Paul Qui

Jave Del Rosario and AJ Elumn, senior neurobiology majors, eat the Squid Ink Curry Ramen and Sapporo Beer Bacon Miso Ramen at East Side King Monday afternoon. The newly opened East Side King is Chef Paul Qui’s first non-food truck location. 

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Yesterday, local chef Paul Qui opened the fourth location of his East Side King food trailer in the back room of the Hole in the Wall, the long-loved bar and music venue on Guadalupe Street.

In the back room, East Side King has re-decorated by painting bright murals, installing Japanese beers on tap, and rearranging the furniture they inherited from the Hole in the Wall. Still, a line of vintage pinball machines stands at attention along one wall, harkening back to the bar’s beginning as an “arcade restaurant.” The division in the new space between the front room, where live music is played, and the back room, where East Side King serves food, is noticeable, but Hole in the Wall owner Will Tanner says he’s not concerned about the venues being perceived as separate.

“People kind of seem to flow out and spill,” Tanner said, gesturing toward the back room.

Of course, there are those who remain concerned about the integrity of the Hole in the Wall after the addition of East Side King. Since winning the 2012 season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Qui has gained popularity in the foodie world, while the Hole in the Wall has remained, well, that hole-in-the-wall on the Drag. Unhappy fans of the Hole in the Wall feel that bringing the likes of Qui, a former executive chef at Uchiko, into the back will ruin the dingy authenticity of the bar. This reporter, like many UT students, can’t speak to that dingy authenticity: prior to Qui’s venture, minors weren’t allowed inside the Hole in the Wall. Now all ages are welcome in the back room.

In that room, ramen is served hot and unceremoniously in disposable paper bowls, and the food is the better for its lack of pretension. The menu at the Hole in the Wall is intended to be a collection of “greatest hits” from the three other East Side King trailers. From the Liberty Bar location, for example, comes beet home fries and a Brussels sprout salad.

The latter is a favorite of Hole in the Wall general manager Alex Livingston, who sounded only a little out of place when he exclaimed,“I’m psyched about the Brussels sprouts. I’ve recently fallen in love with that vegetable, and it makes me really happy to think I’ll be able to eat
it every day.”

His ardor for the dish isn’t unearned. The salad is a hearty and refreshing mix of fried Brussels sprouts and shredded cabbage, with three dainty slivers of deep-fried bun for garnish. The beet fries are memorable for their bar-food-grease-meets-fresh-vegetables taste. Tiny chunks of deep-fried beet are accompanied by thick Japanese Kewpie mayo. The first taste is of spice, grease and all the good things a dark bar like the Hole in the Wall should offer, but the second bite gets you nothing but the fiber of fresh vegetables. The combination may not be for everyone, but it makes for enjoyable innovative dining.

After the appetizers, order the Gekkeikan Sake to wash it down (provided, of course, you’re of age). A friend put it best when she said that Gekkikan is what you imagine children’s mixed drinks must taste like: refreshing, smooth, magical.

But the real standouts of the menu are the three ramen options (which, incidentally, are the only ones that don’t come in vegan or gluten-free options). Sapporo Beer Bacon Miso Ramen may seem a little heavy, especially when you read that it’s made with two different forms of bacon, beer, butter and pork belly, but you didn’t come to a dark bar to behave healthfully, did you? The beer foam that tops the ramen is the answer to every time you tried to slurp the foam off the top of your cup, and the option to add an extra egg — a soft-boiled, soy sauce-cured egg — shouldn’t be missed. The pork belly is as tender and tasty as Thanksgiving turkey.

Now, the real question: do the dishes still taste good the morning after, in the cold hard light of your refrigerator? Well, results are mixed. Some leftover-samplers wrinkled their noses and said only “tastes like fish,” while others, like this reporter, ate the gelled ramen in all its salty, fishy glory till her spoon scraped the bottom of the paper bowl.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Top chef debuts new Asian venue

For groupies of Austin chef Tyson Cole and fans of Japanese fusion cuisine, the opening of Uchiko, owned by Cole and overseen by executive chef Paul Qui, has been eagerly anticipated — and was well worth the wait.

