The food service industry has poisoned me with perfection. Attention to detail. Polished silverware. Wine glasses that sparkle in the dining room. Watching the employees interact- figuring out who is new, who is experienced, who is professional, and who sees their job simply as ‘just a job.’ It’s almost ruined my dining experience as a whole because I’ve set my standards so high. I can’t NOT walk into a restaurant and immediately try and figure out how it works. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but secretly I love it.
There’s not attention to any sort of detail in Brunswick, GA. There’s not a restaurant I consider fine dining or even close to upscale casual for me to pick its brain apart. I haven’t seen a nice restaurant in what feels like ages- until I went to Austin, TX and had the pleasure of dining at Uchiko.
This evening I had the pleasure to dine with Arabic aficionado, Alex McLelland. As avid watcher’s of Top Chef Texas, we decided we had to dine at the restaurant from Season Nine’s winner – Paul Qui. Once we walked in the restaurant, I could tell Tyson Cole, the Chef and Owner, was running his business well.
The restaurant had incredible decor. Perfect lighting. It was set up so well. You walk in and in front of you is the hostess stand followed by the dining room. To your left was a bar lounge/dining area. This seems so minimal, but the kitchen was connected to the bar and the main dining room. That type of design ensures opulence. The servers uniform was classic. They wore a darker shade of grey button down, jeans, and a long dark apron. It wasn’t a pretentious uniform- it was simple and modern, and it worked.
As with all of my dining experiences, appetizers are a must. We started with an order of Tempura Nasu from the “Agemono” (Japanese for deep-fried) section of the menu. It was a great starter. It was lightly fried Japanese eggplant crisps that went great with the sweet Thai chili sauce. Mae Ploy is usually what restaurants use (that aren’t Japanese) when they serve a sweet Thai chili sauce. This wasn’t Mae Ploy, it didn’t look like it and honestly I think it tasted better. It was a lot thinner and held just as much flavor.
Our next appetizer was Karaage – fried chicken. Fried chicken at an Asian restaurant leaves most people skeptical, but these were perfect. They were battered with kuzu (like Japanese flour) and cornstarch. The crust was so light. Normally when things are fried the crust is thick and crunchy, and at not so good restaurants chicken wings are normally burned. These were perfect. The texture made the outside batter melt in your mouth. The chicken was so tender, it reminded me of Central BBQ’s ribs that just fell off the bone. AND it was a great appetizer for two people to split. I’m guessing they were tossed in a sansho pepper sauce. To be specific, it’s not actually a pepper- it’s a spice, tangy with a hint of lemon. Along with them came ‘seasonal pickled vegetables’ of carrot, beet, and cucumber. What a great way to subtlety keep costs down. Taking vegetables used in other areas of the menu and pickling them. It may seem like that only saves pennies, but that’s what makes the dream work.
Did I mention that when we eat, we eat a lot? You can’t go to an Asian restaurant for an experience and not order Edamame. You know what was great about this edamame? It was thrown on the grill. I really liked the slight char taste. Personally, I would have put more salt on them, but I know everyone doesn’t have an affinity for salt like I do.
For entrees, we both got sushi rolls and I had to try something I’ve never tried before so I ordered Hotate. One roll was the Tiger Cry. It was spicy delicious with cured waygu, rice paper, red pepper, charred green onion and topped with something similar to wonton crisps. I loved this roll.
The second roll was called ‘p-38.’ I should have asked what that meant, but I didn’t. This roll consisted of Japanese Yellowtail, avocado, yuzu kosho (a paste made from chili pepper, yuzu peel, and salt- yuzu is basically a Japanese lime), cilantro, and grilled negi (green onion). The two sauces on the plate were so flavorful. There was a white anchovy aioli and a spicy lemon miso sauce. I liked the Tiger Cry roll more- because I like beef more than fish- but the combination in the p-38 worked well as well as being paired with the sauces.
The winner for me, of course, was the dish I’ve never tried before. I said ‘Hotate’ to my friend Brittany Walters and she immediately new it was raw scallop. It was different. Weird. Mainly because I’ve been cooking for years and never once thought about eating a raw scallop. After defeeting so many and watching them fall through my fingers when raw from their juices, never considered eating it that way. I’m glad I did though. It was a new experience. The presentation was simple- nori (seaweed wrapper that’s used in sushi), raw scallop, spicy sauce (mayo base) and avocado. The raw texture went well with the avocado, and the flavor from the spicy sauce gave the scallop great flavor.
The food wasn’t the only impressive portion of the restaurant. It might not be all servers there, but our server was exceptional. I don’t know his name, but I don’t think names are important if they know how to check on you appropriately. He knew every term on the menu. He knew every combination and description of each dish. He was a professional server. He pre-bussed and kept our table clean at all times. The food runners who brought the food explained the items on the plate very well. It felt nice to be in a restaurant that cares that much about service, presentation, and professionalism. Every person front of house was hands down constantly working to see what could be bussed, refilled, or delivered.
I know that most restaurants have a mouthful of diamonds with a pocketful of secrets, but this restaurant looked like it was being run very well and efficiently. Living in Brunswick, GA I don’t see any professionalism like that. I stared at ‘honshimeji’ and it took me thirty minutes to remember it was a mushroom. Southeast Georgia is not the place for me to live while searching for more education on food and the food industry because all we have is fried seafood. I’m ready to leave, I’m ready to live, and I’m ready to love learning about food again. Get ready, Austin, I’m waiting on you to teach me more. See you in a few months.