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January 25, 2012

Sometimes (and I do mean on occasion) a meal will come along that makes you sit back in your seat and breathe a sigh of relief. It also makes you want to shout for joy, moan with pleasure (just a little) and shed a tear.You couldn’t be happier.

Such is what occurred last week when I had the great pleasure of dining at Uchi for their “soft opening”. A “soft opening” is what restaurants do prior to opening, where menu items are tested, friends and peers are invited and sometimes even food critics get a sneak peek at what is to come.

After several bites of the Machi Cure (see below) I literally put my chopsticks down, sat back and proclaimed out loud- that this was the best meal I’d had in 3 months. Mind you I was several bites into the first dish. Believe me when I say, I am not exaggerating.

Machi Cure/ smoked baby yellow tail, yucca crisp, garlic brittle, asian pear

In case you are wondering, I have not gone hungry in the last few months, but the last truly great meal I’ve had prior to Uchi, was 3 months ago at Foreign and Domestic. It was October and I had just moved back to Texas, fresh off the boat from living in the Bay area. Think what you will, the truth is I have become accustomed to a certain level of dining (even at the lowest form) after living in the San Francisco area. The meal at Foreign and Domestic, awakened the senses, inspired me, made me both sit up in my seat and sit back with satisfaction. In my opinion that is what a truly great meal should do.That is precisely what every meal at Aziza did for me. Pure bliss.

Insert Uchi. I’ve known Chef Philip Speer for quite a long time, and have had the opportunity to briefly work alongside him in the past as well. It’s incredibly impressive and astounding to observe someone with his caliber of talent, remain continually humble (the humblest), gracious and relaxed throughout the years. Just remarkable. He just never-let it go to his head. Bravo to that.

When he extended an invite, I was more than excited to try Uchi-Houston.

Bacon Tataki/ pork belly, fennel, black lime, coriander, espresso fish caramel

I brought along a girlfriend of mine and we embarked on an incredible journey though the menu, oscillating between hot and cold items. After we got the green light, we just kept going. There was Viognier, far too much (in a good way) Pinot, tempura, rolls and finally ending with not 1 but 3 desserts. It’s hard to believe I woke up hungry the following morning.

Walu tempura

Yokai Berry/atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale, asian pear, yuzu

Brie Ringo/tempura fried brie, apple chutney, sweet potato crisp

Decidingly beautiful remains of the Brie Ringo. Apple brunoise.

This is Nobu-san the Sushi Chef (next to ours). He most recently hails from Morimoto Napa. We had a nice exchange as I waxed poetic over the Uni Carbonara and Melon tempura.

Walu Walu/oak grilled escolar, candied citrus, yuzupon, myoga

Madia Carpaccio/Japanese sea brea, citrus,olive oil, myoga

Hamachi and Saba (with shaved Truffle and cherry tomato)

Mustang/ Eel…

Ham and Eggs/Katsu pork belly, yolk,custard, esplette

Fried Milk (Milk 3 ways)/chocolate milk, ice milk, toasted milk

Lemon gelato/white balsamic, pistachios

Lime Cremeaux/chocolate croquant, thai chili meringue, vanilla lime gel, kefir lime sorbet

It was a glorious evening of beautiful food. It was also a pleasure to watch and enjoy the spectacle and commotion of near perfection and seamlessness occurring in this premature setting. Not only is Philip the Corporate Pastry Chef for Uchi and Uchiko in Austin, he is also the Culinary Director for the restaurants. He has been based here in Houston, overseeing, directing and assembling a large cast of extremely talented restaurant professionals to staff Uchi. It shows.

And sure the servers are still in training and our delayed waiting at the host stand meant participating in a short “training” exercise. To be expected. Though with that being said, every dish that emerged from the hot kitchen and from the Sushi Chef in front of us was flawless in presentation, taste, and composition. Blindfolded, I’d have never guessed this place was not even “open” and only on day two of serving food to the general public. Un-blindfolded, I was ecstatic to receive and participate in such an incredible and truly memorable meal. That is saying a lot.

I read a tweet from a food truck called The Modular (whom I’ve heard so much of but have yet to try) which sums it up completely: ..“and I will be the first to admit it. They have the total package already on day 2 what others restaurant will never get”.

That’s it. The bar is raised, the standards are pretty high. Welcome to the fourth largest city in the country. Stay a while will you.

I have no complaints. I’d happily eat here more than once a week. Every day in fact.

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