What is in this article?:
- Fine Dining awards: Uchi
- A communal atmosphere
Chef Tyson Cole opened Uchi ihn 2003 to local and national acclaim.
This article is part of a series profiling Nation Restaurant News' 2012 Fine Dining Hall of Fame inductees. This report is a bonus feature from the Nov. 12 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, typically available to subscribers only. Subscribe today.
Like many Americans, Tyson Cole wasn’t in a rush to try the sushi at the Japanese restaurant where he was washing dishes to pay for college.
“I was like, no way. It’s raw fish. I tried all the other things first,” he said.
Slowly, though, he tried the seaweed, then the rice, and then raw fish inside a seaweed roll. Soon he was hooked, not only on the sushi, but on the family, the Japanese culture and the respect they had for their food.
He also changed his career plans, ditching painting and architecture.
“I realized I was born to cook,” Cole said.
And cook he can. Cole’s first restaurant, Uchi, which he opened in 2003, is credited with putting Austin, Texas, on the global culinary map. Reservations are hard to get at the downtown operation, which serves some 300 to 400 guests a night. The Japanese fusion restaurant was an instant hit. It’s nationally recognized for its original, flavorful and accessible cuisine, its beautiful presentation, and its delectable desserts.
“The dishes — from cold compositions to hot entrées to sashimi and rolls to desserts — emerge as intellectual mash-ups of flavors, textures, temperatures and taste-bud sensations,” Greg Morago recently wrote in the Houston Chronicle.
“I think Uchi and Uchiko [its sister restaurant] are the two best restaurants in the state,” said Patricia Sharpe, executive editor for Texas Monthly. She named Cole’s third restaurant, the Houston location of Uchi, the best new restaurant of 2011.
“Tyson Cole and his crew, including executive Paul Qui and Philip Speer, the executive pastry chef, single-handedly took traditional Japanese cuisine to a whole new level,” she said.
Before Uchi came along the customer base for Japanese restaurants in Austin consisted of the purists, who insisted on simple, pristine, nongimmicky sushi and sashimi, and kids who ate California and spider rolls and all sorts of Southwestern-influenced rolls, she said.
“Cole forged his own taste profiles that drew on Japanese principles and modern, youthful sensibilities,” she said. “He understood the two camps, and he fashioned something very sophisticated that appealed to both of them. In my mind he is the Nobu of Texas. And his restaurants here are more popular.”