili - yellowtail sashimi, thai chili, orange

Machi Cure - maplewood-smoked hamachi, yucca, asian pear, marcona almonds, white soy

Next up were the Hama Chili and the Machi Cure from the Sake Social Menu, which turned out to be a great pairing of yellowtail sashimi, one tangy and spicy and the other smokey, crunchy, nutty, and sweet.  I noticed that Uchi is partial to using yellowtail.  I think 6 of the 13 dishes that we ordered had yellowtail!  No complaints here, just an observation.  Well, I guess it's a great occurrence because I just learned from Sushi Encyclopedia that yellowtail is considered a luxury fish!

Bacon Steakie - pork belly, watermelon radish, citrus, thai basil

I had a version of Uchi's Bacon Steakie (twice baked kurobuta pork belly with green apple onion salad and Indonesian soy sauce) in the past, and thus thought that it would be the same.  The one I had in 2008 was sweet and caramel-ish.  Surprise, surprise!  This one is baked or fried to a flavorful crunch on the exterior, and the heavier preparation is countered the flavors of citrus and Thai basil.  I'll take either version anyday. 

Uchiviche - salmon, striped bass, yellow bell pepper, tomato, cilantro 

We never had the Uchiviche, which appears to be a staple dish at Uchi, so we went ahead and ordered it from the Sake Social menu.  This was delicious, but I preferred the complexity of the Machi Cure or the clean taste of the Sakana Carpaccio or Hama Chile.  The salmon had a rich, buttery texture as opposed to the sleek Sakana Carpaccio and Hama Chile.

Hamachi Nabe - baby yellowtail, koshi hikari rice, farm egg, soy broth 

The Hamachi Nabe smelled divine even from afar.  I was taking deep breaths to savor the aroma until the last spoonful of rice.

Shag Roll - salmon, sun-dried tomato, avocado, squid ink sumiso 

Craving one more rice dish, we squeezed in one last savory dish, the Shag Roll, from the Sake Social menu.  This was a popular move because our server was balancing 4 wooden planks of Shag Rolls when he set our order on the table.  This is fried makimono done right!  The batter was thin and crunchy rather than bready, soggy, and chewy at the majority of other establishments.  Forget the nasty "Dynamite Rolls" out there.

Jizake Crème Caramel with brown butter sorbet, ginger consommé

Lemon Gelato with pistachios, white balsamic, golden beet 

Coffee Panna Cotta with mango ‘yolk,’ white chocolate sorbet

Ah, dessert.  Uchi's pastry chef, Philip Speer, is a genius.  His creations never taste or look like their names or menu descriptions.  It's always a gastronomic surprise and delight.  I enjoy the guessing game before the dessert arrives in trying to picture how it will be plated, and I relish in the twists and turns of flavors.  We are so complacent about our dessert expectations - desserts are sweet, duh!  Well, I get a wake-up call everytime I taste the desserts here.  There's always some other flavor that balances out the sweet.  The most prominent example is the Coffee Panna Cotta, which is accented with an earthy chocolate and coffee "soil" that is speckled with something that tastes savory.

The lemon gelato was my favorite but is perhaps the more straightforward dish.  I was able to pick up the subtle sweetness of the beet from the glace, but I would've liked to taste more of the golden beet coulis. 

The most impressive dessert dish we had that evening was the Jizake Creme Caramel.  The brown butter sorbet floored us.  It really tastes 100% like brown butter!  On top of the tremendous deliciousness of the sorbet that was sitting on top of some crushed and toasted almonds, the server poured over it ginger consommé.  While cooing over the sorbet, we almost forgot about the star of this dish, the creme caramel!  When we finally got to it, we were treated to one of the smoothest creme caramel (or of anything in the flan category). 

I can't wait to come back for my graduation dinner!

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