Food-loving Dallas has been positively giddy over the debut June 1 of Uchi Dallas - and with good reason: The arrival on the scene of Tyson Cole's Austin original raises the bar significantly for sushi in Big D.
The Maple Avenue restaurant is booked pretty solid; unless you're willing to dine at 5 p.m. or after 9, there are no tables as of this writing until more than three weeks out. Don't despair: The management holds 40 to 45% of the tables for walk-ins. If you don't mind waiting (and probably depending on the evening), chances are good for scoring a table or seat at the sushi bar. On Thursday night I arrived sans reservation with a party of four at 7:10, and the estimated wait was an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Sounds long, but there's a pleasant patio on the side where you can sit and have a glass of wine or sake or a beer. (There's also a bar, but it's wine, beer and sake only, no hard liquor.) A server came around at some point passing complimentary hors d'oeuvres - delicious little morsels of super-tender skewered grilled beef.
The attractive, contemporary serenely lighted dining room has comfortable booths and a wraparound sushi bar with 13 seats; the decor recalls Uchiko in Austin (home to both Uchi and Uchiko, and there's an Uchi in Houston, as well), but Uchi Dallas is more modernist in feel.
Be careful when ordering from the sushi and sashimi part of the menu: Unlike most sushi bars, where an order of nigiri is two pieces, here an order means one piece; prices range from $2.50 for Japanese eggplant or avocado (neither of which I tried) to $9.50, for seared foie nigiri brushed with fish caramel, which was terrific. All the sushi I sampled came to the table thoughtfully sauced; our super-engaged and passionate server instructed us to eat them fish-side down on our tongue. She was right - that seemed to heighten the sensuality of the experience.
Daily sushi and sashimi specials are affixed to the front of the menu. From it, we ordered Tasmanian ocean trout sashimi and baby bonito sashimi to start; they came to the table beautifully presented with a dish of house-made shoyu (soy sauce). Fresh wasabi is available by request for $7. Before the sashimi came, chef Nilton "Junior" Borges sent a gorgeous special cool dish (which I paid for, naturally) - slabs of raw tuna, each set on a chunk of watermelon, garnished with paper-thin slices of chiles, scallion and herbs and set on a pool of house fish sauce brightened with cilantro, mint and Thai basil.
Signature dishes - "cool tastings" and "hot tastings" -- take up the left side of the menu. Among the cool tastes are hirame usuzukuri, thin slices of flounder dressed with olive oil, tobiko (flying fish roe), lime zest and candied quinoa. And machi cure: smoked baby yellowtail layered with yucca crisps, thin rectangles of Asian pear, Marcona almond and more. Hot tastings include saba shio - a fillet of grilled Norwegian mackerel in a light, savory sauce with preserved lemon and cucumbers - and sakana mushi, Thai-accented loup de mer (a.k.a. branzino) steamed in parchment. All were easy to share. Another hot tasting, available only at Uchi Dallas, is nabe: a bowl of sushi rice mingled with duck, baby yellowtail, mushrooms, soy broth and greens. Our server stirred it tableside.
Desserts, care of executive pastry chef Andrew Lewis, are much more elaborate than those you usually find in Japanese restaurants, and there are quite a few - including peanut butter semifreddo with apple-miso sorbet and plumped raisins, and lime cream - layers of lime-fennel-seed mousse, delicate puffed rice, roasted pear sorbet and fennel fronds.
Uchi Dallas is open nightly, which is a happy thought when you suddenly feel like going out on a Sunday or Monday; it's dinner only. Even just out the gate, it's very clear that it's a superb addition to our dining scene.
2817 Maple Ave., Dallas; 214-855-5454; uchirestaurants.com/dallas