If there is one thing the food blogosphere does not need, it is another review of Uchi. In the 12 months it has been open in Houston, the restaurant has already received more Yelp reviews than almost any restaurant in the city. Many will stiffen at my reference to Yelp as a source for restaurant information, but even more reputable sources have been fawning over Uchi since its Houston opening.
So I won’t spend too much time picking apart the low points (of which there were few) and high points of every dish. Besides, I don’t know enough about sushi to offer anything close to an expert opinion. I will say though, that my meal last week at Uchi was one of my most enjoyable in a long, long time.
Aside from the food, the other big reason this dinner was so good is because of the polite, knowledgeable, and always attentive servers. We were a large group with varying familiarity with sushi, but our server made consistently good recommendations and explained the more unusual dishes. She also maintained a perfect cadence throughout the meal, never bringing dishes so quickly that we felt rushed, but making sure that this group didn’t become impatient wondering when the next dish was coming (an especially difficult feat when the average dish has six to eight bites).
We arrived while the “sake social” (aka happy hour) was going on, and took advantage while we could. If you’re nervous about dropping a wad of cash on an Uchi dinner, I highly recommend giving the sake social a try. The menu is limited, but offers an easy way to get acquainted with the restaurant. The machi cure, Uchi’s spin on nachos, the server explained, and bacon otoshi, all you need to know is delicious pork belly is involved, were my favorite from the sake social menu.
But if there’s a restaurant to splurge on in Houston, Uchi is definitely one of them. The ingredients are the best quality, and there seemed to be something wonderfully unexpected in every dish – even in the sashimi, which I had never imagined could be anything more than tender fish.
The menu is arranged in an unusual format, with different sections for “cool tastings,” “hot tastings,” agemono (basically meaning fried things), and then of course your nigiri, sashimi, and rolls. We tried some dishes in each category, and I was surprised by which ended up being my favorites. If I could order from only one category again, it would be the nigiri, which I was afraid would seem boring in comparison to some of the dishes with more ingredients.
After all, good nigiri relies on the success of two ingredients – fish (usually) and rice (always). I didn’t know how much I could appreciate rice until I tasted the beautiful oval-shaped pillows that the slices of fish were hugging. I’m totally unfamiliar with the art of sushi making
, but the rice seemed to have the perfect texture, temperature, and taste. It provided the perfect foundation for the various fish and any discerningly applied condiments.
The scallops were buttery, the salmon belly tender and slightly sweet, the foie gras totally over the top, and totally amazing. I usually order different dishes every time I go to a restaurant until I’ve been several times. But if I return to Uchi, I don’t think I can leave without another of the foie gras sushi. Another dish I think I’ll have to order every time is the brussel sprouts.
There’s not a lot of subtlety in this dish, unlike a lot of the others. But I love that a vegetable so often maligned by bland overcooking could be transformed into something so full of flavor. It was savory, citrusy, spicy, and a little sweet all at once. It was one of the best loved dishes of the evening, even among the most dedicated carnivores of the group.
Speaking of carnivores… Even though the Uchi is obviously devoted to creatures of the sea, there are several meatier dishes created with the same inventiveness and finesse. I particularly enjoyed the waygu fen’neru, one of the day’s specials, which was prime rib rib served with all things green – avocado, fennel, broccoli, and kale.
The makimono, sushi rolls, also offered flavors that were more complex than those of the nigiri and sashimi. Though I was really interested to see what how the kitchen would incorporate tomatoes into sushi, the “shag” roll, tempura fried salmon and avocado, was one of the few dishes where the individual ingredients seemed to have to push their way through, through the creamy, slightly too sweet, sun-dried tomato sauce.
Instead, my favorite roll was again something I had least expected. The “pitchfork” roll was made from ingredients I associate with Tex-Mex – beef, avocado, and onions (admittedly, the onions took the form of delicately fried leeks). But somehow everything worked when rolled up between rice and seaweed.
After a meal full of surprises, I couldn’t wait to try dessert. I sampled Uchi’s most famous dessert, fried milk, and the server’s favorite, lemon gelato. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the desserts were. Both were both perfect compositions. Edible sculptures on a plate. I can’t tell if I’m reading too much into it, but the egg-shaped gelato scoops even seemed to echo the shape of the sushi rice that sits below the nigiri.
The lemon gelato is a dessert for purists. The flavors were simple, elegant, and refined. Though I found myself wishing there had been a little something to attend the ice cream. Perhaps a shortbread something or other? The different takes on milk (chocolate, toasted, and fried), in the fried milk dessert was a lot of fun, and the dessert was unlike any I’d ever had before.
This is precisely why I enjoyed Uchi so much. It is a restaurant that masterfully brings together familiar ideas and ingredients, in ways that are at times puzzling, but inventively harmonious once tasted. The next time I want a meal to delight and surprise, I’ll go to Uchi.
Most favorite dish: foie gras nigiri
Perfect for: an unforgettably tasty, frequently surprising dinner