Tuesday, September 23, 2008


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!

A few local eats

Sunday, we poached around the house all day, and watched the Redskins beat the Cardinals. Late afternoon, we decided to head out to Spicewood (35 miles to the west of Austin) for some good ol' Texas BBQ.

Opie's (www. opiesbarbecue.lbu.com) is one of the best places around, and it doesn't hurt that they've got a new building with lots of seating, and friendly service. As we parked and walked to the entrance, you could see the smoke from the outdoor pit billowing in the air, and the aroma of fresh roasted pig wafted our way. We got the prime rib & a half rack of baby backs; a little spicy corn, cole slaw, and pinto beans accompanied our meal. The prime rib was great -- lightly pink in the middle, and served with an optional au jus and horseradish. The ribs were flavorful and tender, but this rack was a bit on the fatty side. They had a healthy dose of spice rub on them, as did the lightly vinegary BBQ sauce. I've had better ribs there before, but this won't deter me from coming back!

For lunch on Monday, we went to an old Austin standby, Kerby Lane -- www.kerbeylanecafe.com It's a 24 hour place, with breakfast served all day, and good salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc. Dad got the very dense gingerbread pancakes -- 2 flapjacks, about 10 inches in diameter, and a good 1/2 inch thick. Mom got salmon tacos, and I had a ceasar salad with grilled chicken. I asked that they not put too much dressing on the salad, and it was perfect! It was a really good salad, that could be made better if they made their own croutons, instead of using a commercial one.

Bison Pot Roast

I am a little behind in doing some writing. My parents have been here for a visit since Saturday afternoon. I had told them I would cook dinner on Saturday night, and what would they like? Dad wanted pot roast. Now I like a good pot roast, but I have never actually made one. So I spent the past week consulting a few recipes, and found one from Gourmet, via www.epicurious.com that called for a 4 lb beef chuck roast to feed 8 - 10 people; I'll be cutting that recipe in half! When I was at my friendly Central Market Westgate, I saw a bison chuck, with good marbling, but not the hunks of fat that the beef had.

I made it on Friday night, as it needed almost 3 hours to braise. At some point, I'll remember to take pictures of these things as they are being made and/or finished, and not a few days later. Whatever. It was a very tasty dinner, complete with roast garlic mashed 'tators and green beans. The bison had a nice flavor to it -- this one was a lot like beef actually; a pretty dense piece of meat, but it wasn't dried out. Though the bison had a LOT less fat than the beef, it still had enough to render, though the bacon that gets sauted at the beginning also helps with the fat (and flavor!). Oh, and a kick-ass key lime pie, if I don't say so myself! Picture taken a couple of days after the fact....still cold from the fridge, but looking tasty!