Uchiko – Austin, TX
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
When someone decides to smash in your car window when you're in Seattle, you have a shit day. A SHIT day. We are talking a 4 hours waiting for cops followed an ugly crying marathon at the UT Counseling Center type of day.
God BLESS friends. Rachel came unprompted to my apartment and picked me up to go to the counseling center, where the LCSW and I decided I needed to go to a happy place. Where else but my favorite sushi haunt in Austin? Rachel had the same idea while she waited for me, and told me she would take me out to sushi. Best friends are the best.
Uchiko Uchiko Uchiko. I love this stupid place, and I have made friends with pretty much all of the bartenders, and they regularly provide me with an insane amount of "presents" of free food. Doesn't hurt that the food, both from the kitchen and the sushi bar, is magnificent. Wonder why I keep coming back?
I was dismayed to learn that none of my bartender friends were working that night, so we found a table next to the mural with a FABULOUS server, Lauren. We loved her. And they had a new illustration on the mural!
We started in happy hour, which they call "Sake Social," and pillaged the selections on the happy hour menu. Uchiko has a screaming deal of a happy hour, so we got a whole bunch of stuff to fill our empty tummies before moving to the regular menu. Uchiko offers a handful of nigiri, maki, raw and cooked appetizers, and drinks for happy hour, all priced below ten bucks.
I ordered a "Gingo Gin," which was a cocktail of sake, tonic, Kaffir lime, and juniper. It was refreshing and delicious, and I always appreciate Uchiko's ability to make quality cocktails without spirits! Rachel ordered her standard chenin blanc that is a toothsome addition to happy hour that we have a tendency to revisit.
The first thing to come out was supposed to be grilled broccoli with furikake (Japanese spice), shiitake mushrooms, and chicken skin, but instead we wound up with someone else's curried cauliflower with golden raisins and gruyère foam. It was so good that I forgot to take a picture, and so good that we pretended we had mistaken the cauliflower florets for the broccoli florets that we ordered. Fortunately for us, the broccoli arrived as well, and was exceptionally smoky, almost like a cigar, with a crunchy, fatty umami from the chicken skin, complimented by the shiitakes, and spice from the furikake.
Next to arrive was some maki: first, a salmon, avocado, and jalapeño maki, and then a wagyu beef, cucumber, and cabbage roll with sesame miso sauce. Both were delicious, but I particularly appreciated the crunchy, spicy jalapeño in the first roll. The sweet sesame and miso dipping sauce was also delicious on the beef roll, so long as you didn't wind up with too much!
Next was an old standby at Uchiko––Hama Chili. The name is a play on hamachi, the Japanese name for yellowtail. Here Uchiko presents yellowtail sashimi with orange slices, Thai chili, tobiko, and ponzu. This is a magical thing that is always on their happy hour menu, and it always worth it!
My favorite bites at happy hour at Uchiko are the nigiri specials, which are also excellent deals, with two pieces priced at no more than $5. The first is albacore tuna with negi and garlic kimchi, which has some nice smokiness to it that pervades the tender flesh of the fish. The second is my fave, salmon, with skyr yogurt and preserved lemon. So tender and delicious! Finally, they serve an avocado nigiri with lime and yuzu kosho. Tangy and a bit spicy, with thin and creamy slices of avocado. Tasty enough that I forgot to take a photo!
They do some amazing sashimi specials at Uchiko, and tonight the suggestion from our fabulous server was akami (bluefin) sashimi with little dollops of pomegranate gel, crushed pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed powder, and pumpkin seed purée on the side. The akami had a delicious, firm flesh, and the pumpkin seeds had a nice nutty crunch, but the pomegranate brought everything together.
Rachel demanded that we order a regular hit on the Uchiko menu now that happy hour had expired––the hot rock. This is a superheated Japanese river rock upon which you cook your own slices of wagyu beef that's simply presented with olive oil and sea salt, with a side of ponzu. It releases a magical smoky aroma of beef as you cook it briefly on both sides. The beef is tender and just as good with ponzu as without.
Next, I found that a little treat that I'd been gifted by my favorite bartender, Sharon, the last time I dined here, was still on the menu, and I HAD to get it again so Rachel could try it. This is king crab leg in a sabayon (Italian creamy stuff) with sea urchin and some little pickled crunchy bites of something in the bottom. It's just stupid good. We ate it in about 30 seconds flat.
Time for nigiri! Started with a glass of bubbles to clean the palate, a Szigeti Grüner Veltliner, which is super unique, and has the puckery tang of citrus and apple I expect from a Grüner, with the effervescence of the bubbles. After I finished that, I ordered a glass of sake from Yuki No Bosha, which is a lovely, nicely balanced, and aromatic junmai ginjo that goes really well with sushi.
We were already getting full, so we ordered just a few pieces of nigiri before dessert. The first to come out was my favorite thing! Guess what??
Uni! And the prettiest piece of uni nigiri I'd ever had. Three little pieces of Hokkaido uni with wasabi. So creamy, subtle, and delicious. Seriously, if y'all aren't eating sea urchin, you're missing out!
Now time for some BELLY, the most luscious cuts of fish! Yellowtail belly, salmon belly, and medium-fatty tuna belly. Yum yum yum. Served alongside that was kinmedai, goldeneye snapper, one of my favorite fish!
Rachel and I both ordered a piece of lobster nigiri, which was fresh, sweet, and rich, and went down way too easily. God I love crustaceans!
Dessert at Uchiko is prescribed at this point, due to the presence of an INSANELY delicious piece of foie gras nigiri with fish caramel and candied quinoa. I always order it with a half glass of Sauternes, the classic foie pairing, and the melty, fatty liver is torched and just disintegrates in your mouth, washed down the the sweetness of semillon. As Rachel once said, "Why can't my life be a pile of THAT?"
Rachel had also been attracted to the foie "donuts" on the menu, so we decided to save a bit of Sauternes and order some. They were filled with a foie gras custard and strawberry jam. So good!
We were stuffed, and I felt so much better than I did earlier in the day! Was so kind of Rachel to take care of me and buy me dinner on my no-good-very-awful-terrible-horrible-very-bad day. Good friends are the best.