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Jun 07 2007

Roly poly fish heads eat them up yum

uchi-mackerel.jpg
Fried mackerel, peanuts, cilantro, lemon curd at Uchi on S. Lamar, June 6, 2007

Stingray and I waited an hour for a table at Uchi last night. Then we ordered the chef’s tasting menu (the actual name for it was a Japanese phrase meaning “I trust you”). Whereupon Jody, our server, brought us 8 or 10 courses in succession, at a pace compatible with the digestive processes of peckish epicures. If I were writing a fantasy novel — and we should all be infinitely grateful that this is not the case, because I wouldn’t be able to put in a single faerie or Golden Sword of Zwyrrdnnflyr — I would describe what happened next as “we flew into transports.” But I am writing a blog post, so I will merely say that we became very pleasantly pisculent.

Succulent little sea-dwelling morsels which only 24 hours earlier had been swimming without a care in the world in and around Japanese waters arrived dressed with indescribably delicate emulsions and sauces and dice of fruit and vegetable and mineral. Each of these edible tableaux was as close to an expression of Truth and Beauty as anything I’ve ever chewed. Buttery slices of snapper with tangerines; Applewood smoked yellowfin with candied garlic, almonds, and taro chips; a whole fried mackerel with fried peanuts and Meyer lemon curd; grilled scallops with fairy-ring mushrooms and roasted grape tomato; yes, and foie gras on a grilled brioche with papaya compote and some mysterious fresh herbs, and yes, I ate it, goddammit; pinball-sized scoops of sorbet made from absurd vermillion mountain peaches with more unidentified herbs and tiny cubes of mint gelatin; fried fish skin, nectarines, tangerines, Asian pears, New Zealand lobsterettes –

Twisty wept.

I would call it the best meal I’ve had in 10 years, except that Uchi’s chef is a fucking genius, and nobody within 1000 miles of Austin is doing anything remotely comparable. “But Twisty,” you say, “why deduct points for that?” Well, precisely because it is so astonishing, the place was crammed to the rafters with expensive people. And because it’s Austin, the expensive people were unable to stop yelling.

Yelling and Truth and Beauty: one of these things is not like the other.

Also, one of our servers called the soup “vishy-swah.”

Also, there appeared to be an amateur pole dancers convention in progress; I hadn’t thought it possible for so many heaving rubber bosoms to so heavily predominate a given square footage except at the MTV Movie Awards.

38 comments

1 ping

  1. LouisaMayAlcott

    Ah, Twisty, you given piquance to my lunchtime tomato & cheese sandwich here.

    And to me, my first great belly laugh of the day.

  2. Eurosabra

    Omakase or Kaiseki? With Kaiseki the emphasis is more on the presentation and the aesthetics of the (deliberately haute cuisine) fine-dining experience…

    Mackerel is Japanese cooking’s secret weapon, along with eggplant. Anything from crispy, satisfying pub food to four-star sublime.

  3. Sophie

    Yes but…
    I really hope they were selling you local products while pretending they had been flown in. Otherwise what is the carbon footprint of all this deliciousness ?
    The ‘sea-dwelling morsels swimming in Japanese waters’ are more and more rare due to overfishing, too.
    I blame the patriarchy for airmiles sushi ;)

  4. Sara

    Mmm, I love mackerel. Rhymes with “smackerel.”

    It’s a vastly underappreciated fish in this country, IMO. Should we BTP?

  5. kcb

    Sounds great, heaving, yelling diners notwithstanding.

    BUT

    I’ll have that damned song in my head again for years, Twisty.

    “I took a fish head to the movies/
    didn’t have to pay to get it in.”

    (Goes to the fridge for more cheesecake.)

  6. femhist

    The title of this post sounds like the first line of some new hand-clapping game that little girls play; it just has that “Miss Lucy” rhythm to it.

  7. tata

    There I was, fooling myself. It’s painful to look back on it now. I was nibbling buttery fresh avocado with the merest hint of ripe tomato and a gentle sprinkling of salt when I collided with foie gras on a grilled brioche with papaya compote and some mysterious fresh herbs, and yes, I ate it, goddammit and knew in my heart I was experiencing a mysterious fresh herb emergency.

    The shame, the shame.

  8. yankee transplant

    My favorite stanza from that song:
    “They can’t play baseball
    They don’t wear sweaters
    They’re not good dancers
    They don’t play drums”

    The dinner sounds terrific, but the noise would spoil it for me. I must be getting old.

