May 17, 2011

My New Favorite Restaurant

I wrote about my new favorite dessert, so why not continue the theme of superlatives and talk about my new favorite restaurant?

I went to Austin for a week in April - a week that was full of culinary delights. Perhaps there are bad restaurants in Austin, but I never find them. The highlight of my food explorations was Uchi, which serves "modern Japanese fare" - sushi, if that's not disparaging it. I dined with my favorite foodie friends, and we tried a variety of things on the menu. Each dish was presented exquisitely, and the waitstaff was extremely courteous and helpful in explaining what the dishes were and giving recommendations.

The first plate brought to the table was the Brie Ringo Tempura, fried Brie with apple chutney and crisps.

Uchi Sushi

Right off the bat, I knew we were in for a treat. I am a huge fan of Brie. Frying it as they did gave it a crispy shell, which when bitten into, had a crunch that gave way to liquified Brie. It paired perfectly with the sweet apples. We also tried some Tempura Japanese Pumpkin. It came with a side of broth for dipping and was so fantastic that we ordered a second round.

Next we had the Maguro Sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, fuji apple and pumpkin seed oil.

Uchi Sushi

The chef, Tyson Cole, uses a lot of apples in his dishes. I love apples, so you won't get any complaints from me. As with the Brie, the goat cheese balanced the apples perfectly. I'm no expert on sashimi, but this tuna was fantastic. The pumpkin oil provided a nice undertone to everything.

We tried several sushi rolls. As you guessed, all were sensational. The Mustang roll - fresh water eel, avocado, yellow tail, and golden flying fish roe - was probably my favorite. I always look for eel on sushi menus. Yum! The Hakujin - fresh salmon and grilled asparagus, rolled in warm tempura flakes - was also very good. The Spider - soft­shell crab, flying fish roe, english cucumber and white soybean paper - was my least favorite, because I don't like soft shell crab.

The Zero Sen - yellow tail with avocado, crispy shal­lots, yuzu kosho, golden roe and cilantro - was my favorite roll after the Mustang.

Uchi Sushi

Avocado works so well in sushi rolls. I wonder if the Japanese have really adopted it or if that's a Southwest/American phenomenon.

Another aspect of Uchi that made our night fantastic was the ambiance of the restaurant. The décor was eye-catching without being distracting. Lots of gorgeous wallpaper and lights, the latter creating bands of light across our faces and making us look like film noir stars.

Uchi Sushi

I read the menu umpteen times, trying to decide between the multitude of choices. They have a daily menu, so I doubt that even the regulars ever make it through all the dishes.

Perhaps you're like me and have incredibly low expectations for desserts at Asian restaurants. Actually, I would definitely say that I have low expectations for desserts at most restaurants period. Most of them are on par with frozen grocery store desserts. The desserts at Uchi are not of that variety. I can assure you that their desserts are as well-executed as the dinner courses.

We tried three desserts: Jizake Crème Caramel with Brown Butter Sorbet & Ginger Consommé, Lemon Gelato with Sicilian Pistachios and White Balsamic, and the Peanut Butter Semi Freddo with Apple-Miso Sorbet & Ringo Crisps.

Uchi Sushi

In a single dish, the peanut butter semi-freddo showcased everything that Uchi does well: beautiful presentation, interesting textures, flavor combinations that test your powers of deduction to ascertain their source... I don't remember the last time I dined and had the same reaction to a dish that I did with the apple-miso sorbet. My first reaction was that I really liked it. Then I kept trying to decide what gave the sorbet the underlying salty and savory flavor. The stuff was addictive. We re-read the menu which reminded us that the sorbet had apples and miso. The miso tickled our Umami sense and effected pleasant surprise. Desserts are so much better when they incorporate other sensations in addition to sweetness.

I was very excited when it was announced a few weeks after we ate at Uchi that Tyson Cole won the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southwest 2011. I suppose you have to be a true food nerd to care about the James Beard awards, since no one seemed to know what they were when I talked about them, but they've been called the Oscars of the food world.

A very well-deserved win for Mr. Cole. I can't wait to visit Uchi again.

See pictures of everything we ate: Uchi Photo Set.

May 10, 2011

My New Favorite Dessert

Pavlovas are my new favorite dessert. They're a cinch to whip up - though they have to bake for awhile. You can top them with whatever fruits you want. They use leftover egg whites. No butter or oil, so they're low fat (not low calorie, but still). Win-win-win.

Pavlova with Fruit

I've found a couple of good recipes. This Gale Gand recipe takes less cooking time. Ina Garten's recipe takes longer in the oven, but the result is a creamier white than Gale's recipe. I decided that my favorite method is to use Ina's recipe, but sub 1 tablespoon of raspberry vinegar for the teaspoon of white wine vinegar called for.

Extraordinary Desserts

The outside of the pavlova develops a crisp shell in the oven, but the inside is gooey and sweet like a toasted marshmallow. When served with a slightly tart fruit like raspberries or kiwis, the combination is just perfect!

Mixed Berry Pavlova