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Uchi Takes Houston

Both high-end and accessible, Uchi moves into Montrose and changes the game.

Check out more photos from the chic interior of Uchi in our slideshow.

There is a certain anxiety and trepidation to dining at Uchi for the first time. Even if you're looking forward to your visit, even if you've saved your pennies and carefully made reservations for the evening and laid out your clothes for the big night, Uchi is intimidating. But it shouldn't be.

Yes, what Uchi offers is a carefully orchestrated marriage between haute cuisine and high art. And yes, you will come away having eaten one of the best meals of the year, or perhaps your life.

The machi cure features smoked baby yellowtail, dehydrated yuca, garlic brittle and Marcona almonds.
Troy Fields
The machi cure features smoked baby yellowtail, dehydrated yuca, garlic brittle and Marcona almonds.

Location Info

Map

Uchi

904 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Montrose

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Montrose

The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Montrose

Details

Uchi

904 Westheimer, 713-522-4808. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Brussels sprouts $6

Foie gras nigiri $9

Ham-and-eggs roll $10

Zero sen roll $12

Machi cure $18

Maguro and goat cheese $18

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You'll dine on ruddy maguro sashimi with idiosyncratic pearls of fluffy goat cheese and slivers of Fuji apples in a musky, salty pumpkinseed oil and crispy, citrusy, caramelized Brussels sprouts — roasted in lemon-chile powder — that will make you want to hoard the bowl and savor each tiny cabbage. You'll find a stunning array of fresh fish at the sushi bar, but you'll also find triumphs such as two pert pieces of foie gras nigiri, the liver charred slightly and draped across perfectly sculpted lengths of rice, like smoked eel but with the heady rush of unadulterated fat. You'll emerge drunk not on sake but with the sensory overload of it all and a keen sense that the meal you ate was good for your very soul.

Certainly, from the moment you set foot inside Uchi's little rotunda-like entrance and are greeted with a beaming smile, any anxieties and trepidations you may have had will fall away. You'll feel the oddly paired sensations of excitement and relaxation. More important, you'll feel welcome.

And that's exactly how Uchi planned it, said Director of Culinary Operations Philip Speer. "It's comfortable," Speer told me by phone one afternoon. "I think of it as casual — you can come in and just have a good time. We always want to maintain that neighborhood feel." A native Houstonian, Speer worked with owner and executive chef Tyson Cole at the original Austin location of Uchi for six years before moving back to his hometown to help open the first — and, so far, only — outpost of the award-­winning sushi restaurant.

Uchi Houston was built as a combination of both the original Uchi and its little sister in Austin, Uchiko, and borrows heavily from the latter's super-casual vibe and "Japanese farmhouse cuisine" menu. It's known as a neighborhood joint despite its pedigree — despite Cole's recent James Beard Award and despite another Beard Award for Uchiko's executive chef, Paul Qui. Speer hopes that Uchi Houston, with its industrial-chic dining room and location inside the shell of the beloved Felix Mexican Restaurant, will eventually come to be seen the same way.
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Uchi is just one of the transformative restaurants that have opened along Lower Westheimer in the past year. L'Olivier has taken over a former adult bookstore next to Numbers and made it into a classic French bistro with a sunny, modern charm. Across the street from Tex-Mex palace El Real, Chris Shepherd's Underbelly is changing the way Houstonians view their own city's cuisine, and next door, at craft beer mecca The Hay Merchant, Bobby Heugel and Kevin Floyd are changing the way people think about beer.

It makes sense, then, that Uchi should completely alter the expectations that people have for a "neighborhood restaurant." At first glance, a place that only offers one service a day — dinner, which the full kitchen staff starts preparing at 7 a.m. every day — and often requires reservations for that meal would seem inaccessible. A place that offers dishes with names like "walu walu" or ingredients such as rosemary smoke, espresso fish caramel or sanbaizu doesn't immediately ring true as an after-work stop-off or a place to grab a quick bite to eat. And you may have heard stories that meals at Uchi are priced like those at L'Idiot, the restaurant in Steve Martin's L.A. Story that required a credit check and a meeting with your financial planner beforehand.

So you may be surprised to find how inexpensive Uchi actually is. It's still a significant meal — especially for those who, as Speer puts it, want to "blow it up, try everything and get the whole experience" — but it's also the kind of place where you'll find that you would feel comfortable stopping in for a $3 sake and $6 spicy tuna roll during its daily happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m. (You can absolutely do so, too; dropping by and finding a table is easier than you'd expect.)

"We try to keep it familiar and fun and try to do fun, cool things with the food," said Speer. Those fun things include a blackberry "soil" and spheres of liquid juniper scattered playfully across a plate of very serious, very studiously grilled and sliced Wagyu beef. Or bacon sen, hearty pork belly that you tug off a simple wooden skewer with your lips as you relish the salty-sweet flavor of caramelized fish sauce and the ethereal briny waltz of bonito flakes across your tongue.

The former is $28 on the menu of daily specials, but the latter is only $6 on its "Sake Socials" happy hour menu. It's an egalitarian concept that takes all comers. And, yes, some of the dishes approach the $30 to $35 range — but, as with all things in life, you get what you pay for.

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3 comments
number9photog
number9photog

@UchiAustin ohh, I would love to try this Uchi

cg713_
cg713_

@BunBTrillOG @HoustonPress @UchiHouston saw that the other day, I want to try it now.

HoustonPress
HoustonPress

@BunBTrillOG @UchiHouston Thanks for the tweet buddy! Did Shannon get you your award?

 
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