Locally famed restaurant exceeds expectations

I want to start by saying this: when it comes to food, I’m not a snob. I like mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly and above all, a nice slice of pizza. However, it came to pass this summer that I found myself at Uchiko, Austin’s second-highest rated restaurant (according to tripadvisor), staring at a miniscule piece of raw fish and wondering how I got there.

It had all started in June. Two of my friends had their 18th birthdays on the same day in July, so a group of us decided to save our money for a couple of weeks and treat them to a lavish dinner at the fanciest place of their choice. This choice as it turns out, was Uchiko, the creation of Austin’s resident celebrity chef, Paul Qui, who rose to fame after winning season nine of the popular TV show Top Chef.

Having not made a reservation on a Friday night, we made sure to be the first people into the restaurant when it opened, and got there a solid 30 minutes in advance just to be sure. However, the waiting proved to be less dull than we thought, as the restaurant offered a modest yet beautiful covered outdoor area with potted plants and wooden chairs.

With our 30-minute wait finally over, the restaurant opened its doors and we found ourselves in a place so posh it exceeded all expectations. The ceilings and lighting were both low, but that only served to create a cozy dining experience. The walls were a mix of brick and wood, and from every corner of the room hung incredibly modern light fixtures that illuminated each table.

We were seated at a corner table near the window, and although our group of five teenagers clearly stuck out from the crowd of polished adults, the waiters were nothing but helpful and cheery with us. Uchiko’s menu is divided into seven categories: Greens, Cool Tastings, Hot Tastings, Agemono, Yakimono, Sushi and Sashimi and Makimono. With a selection this large, it took us awhile to order, however we finally decided on the Brussels Sprouts, the Tempura Nasu (Japanese eggplant crisps), the Hamachi (Japanese yellowtail, pickled green apple and  jalapeno), the Yokai (Atlantic salmon, myoga, golden beet and soy paper) and the P-83 (Japanese yellowtail, avocado, yuzu kosho, grilled negi and cilantro).

The food arrived one dish at a time, with the next one brought to the table only once we had finished savoring every molecule. And while the meal itself may not have been the most filling — I do recommend eating a small sandwich before you go —  it was truly one of the most extraordinary culinary experiences I’ve ever had. Each dish featured a whole new array of flavors and textures I didn’t even know existed and was arranged meticulously in a fashion that more resembled art than food.

When we finally finished our last course, our waiter arrived to ask if there was anything else we wanted. We informed him that there were two birthdays in the group, to which he smiled and promptly disappeared. He returned 10 minutes later carrying two plates of Uchiko’s famous fried milk. And that’s when everything changed. To start with, the dessert’s appearance itself could only be described as beautiful. The frozen confection featured balls of iced milk sherbet and pouches of fried milk encased in a crushed cornflake exterior, all surrounding a cold bar of chocolate milk. The process of consuming this wonder can only be described as magical.

All in all, Uchiko was a tremendous success. So much so in fact, that our group decided to return a second time. However, we did our second outing the smart way, and returned for happy hour. The consensus was that the best dish we ordered was the Brussels Sprouts, and we discovered that the restaurant offered the same sized bowl for a significantly cheaper price during their happy hour. So we returned to savor the culinary delight once more.

Uchiko is located at 4200 N Lamar Blvd., and is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday – Thursday and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Though the prices are expensive, with most items between $12 and $20 for small plates, the experience is most definitely one-of-a-kind, if you’re looking for a lavish evening out.