|Ok, so here it is almost a year and a half since I actually made this trip and I haven't written a word about it. Luckily I still have my notes.
So, I decided I would attempt a writeup, though it may be a more limited one than I normally would do. This particular long weekend with
Tee was so much fun and memorable that I figured even if it was a limited accounting it would be worthwhile.
This trip was initiated when Tee invited me to join her in Austin as she had some business meetings followed by some significant down
time. I had always been curious about visiting Austin, so I jumped at the chance. I have visited San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth
before (I like San Antonio despite the humidity. Not so fond of Dallas, but quite liked Fort Worth), but never had opportunity to visit the
State capitol. The trip would be brief but I had already jotted down some things I wanted to make sure and see/do while there so not
much time would be wasted.
Tee had already been in Austin for a couple of days on business when I flew in and was unable to meet me at the airport as she was
still in meetings. I took a cab to the hotel and checked in. The hotel was an Embassy Suites on the edge of town somewhere. Not
conducive to site-seeing, but a hotel/location Tee said was convenient for her business purposes. The hotel and room itself felt dated
to the point of making me feel as if I had traveled back in time a three or four decades. That being said, it was very clean and quite
comfortable. In fact, the room was more of a 'suite' in that it had a full living room and lounge area separate from the bedroom/bath area.
I spent and hour or so checking out the Japanese NHK World channel available in the room, then wandered over to the steakhouse
across the way and sipped on a local beer and ate a sandwich. Eventually Tee came back and we spent a couple of hours hanging out,
showering, and getting ready to go out to dinner at Uchi.
Uchi is a very special restaurant for a variety of reasons as we would come to find out. A couple of weeks before coming to Austin I had
done some research in order to attempt to discover what might be Austin's best sushi restaurant (if in fact Austin had any decent
sushi). After researching I had decided that this place called "Uchi" seemed most intriguing, so I called to make a reservation. Turned
out that the only time still available even two weeks out was on Thursday at 5:30. Maybe not ideal, but I took it knowing it would be our
only chance. Coincidentally, only a day or two later my friend Brad Peacock sent me a link to a New York Times article about the dining
scene in Austin. It's top featured restaurant? Uchi! I was convinced this was the right choice.
As we drove I began to think that perhaps it was a GOOD thing we were forced to take a reservation just as they opened because it
might allow us a prime seat in front of the "number one" sushi chef if we played our cards right. This idea was quite quickly squelched
however as the reality of the rush-hour traffic set in. We began to think that it was very possible that we may not make our reservation at
all! Fortunately we fought through the traffic effectively enough (thanks to Tee's driving) that we pulled into the restaurant parking lot just
as they opened. We were only the second group to arrive and our request to sit at particular seats at the sushi bar were
accommodated without a second thought by the hostess. Yes!!!
Sitting in front of the main sushi chef, Chef Yoshi, worked out perfectly. Within minutes we had developed a nice report with him, thanks
in part to finding that he was from an area just outside of Kyoto where Tee once lived. When we initially ordered "omakase" (chef's
choice), the chef pointed to two set menu options. We told him that we would just prefer to have him do his own omakase (a more
traditional Japanese approach). He lit up and said he would do just that. As a true Japanese chef I think it came as a pleasant surprise
to him that a customer would request "true" omakase. Uchi is not a traditional sushi restaurant, but more of a Japanese fusion place
with significant traditional elements. We were treated to some really amazing dishes, some of which I had never seen before, including
an amazing maguro, goat cheese, Fuji apple, golden raisin combo topped with pumpkin seed oil. My other favorite curiosity was a
beautiful saba shioyaki (salted, grilled mackerel) nigiri topped with shiso and cherry tomato. Amazing! We paired the meal with a
wonderful reishu (cold sake) called "Suishin" (Bride of the Fox), as well as some Special Reserve Sapporo beer.
About halfway through our meal Chef Yoshi said he wanted to introduce us to the Executive Chef and owner of Uchi, Tyson Cole. Yoshi
went into the back kitchen and emerged with Chef Cole and introducing us in Japanese, saying "you've got to meet this couple who
used to live in Kyoto and speak Japanese." Chef Cole then spoke briefly to us in Japanese (his Japanese being quite good) before
switching over to English. We talked a little about his experience in the sushi business (mostly in New York under Japanese masters)
and how impressed we were with Uchi. He then told us that he wanted to make us something and disappeared back into the kitchen.
He eventually came back out and made his way around to our side of the counter were he proceeded to make the saba shioyaki I
mentioned before. Over the next half hour or so Chef Cole came out to personally make us two more dishes. It was really a great
experience! I was unaware of Tyson Cole's reputation at the time, but came to find out later that he is considered one of the top chefs of
his generation, having been named one of the Top Ten Chefs In America by Food and Wine magazine, and having competed against
Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef America. A truly impressive resume, especially for a guy that still looks 25 years old!
After our dreamy 3 hour meal we paid our bill, said our goodbyes to Yoshi and Tyson and went to enter the parking lot. That's when we
noticed the party-like vibe of the large outdoor patio off to the side of the restaurant. We just HAD to stay and have one more drink and
take in the very cool, relaxed vibe of this great restaurant before finally pulling ourselves away. Can't wait for the next chance to eat at
|The next morning Tee had some business on the University of Texas campus, so I rode with her there and spent an hour or two
wandering around the campus. I was surprised to find the place quite unimpressive. The main Student Union Building was a cold and
confusing space with very few students around. In fact there seemed to be few students anywhere throughout the campus. I was
surprised. Luckily the weather was fine despite being slightly chilly. I sat in front of the clock tower and took in some sun while making
some notes about the dinner the night before.
|Eventually I made my way to the Blanton Museum Cafe for some breakfast as I waited for the museum itself to open. The Blanton is
quite impressive and I enjoyed a good couple of hours there checking out the Greek and Roman reproductions, the modern "Art of the
Americas" exhibit, and the ongoing on-site project to restore a huge work by Paolo Veronese from the 1540's. I took some non-flash
photos of some of the standout works to post here:
|The Clock Tower on the
University of Texas campus