Unless you’ve been living under a rock (make that a hot rock with some Kobe beef on it), you are probably aware that Uchi–Austin’s nonpareil avant-garde sushi and Japanese fusion restaurant–has replicated itself on the north side of town, specifically at 4200 N. Lamar (916-4808). In a smart move, chef-owner Tyson Cole engineered such an extended half-price soft opening at Uchiko, as junior is known, that several billion people have now eaten there and become permanently hooked. Including myownself. I’ve been a huge fan for years, but always wondered if there were some magic particular to the little sunset-orange cottage on S. Lamar that would prove impossible to duplicate. The answer is now clear–the magic travels, and travels well. The new space is much more pared down and monochromatic (no wild floral wallpaper, for instance), but at the same time, the rooms have a certain homey, rustic quality, which the website calls “Japanese farmhouse”. The most arresting feature is actually the slate-black east wall, which looks like charcoal, and, in fact, is charcoal. Designer Michael Hsu arranged for the entire surface of the wood to be burnt, and then had it sealed (don’t worry, no smoky smell). It’s stunning. The pattern will make you think of black moire silk. The night I ate there, our table rated our favorites with letter grades, giving one “A” and “A+” after another. We flipped over the koviche (fresh day-boat scallop with tomatillo, kalamata, and black lime); the akami te (big-eye tuna, watermelon, and cilantro with a touch of coriander); and the roasted golden beet salad (with yogurt, bitter greens, and a dab of acacia honey). But the two most fun dishes were the roasted English peas in the shell, like giant edamame (see image) and the take nabe (a thick rice soup with two kinds of Japanese mushrooms and a topping of teeny bonito flakes that the broth’s radiant heat made curl and writhe in the most surreal way; you should order it just for the effect). The first official open day is July 6 (no soft-opening seats available now), so check the web site for the reservation policy. By the way, the image is by Rebecca Fondren, who’s working on the photography for Cole’s first cookbook–no due date yet. I mean, really, the poor guy has a new restaurant and a new baby. One thing at a time, please.
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