Uchi

Uchi
904 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77006
Bair Hugger Deluxe made sure Uchi was the first dinner I had in Houston.  I guess it’s a big deal here.  It is in Austin, where it was first opened up by Chef Tyson Cole.  He won Best Chef Southwest in 2011.  Uchi and its sister restaurant Uchiko might sound more familiar as the former kitchen of Top Chef season 9 winner Paul Qui.  He started there as an intern and over 7 years worked his way up to chef de cuisine.  Uchi can be thought of as a Nobu-esque restaurant.  Modern Japanese meets Asian fusion meets cool/upscale.  The place is super popular.  Bair Hugger makes it seem like restaurants of this caliber are few and far between.  He usually takes all out-of-towners here.
We got great seats at the bar.  I love sitting at the bar.  I love being a stone’s throw from the action.  Sadly we didn’t get to sit in front of this guy.  Only a bad ass can walk around with just one patch of hair on his head.  I believe he was the main sushi guy, cutting all the fish for sashimi/nigiri.  It’s an interesting set up.  Each guy behind the bar mans a different station.  Our guy was actually just the roll guy.  There was another guy manning the yakitori type things.  There was another guy in the kitchen just making the Brussels sprouts.

Sorbet
Refreshing, cool, not too sweet.  A pleasant way to start.

 

Brussels Sprouts crispy. lemon, sweet chili
It’s amazing that Brussels sprouts still remain one of the most popular and ubiquitous vegetable dishes at restaurants these days; that and kale and roasted beets are hands down your veggie trifecta.  Anyways, these were nicely fried, crispy, and caramelized.  The sauce was fishy and sweet, with just a bit of tang.  I probably would have liked them to be a little less sweet.  Bair Hugger likes the dish so much he recreates it at home.

Machi Cure smoked baby yellowtail, yucca crisp, marcona almonds, asian pear, garlic brittle

Since Bair Hugger Deluxe has been here many times, he has tried almost everything on the menu and highly recommended this dish.  I liked the concept of crispy chips and fish.  The pear added a different kind of crunch, as did the crispy garlic.  The yucca was a different take on the crispy chip.  I guess my only gripe was the smoked yellowtail.  It tasted too fishy, but I think that’s just how smoked fish tastes.

Uni hokkaido

The picture doesn’t really show how dark and deeply orange this uni was compared to the more common Santa Barbara uni you’ve probably had.  It also tasted just a twinge more bitter and less sweet than what we were used to.  We didn’t quite give it a resounding approval at first.  They gave us a complimentary 2nd round of Hokkaido uni because it was our “anniversary.”  I felt a bit guilty for the egregious lie, but I can’t pass on free uni.  I definitely enjoyed the 2nd bite and did not feel as much bitterness linger.  It was still delicious overall, but if I had a choice I would choose Santa Barbara uni.

A5 Hot Rock a5 wagyu

For some people, a dinner at Uchi might be considered a splurge.  I’m lucky to be able to dine at a place like this for just a nice Friday night dinner.  This dish, however, was definitely a splurge.  Six pieces of A5 wagyu went for a whopping $50!

Ok, you can pick your jaw up from the floor now.  Look at that crazy marbling!  I mean, you don’t even have to taste it to know its a damn luscious piece of meat.  It glistened.
Then it sizzled.
Then it went in my belly.  It was nothing short of AMAZING.  It was rich, unctuous, delectable, and very very sinful.  It should be illegal to eat something that fatty.  The way it just sizzled and cooked in seconds on that hot rock was pretty darn cool.
Kanpachi Crudo amberjack, truffle, jalapeño, yuzu dashiI enjoyed this much more than the last crudo dish.  The flavors were bright.  The truffle wasn’t overpowering.  That little jalapeño chip was pretty spicy if you got a slice with just one seed.  Bair Hugger Deluxe still liked his machi cure.
Honmaguro Toro bluefin belly

Toro can be a tricky bird.  It can be so heavenly due to the fattiness, but that same characteristic can lend itself to fishiness.  Unfortunately, this was not the best toro belly I’ve had.  Bair Hugger Deluxe will not stop talking about Shiro’s in Seattle.  One day, I’ll make my way there.

Bacon Tataki pork belly, black lime, cilantro, scallion, espress fish sauce

I’m not sure why this was called tataki, which I understood to be thin slices of something and usually raw.  Despite this small oversight, the dish was actually really good.  I was so stuffed by this point, but was still able to enjoy the interplay of crispy pork belly, charred onions and fennel, married together by the concentrated earthy umaminess of the fish sauce.  Bair Hugger Deluxe did not share my same enthusiasm here.

Foie Nigiri seared foie gras, quinoa

I was like oh God!  There’s more.  This was a MUST have according to Bair Hugger Deluxe.  No doubt, the offal fattiness was highlighted by a delicate sear.  The crispy quinoa added crunchy texture.  I would only ding this for the sauce, which was a tad too sweet for my liking.

Fried Milk chocolate milk, toasted milk, iced milk sherbet 

I love a dessert, or rather any dish, that harmonizes different textures and varying levels of sweetness or savory.  This was such a dish, from the cool sherbet, to the smooth fudgey chocolate, to the crispy chocolate wafer, to the chewy fried batter that encased a warm runny creme anglaise that soon swam all over the plate once we started digging in.  This was a perfect end to a good meal.

I can see why Uchi is popular.  The food is innovative.  The flavors are contemporary.  The presentation and service is delightful.  I don’t think you should come here for the sushi though.  That being said, I certainly think they did a good enough job on the raw front.  Maybe I didn’t quite jive with the smoked hamachi, so maybe I’ll order a nonsmoked crudo dish.  The kanpachi was light.  That wagyu on hot stone was totally money.  The fried milk was harmonious.  If you have a few bucks to spend while in Houston, Uchi should definitely be on your list.  If you’ve been to places like Nobu or similar, Uchi is probably nothing too fantastic to you.  All in all, I am ready to try new things in Houston on my next visits.

10 – You NEED to eat here

9 – Awesome!

8 – Very good
7 – Good 
6 – OK 
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here

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