One of the BarFlys traveled to Austin, Texas recently to attend a work-related business conference. With limited time in a great food city, we had to make sure we chose well. Yesterday’s post was on Barley Swine and today’s post is about our other fine meal in Austin at Uchiko, Owner-Chef Tyson Cole’s excellent Japanese restaurant. Many will probably think that Japanese was a strange choice for dining in Austin, but the four of us (including two vegans), were completely satisfied with the experience noting that the food served is different than most Japanese restaurants typically serving tempura and sushi.
Owner-Chef Tyson Cole has trained for more than 10 years under Japanese sushi masters in Austin, New York and Tokyo, Japan. He brought his passion for Japanese food when he first opened Uchi in 2003, and then with it’s sister restaurant Uchiko about two years ago. It’s no wonder that both restaurants are considered the best in Austin; the menu is varied with many choices including fish flown in from Japan’s Tsukiji market often, while also keeping an eye on providing sustainable food.
While perusing the menu, we started with an order of edamame and fried Brussels Sprout leaves, normally flavored with fish sauce, but made vegan with soy flavoring instead. We also ordered a beer and a bottle of the excellent Otokayama Tokubetsu Junmai to pair with the meal:
The menu is fairly large with several sections: cold and hot tastings (small plates), greens (vegetables), sashimi/sushi/rolls, a specials menu and two different chef’s omakase (tasting menu). We decided to go a la carte and order several things off the menu where our waitress was kind enough to help us navigate. The vegans ordered the roasted golden beets from the “Greens” section of the menu. Normally it would come with some yogurt, but the dairy-free version offered sliced roasted beets with bitter greens and sweetened with some honey. Resembling a plate of sashimi, the beets made them very happy:
The carnivore side ordered the fried “idiot fish” which came with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Also known as the kinky fish or idiot cod, it is so named because of it’s large head and eyes (shouldn’t that make it smarter?). In either case, the perfectly fried fish easily flaked off with a fork. Almost the entire head was edible as well because of the deep frying process:
The sushi is very fresh and excellent — we ordered a couple of pieces of hotate (scallop, avocado, black sesame seeds, spicy sauce) and uni (sea urchin, basil, sea salt) were not typical sushi preparations with the added ingredients, making each bite that much more interesting. It should be noted that although soy sauce was available as a tableside condiment, there is no wasabi or gari (pickled ginger) served or to be found. The sushi is served precisely as they should be eaten:
Not something we have seen at other sushi restaurants, the boquerones (Spanish white anchovy, bottarga, gremolata) was really interesting. The gremolata, made with lemon zest, parsley and garlic, made it taste like a Mediterranean version of sushi:
We wanted to try a roll from the Makimono part of the menu, and our server helpfully suggested that we try the p-38 made with amberjack (yellowtail), grilled negi (Japanese scallion) and avocado. Swipes of yuzu kosho (Japanese citrus condiment) and a sweet nagi sauce were available for additional flavoring:
Vegan “sushi” is also available with cooked nasu, perfectly grilled eggplant flavored with sweet lemon miso:
The Jar Jar Duck (hopefully not named after the annoying Star Wars character) featured duck in a jar with candied kumquats and endive. The jar arrived containing a lid and applewood smoke:
The contents of the jar included duck three ways: confit, breast and broth. The candied kumquats and the vegetables were as delicious as the protein items were:
As our last savory dish, we did try the Bacon Tataki made with crispy skinned Kurobuta pork belly. Flavored with black lime, an espresso fish caramel sauce and topped with an insanely good sweet onion chips, this dish was worth the visit just by itself:
We were intrigued by seeing a corn dessert on the menu and had to try it. The sweet corn sorbet accompanied a polenta custard flavored with caramel salt and some lemon. It was a great dessert made with typically savory ingredients:
Our interest was also piqued by the fried milk dessert with various forms of milk: chocolate, toasted and as an iced sherbet. The fired milk dumplings were interesting as condensed milk oozed out as the pouches were split with a fork:
It is easy to see why Uchiko shows up on many top Austin restaurant lists. The sushi is very fresh with interesting additions, and the cooked items were all unique and interesting. The whole experience was worth the visit and a cab ride from downtown Austin.