If there’s one thing I need to say about Uchi, it’s that you don’t go there to eat, you go there to have an experience. This isn’t a restaurant where they’ll hand you a pretty plate, only to find out that only 40% of it is actually edible and the rest is just for show. You’re actually expected to eat that flower that’s sitting on the side, maybe even drag it through that oh-so-pretty spiral of sauce drawn on the plate, and it will be freakin’ delicious. Calling Uchi a sushi restaurant is a bastardization to the establishment…this isn’t a typical trendy Japanese joint that tosses random ingredients of the day into a roll and serves saketinis. It’s so much more than that, and it’s definitely a dining experience that Uchi can brand as its own.
Photo credit: Uchi Houston Facebook page
Don’t know what a gastrique is? No worries, you won’t get any of those dreaded condescending eyerolls here (hooray!). The waitstaff walks you through the menu, and they won’t just recite ingredients if you ask what’s in a particular dish – they’ll tell you in detail what’s in it, where it comes from, maybe throw in a fun story about what happened the first time they ate it themselves, all to the point where you’ll be like “Holy crap, that sounds amazing…yeah, I’ll get a plate of that. And throw in that other thing you mentioned too…I don’t remember what it was, but it sounded awesome. Kthanx!”
Photo credit: Uchi Houston flickr page
They have dishes like the “yokai berry” on the menu: it consists of Atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale (I’ll admit seeing the word “dinosaur” written in the description sold me), Asian pear, yuzu, candied quinoa, and blueberries. You’ll see all of that written on paper (my eyes shot straight to “TEEHEE, DINOSAUR!”), and you kinda think “Salmon and kale, and – blueberries? Candied quinoa? Huh?” Sometimes I get skeptical about overly avant-garde sounding dishes…I love seeing creativity put to food, but some restaurants take it too far and you end up feeling the same way as you do at a modern art museum…you pay money, and after all is said and done, you still don’t “get it.” Then you walk away pissed off that you paid money to look at paint splotches on canvas that a four year-old could have replicated at a daycare. ARGH. Anyway, that’s not the case at Uchi. You take a leap of faith and order the damn thing, and it blows you away. The richness from the incredibly fresh and fatty slices of salmon gets paired with the earthiness of the fried kale. Then the crisp, sweet and tart flavors of the Asian pear and blueberries begin to cut through, topped off with an extra bit of sweetness and crunch from the candied quinoa. It’s hard to describe, but it all comes together into a moment where you’ll be like “OH MY GOD I GET IT. AND IT’S DELICIOUS. THANK YOU.” That’s the kind of innovation and creativity that runs across the rest of the menu (none of that “WTF, you just added chocolate to garlic for shits and giggles, I hate you” feeling), and everything I’ve tried has translated from paper to the plate without a hitch.
After having an incredible dinner at Uchi, I decided to do a crochet drop. I could have made little pieces of nigiri sushi, but that would’ve been too generic to any other Japanese-themed restaurant. I wanted to do something unique to Uchi, so I chose a dish that had a name that I could work with: the jar jar duck. It’s a dish brought out in a glass jar layered with duck served 3 ways (duck confit, duck cracklins, duck jus), candied kumquats, endive, with rosemary smoke wafting out of it. This dish is pure theater when it’s brought out to your table.
Look. At. That.
Photo credit: Rebecca Fondren
And so I present my own rendition of a jar jar duck:
I’ll admit once I made the lil’ guy, I looked at it and thought to myself “Crap…this seemed like a better idea in theory.” What the hell was I thinking?? I put a duck. In a jar. WTF? I came to the horrifying realization that when I handed it off, they were either going to be delighted, or think it was really freaking weird, but give a polite “oh cool, thanks”. Kinda like when a kid gives you a bowl full of mud from outside…you say thank you for the thoughtful playtime gift, but you’re really just going to wash out the bowl once little Billy scampers off and finds something else to play with. Either way, my bf booked a reservation, we had a brilliant meal, and after stuffing our faces, I handed the lil’ duck in a jar to our waitress after we were presented with the check. She said it’ll have a good home in the office! Operation Jar Jar Duck Drop complete! 🙂 I’ll definitely be back to eat my way through any remnants of the menu that I’ve tragically left behind. I’M COMING FOR YOU. NOM NOM.
904 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006