Many of the menu offerings echo those at its sister restaurant, Uchi, exhibiting the same irreverent flair for unlikely flavor combinations. Small plates dominate the menu, overshadowing the lackluster selection of sushi rolls. However, the extensive list of sushi nigiri and sashimi, each accompanied by a garnish or sauce that enhances the flavor of the fish, maintains the restaurant’s standing as a major contender in Austin’s sushi scene.

The Akami Te, one of Uchiko’s “cool tastings,” pairs fresh big eye tuna with cilantro and coriander atop a slice of juicy watermelon. The crispness of the watermelon contrasts nicely with the tender flesh of the tuna, and the sea salt sprinkled on top saves the dish from being bland while the cilantro rounds out the flavor in each bite.

The Yellowtail Ringo also combines raw fish with fruit, bringing together seared Australian amberjack with fennel and Fuji apple. Crisp apple chips give the dish an added texture and balance out the softness of the fish and the firmness of the apple slices.

As for hot dishes, the “sear it yourself” hot rock made popular at Uchi has a place on Uchiko’s menu, giving patrons the opportunity to sear Wagyu beef with kaffir lime at the table. The crunchy skin of the pork belly gives the Bacon Sen dish its bacon-y flavor, and the juiciness of the meat makes your mouth water for more. The fried apple puree and apple kimchee on the side provide a level of sweetness that the saltiness of the pork almost requires.

The chefs at Uchiko use top-quality fish for their sushi, and it shows. The sushi nigiri, or individual pieces of fish on small pads of rice, comes with added ingredients that make the flavor of each fish pop.

The buttery flesh of the sake toro, or salmon belly, was perfectly complemented by ginger and tamari, similar to soy sauce — typical sushi flavors. The hotate combines a raw diver scallop with a spicy aioli and a slice of avocado, and it pleasingly melts in your mouth. For more adventurous diners, the uni, or sea urchin, is creamy and fresh, with an almost egg-like consistency offset by basil and lemon.

The sushi rolls offered at Uchiko leave something to be desired, not in execution but, rather, in conceptualization. The Toledo roll, featuring big eye tuna, chorizo, Thai chili, avocado, grilled garlic and candied almond slices, was nearly a free-for-all of random ingredients despite using the same blend of sweet and salty flavors that made Uchi famous in Austin. The Umaso roll with amberjack and avocado is pretty standard fare, and the Oni Maguro roll, essentially a glorified spicy tuna roll, isn’t terribly inspired.

But executive pastry chef Philip Speer, celebrated for his work at Uchi, has outdone himself at Uchiko. The sweet corn sorbet with polenta custard and caramel salt is childishly satisfying; the caramel salt conjures up memories of shortbread cookies, and the polenta custard is sweet but not cloying. The tobacco cream dessert is rich, with a chocolate sorbet and huckleberry crisp that add depth to the dish.

The drink menu, in addition to wine, beer and sake, offers a small selection of specialty cocktails, the most notable of which is the Larkin: sparkling wine, grilled thyme and a slice of cured lemon. The thyme makes the wine more aromatic, and even though the drink becomes syrupy toward the bottom of the glass, that shouldn’t keep avid drinkers from ordering a second. Or a third.

The Pan Am, a mixture of sake, agua fresca, Granny Smith apple and rosemary, has a much milder flavor for those content to casually sip their drinks. The wines are tempting, too, as glasses are served with a hefty, but not unseemly, pour.

All in all, Uchiko is a pleasant experience for adventurous diners seeking Japanese fusion cuisine. Be prepared to raise your voice a little, though — a common complaint at Uchi and La Condesa, also designed by architect Michael Hsu, is the noise level of the dining room — and brace yourself for the check. Cocktails range from $10 to $12, small plates average out to about $17 each, sushi rolls are $11 on average and desserts are $9 each.

The best way to dine at Uchiko, though, is to save up and splurge. And if you’re fortunate enough to sit at the sushi bar, ask one of the sushi chefs for a recommendation. They’ll know what’s fresh, and who knows? You might come away with something unexpectedly delicious or, even better, off-menu.

---

WHAT: Uchiko
WHERE: 4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
WHEN: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. ; Friday and Saturday, 5-11p.m.
WHAT TO GET: Akami Te, Bacon Sen and sweet corn sorbet

For groupies of Austin chef Tyson Cole and fans of Japanese fusion cuisine, the opening of Uchiko, owned by Cole and overseen by executive chef Paul Qui, has been eagerly anticipated — and was well worth the wait.

