Pardon me while I take a small step outside my comfort zone and share a restaurant review…
Uchiko is one of my favorite places to go out to dinner in Austin. I’d be hard-pressed to pick one favorite, but let’s just say this might be it. So, when several of our neighbors hatched plans for an adults-night-out to celebrate October birthdays (or which we have several among us), the hubby and I pushed for a group outing to Uchiko. We were able to snag their private dining room and collaborate with them on creating a menu that catered to carnivores, vegetarians, in-betweens… and one picky eater who declined to try anything but their famous “fried chicken.”
Each time a meat dish was served, we ensured that they brought a complementary vegetarian dish for me. I never even considered feeling deprived!
In the midst of this, Blacklane Limousines contacted me to see if I would be interested in a free ride in one of their cars for my next night out on the town. How serendipitous! I mean, how often do I really get to go out “on the town” these days? Not that often, is the answer — between work and family obligations and babysitter scarcity, we only manage to get out for a date night once a month, if that — and usually it involves someplace a little lower-key and/or closer to home. In addition to amazing food, Uchiko also offers a wonderful selection of wine and sake,* as well as sake-basked cocktails, so a sober ride was in order!
* I mostly stuck to the Otokoyama, which, in addition to being crisp and lovely, is also super-fun to say. (For real — try it.)
The folks at Blacklane offered impeccable service, allowing me to book a car online less than a day in advance and get my reservation confirmed instantly. The driver was friendly but reserved, allowing us privacy for our backseat conversations but happily answering questions and making arrangements to pick us up a little later than originally scheduled. In fact, he was flexible enough to give us his cell phone number to text when we were ready to leave — awesome for two tired parents who didn’t much fancy being out well past bedtime just waiting on a ride to arrive.
The driver did take a slight (unintentional) detour on the way to the restaurant, but it was quickly corrected and only resulted in a couple of extra minutes in the car — which, frankly, was just fine by me, since it was a quiet place to talk, just the two of us. Plus, we ended up being the last of our party to arrive, and we were seated immediately — can’t beat that for an entrance!
As for Uchiko, I wish I could give our private dining experience the rave review I was expecting to, but it just didn’t live up to the restaurant’s reputation (and what they are actually able to deliver in their main dining room). Don’t get me wrong — the food was spectacular, and each of us (well, except the picky eater!) savored every morsel, even when the combination sounded odd or even downright wrong.
The problem was the service. We weren’t asked for drink orders when we arrived, and technically we were never asked for drink orders — we had to snag a waiter and pin him down to get our orders, and that was 15 minutes into the meal! We also had to request a drink menu/wine list — one wasn’t automatically brought to us.
To all of this, I say, What?! Number 1, being denied a beverage at the beginning of a meal at a tony restaurant, for which we were spending plenty of bucks, was just annoying and set the whole evening off on the wrong foot. Number 2, don’t restaurants make most of their profit on drinks? Shouldn’t they want to push the booze? Bottom line: One should not have to beg for alcohol. Get it together, folks!
Secondly, the pace of the meal was all wrong. The times I’ve eaten in the main dining room or even at the sushi bar at Uchiko, the timing of service has always been impeccable. This is important, since dinner there is a series of many, many different small plates. In the private room, dishes came out as fast as the kitchen could prepare them, crowding our table and forcing us to find a waiter and ask him to slow the pace down. At times we had 3 or 4 different dishes on the table, and we were not eating slowly… and none of us had a movie to catch. What we wanted was a relaxed evening, but we would have been out of there in an hour if we hadn’t asked them to put the brakes on and let us catch up.
So, while I heartily recommend Blacklane Limousines for your night-on-the-town needs, and I continue to highly recommend Uchiko as a dining experience for smaller parties, I’m sad to say cannot recommend their private dining room. We still had a wonderful evening, but I was disappointed and would not book there again for a larger party.
The moral of this story is: Bring me a wine list and take my drink order before you bring any food, or I will be cranky. It’s really not that hard. Also, a night out with a guaranteed sober driver, there when you need him to carry you safely home? Priceless.
Note: Blacklane Limousines provided me with a round-trip ride free of charge, but I was not otherwise compensated for this write-up, and my opinions are my own.