I thought I would take this opportunity in the midst of our long drive from Houston to Colorado and detail our 1st dining experience at Uchi Houston.
I have been a longtime fan of Uchi in Austin as my wine group began doing programs at the original Uchi back in 2003. Through the years I have dined over and over at this hub of creativity and elegance on South Lamar in Austin. In the process I can say with all certainty I have enjoyed at least 3 of the top 10 meals of my life there.
Our frequent Uchi dining partners included a pair of dear friends with an exceptional wine collection and my amazingly talented fellow food and wine adventurer, “Dr” Loren Root (@theleftoverchef). Loren, as I have said many times is the best fish chef I know and his passion for Japanese cuisine borders on mania. It is with Loren that I developed my passion for sushi and my nearly fanatical love of uni (sea urchin). I seek out the best sushi on the planet in my travels and Uchi Austin has been at or near the top of my list since 2007.
When I heard that Uchi was coming to Houston I knew I was in for some amazing dining just around the corner from my home and the money I would save on gas to Austin I could push into an extra bottle of Sake’.
Alas, Juliet and I moved from Houston before Uchi opened. Imagine our joy when the maven all of Houston food and bev people(even living in Seattle), Emily Resling was able to get us into one of Uchi’s soft opening evenings last week while we were in Houston visiting some of our dearest friends.
Having been a part of several restaurant openings I fully expected Uchi Houston to be crowded, a bit disorganized, and likely to be good but not up to the excellent standards I have come to expect from Uchi and its sister Uchiko in Austin.
Boy was I wrong! Uchi Houston was firing on more cylinders than the big block chariots of Narcissus parked in the lot. I was nervous when I did not see any of the chefs I knew from Austin. I was afraid the guys in the kitchen and at the sushi bar might miss out on the tutelage of a veteran Uchi chef on-hand to bring the true depth of experience Uchi has delivered for 8+ years.
My expectations were blown out of the water. Under the amazing guidance of lead sushi chef Nobu (not THAT Nobu, but a serious and soft-spoken bad-ass who worked with the famed Morimoto in his past) we were led down a path of fish joy that simply left us feeling like we had been transported to South Lamar circa 2009. The service was on top of its game in a place that was packed to the gills. We were seated immediately for our 7:30 reservation and enjoyed a nearly 3 hour extravaganza.
Jeremy Parzen discussed his take on Uchi’s wine list yesterday and so I will take a moment to extol the virtues of Uchi’s Sake’ list. There are solid choices across most price ranges and on our particular evening we chose the Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai – in 720ml bottle. This sake’ was described on the menu as having the flavor of clean winter air. While the whimsy of this description was not lost on me, the sake’ itself was vibrant on the palate, clean across the aromas, and finished with a long, perpetual grip that carried the flavors of the fish and kept my fingers reaching for glass after glass.
Master Yasuda the former namesake sushi chef genius at NYC’s world-class Sushi Yasuda suggested to me a few years back to consider drinking Junmai grade sake’ with sushi, as its clean, elegant style, and higher tones pair better with fish than the higher grades of sake’. Who am I to argue with a master?
I sometimes hear detractors claim that Uchi is not a traditional sushi restaurant and that causes these naysayers consternation. I agree it is a unique program and at the same time Uchi utilizes the freshest fish available that I have ever enjoyed in Texas in both traditional and non-traditional ways which are inarguably exceptional.
I am going to say something here that is not intended to come off as anything more than a qualifier for the opinions I express. Since 2006 I have dined out an average of 400 times per year and in that time enjoyed sushi in New York City, Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, Denver, and Hong Kong. I have tasted some sublime fish in most of these places and Uchi Austin and now Uchi Houston live up to the best of the best in any of these places.
Yes, I know Uchi does experimental desserts, gorgeous chef-prepared plates, as well as beef and even interesting creations with foie gras. I have enjoyed some gorgeous creations by Top Chef Candidate Paul Qui and many from Owner/Chef Tyson Cole as well. However, it is Uchi’s masters of the sushi counter that keep me coming back time after time.
The fish, the service, and the simplicity of feeling like I am worlds away from my cares easily mask the 2 bills+ it costs for a night out here for two. Is it expensive, yes? Do I still smile when I think of the first time Chef Masa in Austin carved an apple in about 7 seconds and created a saba (mackerel) dish that my wife , who does not enjoy mackerel, actually adored; absolutely!
Houston, I know how proud we all are of our homegrown restaurants and I urge the community to embrace Uchi Houston as one of their own and take a chance on a dining experience that could change your lives for the better.
Bravo Uchi Houston for a superb beginning. I cannot wait for my next rendezvous with you and Nobu!
Please see my additional photos and descriptions of our dishes.
Take my advice – sit at Nobu’s station and let him drive the truck