  9. schatze

    “Roly poly fish heads eat them up yum” Now I have other Doctor Demento staples like Dead Puppies and Pencil Necked Geek repeating in my head like a bad meal.

  10. ttrentham

    Uchi is totally amazing, but I can only afford to eat there once or twice a year. There was a recent article in XLEnt.

    Have you had the Sake Kama?

    The clientele wasn’t so bad at first, but it’s gotten progressively worse.

    PS I tried to read the FAQ, but got something about exceeding

  11. ttrentham

    Oops. Nevermind that last half-sentence. It worked on the second try.

  12. rainie

    I have an mp3 of that song. I’ve used it in talks with movie clips of 3D spinning micrographs of, yeah, you guessed it, fish heads. No, I’m not joking.

  13. rainie

    And the food sounds divine!

  14. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    My sister took me to a real chi-chi place a few weeks back. The expensive people there were oddly hushed. The couple at the table nearest us (Judge Imhotep and his wife, I think) were older individually than my sibling and I put together.

    Oh, it was dreamy, I tell ya. The waitpersons were handsome and attentive without being unctuous. The lighting was subdued without being cockroachy. The napery was so sharply creased and crisp you coulda cut your steak with it. I’m no food critic, but I ordered an au gratin dish that was, indeed, the Essence of Truth and Beauty.

  15. Mildred Fierce

    Fish heads are never seen eating lobsterettes in
    Japanese restaurants with heaving-chested women.
    Yeeaahh.

  16. Rebecca

    How much did it cost? Did you have to sell any major organs?

  17. Patti

    Antoinette, I, myself, may be older than you and your sibling put together – your point? On the other hand, I really like “subdued without being cockroachy”. :)

    I had leftover minestrone for lunch. It wasn’t bad, but now I feel deprived.

  18. gzur

    Hi Twisty.

    I kept getting “his Account Has Exceeded Its CPU Quota” when trying to access the comments section. It then advised me to either try again in a few minutes or contact the site’s webmaster.

    I decided to do both.

  19. Rev Dr in thebewilderness

    I do so love it when you eat well and share the joy.

  20. Panic

    Fish heads are never seen eating lobsterettes in
    Japanese restaurants with heaving-chested women.
    Yeeaahh.

    Mildred for the win!!

  21. sabrina

    I have very little to say but “omfg”

  22. Bubbas' Nightmare

    “Twisty wept”

    Isn’t that the shortest verse in the IBTP Scripture (Austin translation)? Loaves and fishes, and all that?

    I just can’t keep my religious literature straight anymore.

  23. Hecate Demetersdatter

    Sushi Zen at 1915 I Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. I.Am.Just.Saying.

  24. Bird

    I had a similarly delightful culinary experience in Seoul while I was there. This high-level Korean tourism guy and some other officials took our group out for dinner (the benefits of travelling with famous taekwondo grand masters!) at this very schmancy place that I’d never be able to afford otherwise. They served these delicate rice noodles with some sort of herb/seaweed combination that was so subtle, yet so delicious. Never mind the paper-thin beef slices or the lovely cinnamon persimmon tea thing for dessert. Sigh. Plus the soju (a distilled rice alcohol). Mmmmm. Soju.

    Our local Korean place is never going to be quite the same for me, sadly. That’s the trouble with eating things like that. Other food simply pales by comparison.

  25. Foilwoman

    And this fine epicurean feast made you think of the delightful Dr. Demento because why? I almost used and ellipsis, but stopped myself in time. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice.

  26. stekatz

    Gee I hope my previous accidental hitting of the blame button doesn’t show up.

    Yellowtail = good. Mackerel = better.

    I have to say, though, that I have cut down on my fish consumption lately after reading one too many National Geographic articles.

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium puts out a handy wallet-sized chart for determining which fish choices are best and which to avoid. I whip it out whenever fish is on the menu.

    And:
    “Ask a fish head anything you want to. They don’t answer because they can’t talk.”

  27. Beard

    I was at Uchi some months ago, and was also bothered by the noise. Then I looked carefully at the design of the room, with its medium-high vaulted ceiling of hard polished wood and no hanging fabrics. It’s *designed* to be noisy! They *want* it that way!

    It’s supposed to sound and feel jammed with excited loud-talking people (and with heaving bosoms, no doubt), even before it gets full. Go figure. It doesn’t make sense to my aging mind, but it’s pretty clear I’m not their intended demographic.

