My very first real boyfriend, who took me on my very first real car date, was a multi-sport playing jock named Chris who, inexplicably, ate sushi.
"Isn't that, like, raw fish?" I said, a 1990s-era San Antonian through and through.
"YES," he grunted. "IT'S DELICIOUS."
I was skeptical Chris' culinary tastes, but no matter; he had a car and was willing to date me. We decided we would go to sushi with my parents.
"TRY THE SASHIMI. YOU'LL LIKE IT," he said.
I scanned the laminated picture menu and pointed at a multi-colored circle.
"I'll have this?" I squeaked to the waiter.
Years later, after Chris dumped me, I would go to school in California, where I would eat sushi with the best of them. I would need no lessons on chopsticks. I would eat Spider Rolls, and dubiously named "Philadelphia Rolls" with cream cheese, and even more culturally bastardizing "Longhorn Rolls" with festive orange sauce, at Kyoto on Congress Avenue. I would even make sushi with Beka, and learn why rice is everything.
I would forget all about Chris the Jock, but I would never, ever forget about sushi.
So you can imagine my excitement when Frank suggested a big group of us try Uchiko for Austin Restaurant Week. I interviewed Paul Qui this summer, and the samples he prepared for me sent my taste buds a-quiver. Imagine what a proper meal would do.
The outside, and inside, of Uchiko. Fact: I got so distracted by food that I failed to take more pictures of the clever Michael Hsu-designed interior. But of course Michael Hsu designed it.
Fact: There is a back wall in Uchiko made entirely of reclaimed trunk logs from Shady Grove. Trees that provided shade to diners keeping Austin weird; now, they're provide atmosphere to diners keeping Austin chic. Sign of le times, no?
This is a magical cup of sake that costs only $4, called Takara Nigori. The menu says "nutty, pineapple, cream soda," and can you really go wrong with any of those things?
It's $2 at happy hour, and served in this precious box. I guess in case you get excited and spill it.
Now, fair warning, as we move into real food here: WE DIDN'T EAT SUSHI. I know. How counter-intuitive. Especially since I got you all excited with that big sushi 9th grade boyfriend story.
But bear with me. We'll talk about Uchiko's sushi another time,
Frank was terribly excited to use the word "amuse-bouche" for once, and with our bite of seasoned cucumber, he seized the opportunity.
"Salad." But of course not your everyday, 'merican salad. You eat this appetizer like chips and dip, where your Romaine goes in that jalapeno and edamame sauce.
Roasted golden beets with yogurt and honey, and forgive me, because this is where the photography quality slides off.
... see what I mean?
But nevermind. Focus on the plate of Usagi Tamago before you, one of Uchiko's grilled dishes. Seared rabbit confit, slow-poached egg, celery, madras curry.
Oh my God. Can we talk about Uchiko's desserts?
Uchiko's meal-enders do something that most don't, and that is: They remind you how much all other desserts rely on simple sugars and easy fats to win over your mouth. Conversely, Uchiko's bold ingredients - cigar, tomatoes, polenta - open up your palate to whole other countries of dessert flavors, lands you never knew existed. And trust me, you'll never want to leave them.
Above is the cigar one. Tobacco cream. With chocolate sorbet, maple budino, huckleberry, and scotch. The Mad Men of desserts.
On top, grapefruit sorbet with avocado mousse and fennel pollen; on bottom, fried milk with chocolate milk, toasted milk, iced milk sherbet. It's straight-up ridonkulous.
Sigh ... this picture didn't turn out so well, which means you just must have to head there and order it for yourselves! Qué horror.
My favorite dessert of the night: sweet corn sorbet, with polenta custard, caramel salt, lemon.
Was it the salt? The Southern comfort textures? One shall never know. But suffice it to say, if I could bathe in this stuff, I would.