Uchi (www.uchiaustin.com) is consistently voted as one of the top five restaurants in Austin, if not the #1 in most published reviews. The food has become legendary -- it's Japanese modern with flair; Executive Chef Tyson Cole was named one of Food & Wine Magazine's Top 10 Chefs nationwide in 2005.
My parents and I have dined there before, and for his birthday, my father wanted to go back. So a reservation was made about 3 weeks in advance (yes, even for a Monday night) through their online system. Just a side note, I made the reservation online, and received an automated confirmation. The confirmation was again sent out on Sunday, AND one of the hostesses called on Sunday to ensure our arrival. My mother thought this was a bit much....for the top rated restaurant in the city, I get it. They can easily fill the table were it to be vacant.
We arrived a few minutes early for our 7 pm sitting, and they seated us immediately. They have both the regular menu, and a list of nightly specials. It took a while to decide! Everything is served family style, on fairly minimalistic, but impeccably designed plates. The food started with the crudo (exquisite -- buttery sea bass with citrus vinaigrette), scallop hot rock (thin slices of diver scallop that you sear yourself for a few seconds per side, with orange oil), brie sencha (who knew "Japanese food" consisted of fried brie? yum!), Japanese pumpkin tempura that had a really light tempura batter, done with soda water (which helps keep the batter light and effervescent, as I explained to my mother!), and the ika sansai, an extremely tender marinated squid salad with what I think were long angel-hair like strands of hot house cuke and maybe some daikon. Did I mention how tender that squid was?
We each ordered an item off the specials menu as our "main" course. My father's arrived first -- omaaru ebi, a cold dish of Maine lobster (claw meat), Thai chili, cukes, butter pear, and a lemon sorbet. It was his birthday, and while he offered, he was very content with it, so we didn't try any of it! Mom got the aka yaki, a whole rouget (a Mediterranean fish, about 8 inched long, tip to tail; similar to a redfish) with lobster mushrooms, figs, tamarind & grapefruit sauce. When we had previously asked what rouget was, our waitress informed us that it was a very smelling dish -- warning us, but also saying it was delicious. It was, indeed. The grilled fish went wonderfully with the figs in particular. I had the okai maki, a tempura-fried opah roll with a yuzo miso sauce, avocado, and pinenuts for garnish on top. While the menu didn't say, we're pretty sure there was green chile in there too! These were tasty, but maybe not quite as good as the other items. The pitchfork roll (always one of my favorites) with its lovely wagyu beef & tiny crispy leek slivers arrived around the same time. All of this was had with a fantastic bottle of wine my father picked out -- a 2001 Rolly Gassmann Vin D'alsace Auxerrois, light grapefruit, mineraly, extremely drinkable, and complimented everything we ate. Including the dessert -- a mango pannacotta with coffee crumbs around around it.
It was truly a fantastic meal; our service was attentive but not obtrusive. Our server was able to answer the questions we had about the menu. When we left around 9 pm, there were a couple open tables and a few seats at the sushi bar, but things had been pretty full most of the night. Uchi is always a delight...until we meet again!