    I agree that their food is fabulous, and I’ll go back. But.

  28. mali

    Bird, your comment took me right back to southern Japan, where I spent a year poking around (okay, “teaching” English to 15-year-olds) a while back. Korean soju is also consumed in vast quantities in the south of Japan, but it takes on an entirely different personality: moonshine. After living there for a while (finding out that it can also be made from potatoes didn’t help) I couldn’t dissociate shochu – the Japanese pronunciation of the same word – from liquor made in a bathtub.

    That’s not to say I don’t like it! I like shochu too much for my own good. But I was convinced that my school’s vice principal, who was missing teeth, did in fact probably make it in his back yard. It’s just such a great image it can’t not be true.

    So you reminded me of my favorite thing about shochu, even more favorite than it being the moonshine of southern hicks in Japan: that it takes on a totally different cast once you remove it from that environment. In California, in Korea, in Tokyo, it becomes elegant and trendy. In Kyushu it is drunk pre-mixed with fruit juice out of a 1-liter can on your back balcony while throwing rocks at the 5-inch-long cicadas.

    It’s the best! I’m filled with nostalgia now. Thank you!

  29. KMTberry

    And they don’t even serve spirits!! I mean, the crowd there is so CLEARLY a bar-hoppin’ cocktail drinkin’ crowd, all young and hot and in the IN CROWD or sumpthin, and there IS no bar. It made me think that maybe it is a DATE place, you know, the best restaurant in town so she’ll be impressed(?)

    I have heard that you can go for the tasting menu the SECOND they open , and it is much much much more subdued. I think they open at 5, but it could be 6.

    The CHef IS A G*E*N*I*U*S. IT’s true.

  30. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Sorry, Patti, I knew I was being a jackass even as I hit the “Blame” button. But for the record, my sister is 63, and I’m on the dark side of 47, so we ain’t exactly young ‘uns either.

  31. Mar Iguana

    Eat ‘em up. Yum.

  32. Twisty

    KTMberry, they do have a bar, but you’re right, you can’t get a Mai Tai there. It’s mostly sake. Which Stingray had, but, as I am an eccentric old bat, I kept to the grape.

  33. Bird

    mali, I must add that my partner preferred to shoot his soju with a chaser of Chilsun Cider (a soft drink that tastes like a cross between Sprite and ginger ale). He managed to get a number of other people in our group drinking it the same way, much to the amusement of our Korean hosts. But he’s not the sort to get hung up on social pretenses.

    As for fish, Korean kimchi-wrapped baked mackerel was quite the hit with our bunch. However, I found the candied minnows we were served on Jeju Island to be a bit odd.

  34. Patti

    Bird – I lived in Korea a while, many many years ago. I’d forgotten about soju – yeeks! I had friends in the Peace Corps that I used to go out with, to the really cheap places, where the soju was in big washtubs and they dipped it out with gourds. I still love kimchee and black beans and yakimandu and that candied lotus root stuff. I could never bring myself to try the silkworms sold as street food.

    Antoinette, thank you.

  35. Otter

    I believe the term is “omakase”
    I had the opportunity to go to Japan last fall and loved the food… had some really amazing meals, and I wish I could find someplace here to have a meal like that.

    jealous.
    but glad you got to experience it…

  36. Joanna

    Here it is:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzpN9ce_qF0

    in the evening, floating in the soup.

  37. roxannelamorte

    Dear Twisty,

    I feel deeply in awe of your vocabularic prowess. Dictionary.com did not have a definition for “pisculent,” but I managed to determine that it means “abounding in fish.” I love this word. I think I might start to suggest that people read your site before taking standardized tests, so that they may improve their verbal scores.

    Sincerely,

    Rox

  38. Bird

    I fell in love with red-bean filled rice cakes (soft things, not what we call a rice cake here). As someone who can’t eat wheat, Korean food was a delight. And yes, candied lotus root, kimchee, the ubiquitous spicy seafood miso soup, Korean pickled radish, barbeque where they come around and snip the long slices of meat with scissors—so much of my Korean experience was about food.

    I’ll also never forget picking oranges at Yakchun temple (on Jeju) and eating them right there. Being from the Canadian prairies, I’ve never experienced anything like that before. The smell of citrus trees will forever linger with me. Fruit that fresh is like a miracle.

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