Many of the menu offerings echo those at its sister restaurant, Uchi, exhibiting the same irreverent flair for unlikely flavor combinations. Small plates dominate the menu, overshadowing the lackluster selection of sushi rolls. However, the extensive list of sushi nigiri and sashimi, each accompanied by a garnish or sauce that enhances the flavor of the fish, maintains the restaurant’s standing as a major contender in Austin’s sushi scene.

The Akami Te, one of Uchiko’s “cool tastings,” pairs fresh big eye tuna with cilantro and coriander atop a slice of juicy watermelon. The crispness of the watermelon contrasts nicely with the tender flesh of the tuna, and the sea salt sprinkled on top saves the dish from being bland while the cilantro rounds out the flavor in each bite.

The Yellowtail Ringo also combines raw fish with fruit, bringing together seared Australian amberjack with fennel and Fuji apple. Crisp apple chips give the dish an added texture and balance out the softness of the fish and the firmness of the apple slices.

As for hot dishes, the “sear it yourself” hot rock made popular at Uchi has a place on Uchiko’s menu, giving patrons the opportunity to sear Wagyu beef with kaffir lime at the table. The crunchy skin of the pork belly gives the Bacon Sen dish its bacon-y flavor, and the juiciness of the meat makes your mouth water for more. The fried apple puree and apple kimchee on the side provide a level of sweetness that the saltiness of the pork almost requires.

The chefs at Uchiko use top-quality fish for their sushi, and it shows. The sushi nigiri, or individual pieces of fish on small pads of rice, comes with added ingredients that make the flavor of each fish pop.

The buttery flesh of the sake toro, or salmon belly, was perfectly complemented by ginger and tamari, similar to soy sauce — typical sushi flavors. The hotate combines a raw diver scallop with a spicy aioli and a slice of avocado, and it pleasingly melts in your mouth. For more adventurous diners, the uni, or sea urchin, is creamy and fresh, with an almost egg-like consistency offset by basil and lemon.

The sushi rolls offered at Uchiko leave something to be desired, not in execution but, rather, in conceptualization. The Toledo roll, featuring big eye tuna, chorizo, Thai chili, avocado, grilled garlic and candied almond slices, was nearly a free-for-all of random ingredients despite using the same blend of sweet and salty flavors that made Uchi famous in Austin. The Umaso roll with amberjack and avocado is pretty standard fare, and the Oni Maguro roll, essentially a glorified spicy tuna roll, isn’t terribly inspired.

But executive pastry chef Philip Speer, celebrated for his work at Uchi, has outdone himself at Uchiko. The sweet corn sorbet with polenta custard and caramel salt is childishly satisfying; the caramel salt conjures up memories of shortbread cookies, and the polenta custard is sweet but not cloying. The tobacco cream dessert is rich, with a chocolate sorbet and huckleberry crisp that add depth to the dish.

The drink menu, in addition to wine, beer and sake, offers a small selection of specialty cocktails, the most notable of which is the Larkin: sparkling wine, grilled thyme and a slice of cured lemon. The thyme makes the wine more aromatic, and even though the drink becomes syrupy toward the bottom of the glass, that shouldn’t keep avid drinkers from ordering a second. Or a third.

The Pan Am, a mixture of sake, agua fresca, Granny Smith apple and rosemary, has a much milder flavor for those content to casually sip their drinks. The wines are tempting, too, as glasses are served with a hefty, but not unseemly, pour.

All in all, Uchiko is a pleasant experience for adventurous diners seeking Japanese fusion cuisine. Be prepared to raise your voice a little, though — a common complaint at Uchi and La Condesa, also designed by architect Michael Hsu, is the noise level of the dining room — and brace yourself for the check. Cocktails range from $10 to $12, small plates average out to about $17 each, sushi rolls are $11 on average and desserts are $9 each.

The best way to dine at Uchiko, though, is to save up and splurge. And if you’re fortunate enough to sit at the sushi bar, ask one of the sushi chefs for a recommendation. They’ll know what’s fresh, and who knows? You might come away with something unexpectedly delicious or, even better, off-menu.

---

WHAT: Uchiko
WHERE: 4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
WHEN: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. ; Friday and Saturday, 5-11p.m.
WHAT TO GET: Akami Te, Bacon Sen and sweet corn sorbet