Japanese restaurant Uchi is so close to opening in Uptown Dallas, they've already set a menu. But no, you can't get a table yet.
The restaurant, started in Austin, is fronted by James Beard Award winning executive chef Tyson Cole. He continues to lead the charge at the Austin original in addition to its more casual Austin offshoot called Uchiko and an Uchi in Houston.
Cole's chefs for the Dallas Uchi are already in place -- and already impressing industry folks, as evidence of pop-up dinners Sunday and Monday -- and it's only a matter of time before Dallas diners can grab a seat. But be patient: The general manager is shooting for a May opening in Uptown, if all goes as planned.
The opening of this revered Japanese restaurant is an important moment for Dallas dining. One of the biggest of the year, in fact.
There's much to be excited about on Uchi's Dallas menu. Here's a look at what you need to know before you go:
- The menu will have special-to-Dallas dishes that can't be ordered elsewhere. One of chef de cuisine Nilton "Junior" Borges' favorite new dishes is called gyutoro: wagyu short rib braised for 72 hours, then served with Asian pear terrine compressed with Thai basil. The dish started as a special in Houston, but chef Borges has decided to save it for Dallas diners only. At a pop-up dinner that accentuated fish, the diners around me seemed especially taken with chef Borges' short rib. Another only-in-Dallas dish will be kamo nabe: duck confit served in a bowl with an egg yolk atop crispy rice and kale. Servers then pour Korean chili and black pepper sauce into the bowl.
- Uchi will have a killer happy hour menu. They call it "sake social," but happy and hour should be in there somewhere, too. The menu will be unique to Dallas but will be similar to its Austin and Houston counterparts, which offer small bites for $3 to $6 and lower-priced drinks including $3 hot sake and Kirin Light. Sake social will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. seven days a week.
- There's a so-far-unnamed restaurant going upstairs. Call it a secret, if you like secrets. Here's what we know: The first floor of the Uptown restaurant will be Uchi. The second floor will be a second, as-yet-unnamed restaurant. Chef Borges will help create the menu, along with executive chef Cole. It'll be open for lunch and dinner and is expected to be slightly more casual than the downstairs restaurant. Will the restaurant simply be Uchiko, Uchi's already-established "farmhouse dining" sibling? Might it have nothing to do with Asian cuisine? What if the chef really wants to make pizza up there? (Hey, it wouldn't be the first time.) I'll have more for you soon on the unknown space.
- You won't need to wear your fanciest outfit. There's no dress code at Uchi, and chefs pride themselves on a mostly casual atmosphere for what they call "contemporary Japanese dining." Wear what you're comfortable in, within reason. Reservations are not required and walk-ins are welcome. But take our suggestion: When Uchi Dallas opens, a seat will be hard to come by.
- Been to Uchi before? Your favorite dish might be on the Dallas menu. Some of the chef's favorite dishes in Austin and Houston will make appearances on the Dallas menu. For instance, the hama chili, a pretty display of oranges and yellowtail served with ponzo and topped with fiery Thai chiles, will be a fixture on the menu. No need to mess with a good thing, the chef tells me.
- It's OK if you're a sushi noob. The friendly staff at Uchi will likely explain how to eat each bite. At the pop-up dinner, for instance, General Manager Bryan LaFontaine told diners when it was appropriate to set our chopsticks to the side and pick up food with our fingers. Similarly, our own restaurant critic Leslie Brenner recently posted a handy video that gives sushi pointers. At Uchi, expect their upscale food to be accessible, and, at times, expensive.
2817 Maple Ave., Dallas. uchirestaurants.com.