Unlocking Uchi

by | Dining

The secrets of one of the most anticipated new restaurants this summer

by SARAH BLASKOVICH | photographs by MANNY RODRIGUEZ

It’s no secret that Uchi is already one of Dallas’ most interesting new restaurants. The bigger secret is beyond its doors, once you finally score a table. The dining room feels like a buzzy supper club – a whirlwind of chatty servers who prove the hard-to-pronounce menu of Japanese dishes is a fun and funky story about Asian cuisine. The hirame usuzukuri – raw flounder sashimi topped with candied red quinoa – is exactly Uchi: an elegant and beautiful dish that ends with an amusing crunch. Just as interesting is the akami te, compressed watermelon hidden underneath a piece of raw tuna in the same ruby red color. You might not know it’s there until you take the first bite. Executive chef Tyson Cole and chef de cuisine Nilton “Junior” Borges have created a menu that is full of sly surprises.

Lemongreass toasted rice mousse.

Uchi in Uptown Dallas, near the Stoneleigh Hotel, is the fourth restaurant in chef Cole’s growing Asian-food empire, which includes Uchi and Uchiko in Austin and an Uchi in Houston. For the past 15 years, Cole believed North Texas already had some of the best Japanese food in the state. Opening a new restaurant in Dallas would be daunting, the James Beard Award winner thought. “There’s something about Dallas,” he says. “It’s such a high standard.” But his restaurant here will help raise the proverbial bar during an exciting time in Asian cuisine in Dallas, and Borges has added a few Dallas-only dishes to his menu, which are destined to make Austin and Houston diners envious. The gyutoro, for example, is Wagyu short ribs prepared sous vide for 72 hours and served with Thai basil and compressed Asian pears. Try each ingredient alone and you might be impressed. Try all in the same bite and you’ll understand how the chefs here “Uchify” a Japanese dish.

Gyutoro, a special Dallas-only dish with short rib and Asian pear.

They just hope this elevated experience doesn’t seem fancy. Eat off your table mate’s plate; it’s encouraged. Forget about the chopsticks: Pick up pieces of fish with your fingers. If you can leave your dinner choice in the hands of another, order Borges’ omakase – it means “to entrust” in Japanese – tasting menu: a selection of about 10 courses, all based on the season and the whimsy of the chef. Eventually, Uchi will open a second restaurant upstairs at its Maple Avenue address, but “definitely not a sushi restaurant,” Cole says. The chef won’t say more. Secrets, secrets: At Uchi, they are a ton of fun.

Executive chef Tyson Cole, left, and chef de cuisine Nilton “Junior” Borges.