Restaurants

Houston Finally Gets Its Own Uchiko — Your First Look at the Bayou City Version of Uchi’s Sister Restaurant

A Blueprint For Future Locations

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Good things take time, and in the case of award-winning chef Tyson Cole’s latest endeavor, it took nearly 12 years of refining his modern Japanese concept Uchiko before it would be unveiled in Houston. Only the second iteration of the sister concept to Cole’s famed Uchi restaurant (the original is in Austin, his home base), Uchiko is a fiery counterpoint to the original — retaining the fresh, clean flavors of Uchi but adding 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 outpost from Hai Hospitality (Uchi, Loro) is a blueprint for future locations. 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 (Momofuku, Sushi Samba, and Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, all in Las Vegas; The Dawson, Chicago) serves as chef de cuisine. His philosophy in the kitchen reflects what he calls R.O.H., or return on happiness: ensuring that not only are his guests 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. He’s also bringing in master yogis to teach breathwork before a hectic shift 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 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 into eateries like Uchiko). There are three Greens dishes,  a decadent Caviar section, Agemono selections (Japanese deep-fried fare), 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: a hearth-roasted oyster with umami-boosting koji added to the creamed spinach, with crispy shallots and caviar ($8 each). Or, try traditional tempura made with pumpkin, anointed with brown-butter crème fraiche with pulverized lime leaf ($18).

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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 in mirin, aged gluten-free tamari, uni, and fermented crab butter, 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 in press materials. “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 five-spiced duck braised with house-made charred-orange hoisin sauce, dashi-braised cabbage, and an orange-peppercorn compote ($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 grilled maitake mushrooms, crispy shallots, and trinity herbs ($39).

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

UCHIKO Smores Dessert
The S’Mores Dessert is a fun treat at Uchiko where the marshmallow-topped log of rich dark chocolate is seared tableside with a piece of red-hot compressed binchotan wood. (Courtesy of Hai Hospitality)

The dessert menu, created by executive pastry chef Ariana Quant, blends French technique with Asian ingredients and even plays with the subtle smoke that lingers throughout the menu. Her 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).

Houston’s Uchiko is open for dinner from 4 pm to 10 pm Sundays through Thursdays and 4 pm to 11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s located Post Oak Place, 1801 Post Oak Boulevard, (713) 597-5464, UchikoHouston.com.

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