Uchiko, the new "little sister" to Uchi, did not disappoint. For those not familiar with Uchi, it's fusion-Japanese cuisine creates lengthy waits, even at typical non-peak times, and they are continually at the top of Austin's restaurant lists. I think it has some new competition!
My parents were in town for a visit, and having enjoyed Uchi in the past, we were eager to try the new progeny. We had a 7:30 reservation on Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, and another friend joined us. We were warmly greeted, and told by the host that it would be just a couple minutes, as the current occupants of our table had paid out, but had not yet vacated. It gave us the opportunity to survey the front room/bar space. The designer used a variety of old drawers, post office box doors, and shelving to create a wall partition, separating the bar from the main dining room. The front room has table seating as well as bar seating. The main dining room has tables as you first walk in, booths along one wall, the kitchen and sushi bar along the opposite wall, and a large private room at the rear. We were seated at a booth with a good view of the kitchen's hustle and bustle.
Our server was Ashley, who proved to be very well spoken on the dishes and the wine. She made sure to encourage the "family-style" method of serving they prefer, which was totally fine with us. She could provide a time frame for some of the dishes that required fried components as they took longer to prepare, and easily suggested an item or two to tide us over while we waited for them, but wasn't pushy about it at all. My father asked about the Treana Viognier, and she was able to provide a good description, and assure us it was not too dry or oaky. It proved to be a good pairing with the food, and really became more full-bodied and a hint spicy as it opened up. I should add the food runners were also very well-versed in the dishes they brought to the table. All the staff seems exceptionally trained.
They started us off with a cucumber amuse bouche to cleanse the palate; simple and clean. And with that began the parade of foods.
Bacon sen: Berkshire pork belly, with a great caramelization, served with an apple puree and apple "kimchi". Loved the contrast of the sweet char and the savoriness of the pork with the sweet, lightly spicy apples. One of the most incredible pieces of pork belly I have ever had.
Toledo Roll: big eye tuna with chorizo, fried almonds & garlic. Incredibly tasty, though might be nice to have the almonds inside the roll for more textural contrast.
Wagyu beef hot rock: very thin slices of wagyu, drizzed with oil, shallots (?), kaffir leaves, and salt, you place a piece over an incredibly hot stone and cook to your desired likeness. I just do it for a few seconds on each side for a nice rare beef bite. Wonderfully tender, melt in your mouth beef, and the kaffir added a really nice and somewhat unexpected depth. You can see the marbling in the picture of the beef -- fat equals flavor! (Rock at 12 o'clock, beef at 3 o'clock.)
Kai Jiru: Atlantic mussels,with cherry tomatoes & tomato water, celery and basil. This was the one dish, that while tasty, I thought something was lacking. It needed some bit of acid to really make it pop. (At 9 o'clock.)
Tempura onion rings: some of the lightest, crispiest and most delicious, ever! I had two small ones.... I wanted more! (At 6 o'clock.)
Uchi Salad: baby romaine lettuce leaves that are topped with a bit of spice (I can't remember what Ashley said they were dusted with) and you can dip them in a edamame and jalapeno puree. Very unique and fun! (And addicting!)
Chicken karaage: fried chicken that's tossed with a bit of sansho pepper (also known in Chinese cuisine as Szechuan peppercorn), and had a great lemony dipping sauce with it. The combo of chicken, lemon sauce, and fresh mint leaves was a terrific savory/lightly tart/fresh bite. Side note: Executive Chef Paul Qui also runs the East Side King trailer, where they do Asian fusion; they do a karaage dish with thigh meat & sriracha mayo that's incredible; my previous post on it here.)
Avofry roll: a lightly-fried vegetarian roll with avocado, romaine & gobo, and a light lemon miso sauce. Great crunchiness to it, without it feeling like a "fried" dish.
If you're willing to try fantastic -- in both taste and preparation -- but not traditional, Japanese foods, Uchi and Uchiko are great places to try. Make a reservation and go. Neither place is inexpensive, and though you may not leave feeling full, you will be satisfied.