“Did you hate this?” the server asked, picking up the glass containing an alleged bloody mary. It's not exactly the ringing endorsement you'd like to hear from restaurant staff.
You’d think when a place opens for Sunday brunch, it would have a bloody mary on the menu. You wouldn’t expect it to taste like fish. (That could be because of the tamari togarashi, which tasted like it was more than just on the rim.) It wasn’t a surprise that the server expected a returned drink — three more passed our table on their way back to the bar.
OK, so a place serves brunch, decides to mess with a staple and falls down. But Uchiba is a Hai Hospitality restaurant, replacing the space above Uchi that was previously Top Knot. And Uchi is not known for missing easy shots.
Chef-owner Tyson Cole knows what he’s doing in running a restaurant. It’s evident in the way his kitchen staff members talk about the team mentality and the plates of exquisite food at Uchi. So a recent visit to Uchiba begs the question: Has Cole experienced brunch at this place?
The Hama chili ($18.50) was delicate and well-balanced yellowtail sashimi. That’s not too surprising; you can get Hama chili downstairs at Uchi (for the same price). It’s just a little light for the “specialty” section of the menu, and if that's all you have, you'll be hungry about 10 minutes later.
The ham and eggs ($12) sounded like a safe brunch option with a typical Cole twist: pork belly katsu, pickled cucumber and fried egg. But our waitress informed us the restaurant didn’t have it, and, oh, by the way, it’s a sushi roll.
Let's try again for something more brunchlike (at least in the way Dallas is used to it): pork belly chilaquiles ($12). This was fine. A bowl with pork belly topped with salsa verde, crema, queso and a fried egg was pretty satisfying but lacking in flavor, to the point of having to ask for salt and pepper. This is the kind of restaurant that's too confident in its food to put such things out on the table.
The pork katsu rice bowl ($13 on the menu, but we were charged $14) was worth ordering again. With fried pork, egg, kimchi caramel, negi and furikake, this dish was balanced and provided the umami you want when you step in into a Hai Hospitality restaurant.
The hot-fried chicken benedict ($14) was fine, too, as long as you’re not picky about your gravy having a lot of flavor. But the fried chicken was good, juicy with a thick batter, reminiscent of the fried chicken served at Top Knot.
A side dish of potatoes with shishito peppers ($4) was one of the better things on the table. And the honeydew bellini ($4) was refreshing and inexpensive enough to order two. The Too Much Heaven cocktail ($13) was a tart beverage of Bulleit bourbon, Bulleit rye, lemongrass and lemon bitters — and it would’ve been worth ordering two, had it not been $13. When one person at our table enjoyed two chilled glasses of a German riesling, we thought we might have overcome the bloody mary disappointment. But the next glass that came out wasn’t a degree below tepid.
The kind, though admittedly ready-for-another-complaint waitress, explained there wasn’t another cold bottle. What she didn’t say was that someone on the bar staff decided to pour it anyway.
The space would be a nice place to have a cocktail or meal in the evening. The patio would surely be lovely on a pleasant day, but the dim lighting inside and an odd soundtrack of wordless songs make you forget it’s morning. There is a really pretty creation of an octopus above the bar. So, there’s that.
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A reservation on OpenTable will get you a table here, but the dining room never really filled up around the noon hour.
The short-lived Top Knot had obvious kinks, and it seems some of those have hung around for Uchiba. Still, there's hope — for a better experience, better food and a clearer menu. There's plenty opportunity for growth: Uchiba opened Jan. 31.
But maybe it should rethink brunch.
Uchiba, 2817 Maple Ave. (Uptown). Brunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.