Paper City : Houston Finally Gets Its Own Uchiko

Good things take time, and in the case of award-winning chef Tyson Cole’s latest endeavor, it’s took nearly 12 years of refining his modern Japanese restaurant Uchiko, before he unveiled it in Houston last week. Only the second iteration of the sister restaurant to Cole’s famed Uchi (the original is in Austin, Cole’s home base), Uchiko is a fiery counterpoint. And now it’s finally open in Houston.

It retains the fresh, clean flavors of Uchi, but adds robust meat dishes. Many carry the subtle aromas of wood smoke, while others contrast the char derived from live fire cooking over a yakitori grill.

The stylish new Houston Uchiko from Hai Hospitality (Uchi, Loro) is a blueprint for future locations of the restaurant. The indoor and outdoor spaces were deftly designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, which brought in Texas artisans to create the warm walnut and cedar wood adorned space. Artist Camille Warmington created the smoky blue wallpaper, inspired by a landscape photo from Naoshima, Japan, and painted the soaring mural upstairs in the private dining room.

All the light fixtures were conjured by Austinite Nathan Warbach, while vintage credenzas evoke that prized Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic. California native Shaun King (from Momofuku, Sushi Samba and Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, all in Las Vegas; and The Dawson in Chicago) serves as chef de cuisine. King’s philosophy in the kitchen reflects what he calls R.O.H., or return on happiness. His mission centers around ensuring that not only are diners delighted with their experience, but that his team in the front and back of the house is in the best possible place, mentally and physically to make that happen.

Harsh fluorescents have been replaced with more beneficial full-spectrum lighting to give employees an energized environment. King is also bringing in master yogis to teach breath work before hectic shifts and even collaborated with a shoemaker who worked for Nike and Adidas to design the first-ever athletic, culinary-specific shoe.

The Uchiko Menu

The menu at Uchiko is divided into sections such as Daily Specials and the Toyosu selection (named for the legendary Tokyo market where the best fish is auctioned off daily and flown to restaurants like Uchiko). There are three greens dishes, a decadent caviar section, agemono selections (Japanese deep-fried food), hot tastings, cool tastings, makimono (sushi rolls), nigiri (sushi rice molded by hand with a slice of fish atop) and sashimi (fresh raw fish and meat sliced thinly).

Daily specials might include Uchiko’s take on oysters Rockefeller: hearth-roasted oyster with umami-boosting koji added to the creamed spinach with crispy shallots ($22). Or try traditional tempura made with pumpkin, anointed with smoked brown butter and crème fraiche with pulverized lime leaf ($18).

Treat yourself to the bluefin otoro, which is culled from inside the fish’s belly — the most desirable part because it’s the fattiest. Each bite will melt in your mouth ($18). Or make it a fish flight with bluefin akami, the popular and readily available loin ($20) and bluefin chutoro, a blend between the richness of the otoro and the leanness of akam ($16). Remember to consume each bite “fish side down” on your tongue for the most heightened taste experience.

Nigiri and sashimi selections include sake toro (Scottish salmon belly, $5.50/$18.50); hamachi (Japanese yellowtail, $6.50/$20); and shime saba (cured Norwegian mackerel, $6/$20)

For the hot tastings, slow cooking, live fire and smoke come into play, creating bold, masculine flavors. For example, the charred-onion aged A Bar N Ranch beef is seared four times and served alongside foie (gras) au Poivre and rich, thickly cut potato spears fried in A5 beef tallow ($36).

“We’ve been experimenting a lot with charring and juicing vegetables and the use of smoke to strike a balance between bold and more delicate flavors,” King says. “The dry-aged duck is rich, delicate and smoky, and I think it is representative of the evolution of the Uchiko concept.”

This dish features tender magret braised with a dashi broth and served with house-made hoisin sauce and roasted cabbage ($29). The lobster spends time in the hearth oven wrapped in a banana leaf and moistened with Tom Kha (a coconut/chili broth) with umeboshi (pickled sour/salted plums) and a confit of king trumpet mushrooms and shallots ($39).

For those seeking an adventure on the plate, saddle up for the omakase experience with a 10-course chef’s tasting menu and five-course signature tasting menus available (market price).

The dessert menu, created by executive pastry chef Ariana Quant, blends French techniques with Asian ingredients and even plays with the subtle smoke that lingers throughout the menu. Quant’s clever version of fireside s’mores is a fun treat where the marshmallow-topped log of rich dark chocolate is seared tableside with a piece of red-hot compressed binchotan wood ($12).


Original published on Paper City