Uchiko!

Holy cow but I just had one of the most memorable dining experiences! We were at Uchiko for our Friday-night-out dinner. Paul Qui, the executive chef, was behind the bar tonight to help out an one-short line of sushi chefs. Everything was great, but four dishes need honorable mentions. The first was oysters (two different kinds, three each) on the half shell, with fresh wasabi and ponzu. The mildness of the fresh wasabi and the lightness of the ponzu complimented the succulently briny oysters. It may be my new preferred approach for oysters!

Grilled wagyu steak, matsutake puree, onion “paper”

Grilled wagyu steak, matsutake puree, onion “paper”

The second, and mot outstanding dish, was a grilled matsutake, with matsutake and truffle puree, lemon zest salt, arugula, and shaved truffle. Matsutake is a firm, meaty, Japanese mushroom, with an unique flavor and fragrance somewhere between crimini and porcini. Grilled, by itself, with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and lime juice, it is already a heavenly experience. The Uchiko presentation takes matsutake to infinity and beyond! It was an experience for all the senses!

The “Tiger Cry” roll, though a “lowly” roll, was a very pleasant and delicious surprise. If you are familiar with the Vietnamese dish of cơm sườn nướng, grilled pork chop over rice, a variation of which includes shredded pork skin tossed in ground toasted rice (among other things), you will immediately recognize the “Tiger Cry” roll. The “Tiger Cry” is a roll of grilled wagyu beef, yuzu kosho, coated with ground toasted rice, topped with cilantro sprigs and served with an intense dipping sauce reminiscent of a very concentrated nước mắm pha.

The fourth honorable mention was grilled wagyu steak, sliced and served with a slightly sweet matsutake puree, with onion “paper” (paper thin onion sheets, dried & fried). This is a “special” that Paul Qui has been working on and wanted us to try and give him our opinion. I thought the dish has all the right elements, with a small blemish of the onion paper being a little “leathery”; it really adds a lot to the dish’s flavor, so I hope Paul can solve its texture issue.

The desserts (yes, plural, as in “three of them”!) were also very special. Philip Speer, the pastry chef, happened to pass by so we said hello and re-introduced ourselves. We got to chatting and my wife remarked that she’d enjoy a little more… diversification, in Uchi/Uchiko’s desserts. Philip’s desserts usually have very imaginative ingredients which actually work well together rather than just be imaginative. An example is a combination of tart cherries and olives: the cherries are compressed with olive juice. The cherries and olives play supporting role in the dessert, but what a performance!

Anyway, one thing led to another and when Philip passed by again later, he said: “Eat slow.” He was conjuring up a few off-the-menu dessert specials for us! Within the time span of our dinner, he whipped a petit chou filled with a light chocolate cream, a rustic miniature apple tart with butterscotch custard and a crunchy topping, and the pièce de resistance: a jar of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven!!! Not only he was able to whip all that up in the time it took to eat a few entrées, they were all supremely well executed. The chou‘s crust was light and puffy, its cream lightly sweet; the tart (baked without the benefit of a tart tray!) kicked ass with the rich butterscotch custard waltzing with the apple slices. As he brought out the cookies, he said to my wife: “…since you were saying you wanted something different!”

Philip Speer, avec Trang et petit chou!

Apple Tart

...and a jar of freshly baked cookies to take home!