Uchi Dallas opens tonight. FINALLY! This following is a post of a piece I wrote for The Dallas Observer’s Food & Drink blog. You can also read it there if you’d like.
Uchi means “naked” in
Japanese, um Swahili. Makes sense, when you think about it. Not because every “foodie” (shudder) in town is all, “who do I have to sleep with to get a reservation up in here?” but because executive chef/owner Tyson Cole does magical things with each single, solitary, naked ingredient in his Austin and Houston kitchens, and Dallas’ chef de cuisine Nilton “Junior” Borges Jr. is poised to do the same here for all of us hungry Dallasites. From sake to soybean, sashimi to sorbet, each taste is handled with the care and creativity it deserves, and you’ll notice.
So let’s get under the skin a bit and learn a little more about what will make Uchi Dallas unlike any other restaurant you’ve been to, including, I’ve been told, Uchi Austin and Houston. I asked chefs Cole and Borges a few questions to help us understand more about Uchi Dallas and why it’s going to be so unique.
What took you so damn long!? Meaning: why Dallas and why now?
The key to our success with Uchi has been about a desire to evolve and grow, and Dallas seemed the perfect place for our next big challenge after success with Uchiko and Uchi Houston.
What are the differences between Uchi Dallas, Houston and Austin, menu- and vibe-wise?
The Dallas location is an extension of the Uchi experience in Austin, but as we make our home in Dallas, we want to be part of the community, to serve the diverse Dallas dining crowd, to mold and evolve with the city while staying true to our philosophy.
And what about the design choices, inside and out, with regard to Uchi Dallas?
As with the menu, the Uchi in Dallas draws elements from Uchi and Uchiko in Austin. The large timber booths and banquettes are reminiscent of Uchiko’s design, while the wallpaper of rich browns and reds are derived from the original Uchi. Uchi Dallas, as with its predecessors in Austin and Houston, is a collection of handmade details, skillfully crafted and purposefully arranged while maintaining the sense of organic. The design is by Michael Hsu.
Let’s talk about Uchi’s interesting desserts. During our hardhat tour, I tasted something with chocolate and mushroom in it, for example…
Executive Pastry Chef Andrew Lewis:
My goal for our desserts is to compliment our food. No sugar bombs here; just like our food, it’s all about balance. Thus I love incorporating savory elements like olive gelato, smoked mushroom panna cotta, etc. The first thing I look at when eating at a new restaurant is the dessert menu: I want our menu to jump out at you; make you wonder what ‘sweet egg’ is, or how olive gelato tastes.
Describe your background in 15 words or fewer.
Learned sushi and Japanese in Tokyo, New York and Austin for 10 years before opening Uchi.
Born and raised in Brazil, food was always a big part of my life.
What else should people know about you that’s perhaps not common knowledge?
I love sports, read like mad, used to teach kayaking, eat fish every day and have a family with three amazing little girls.
I started cooking because of my mom and grandma. We were on the subway in NYC about 13 years ago and my mom saw an ad for a cooking school and she told me, “Why don’t you do that? You love to eat, love to cook and love to be in the kitchen.” It made sense to me, and I never looked back.
What might surprise folks to know about you as a chef and as a person?
The hardest part of my career has been after I stopped working on the line. The transition from being a sushi chef and working with my hands to teaching and leading people (in addition to being a sushi chef) has changed me as a person. I’ve learned patience and helping people grow in their career is far more satisfying. My greatest joy, other than having kids, has been vicariously watching so many of our team and chefs grow their own careers into fruition.
What surprises people? That I am diabetic, but I love food and I love to cook. I strive to excel in what I do, but I’m a level headed person and laid back, both in and out of the kitchen. That surprised some of our new people going through training, in a good way.
The dishes prepared at Uchi restaurants are composed and picture-perfect. What do you like to make at home?
At home with a family of five I like to keep things pretty simple. I love to grill all kinds of meats, fish and fruit. Oven roasting vegetables like potatoes, broccolini and kale is common at home too. Almost everything I cook is finished or eaten with some type of vinegar.
When I cook at home, I often make Brazilian food or pasta. I love pasta!!
What are you most excited for people to taste when Uchi Dallas opens its doors to the public tonight?
Everything! The key to eating at Uchi is a dance between our core menu with proven dishes we’ve run for years that regulars come back for, and a special sheet that’s seasonal and a playground for our chefs to create new and exciting dishes daily. And don’t forget the sushi!
It’s hard to pick only one dish! We are super excited for people to come and try our menu and specials. I’d say I’m most excited for people to come and let us design the experience you want.
Here are some images I captured today during our photo shoot: