Uchi’s Community Table [or "The Night I Ate Pig Brain"]

by Sarah on April 23, 2011 · 8 comments

My recent dining experience at Uchi was so incredible that before even leaving that evening, I was signed up to attend the special, seven-course “Community Table” held one Monday every month.
It’s basically a meal where you have no choice over what you are served or with whom you are dining (unless you come with friends), but by the end of the evening—if you are the type of person who would enjoy eating a meal with a bunch of strangers–you have inevitably shared stories, laughter, a toast or two….and possibly some pig brain.

But we’ll get to that.
kusshi oyster with yuzu gelee, thai chili, and chive

The “getting to know you” portion of the community dinner went something like this:

“Should we shoot it?”
“Do I shoot it?”
“It’s small enough. I think we can just shoot it.”
“Maybe we should use the chopsticks.”

“Have you ever eaten an oyster?”

“Sure. Of course…..well, OK…no.”
“You can do it!”

“Shoot it!”
After experiencing communal ‘oyster-shooting’ akin to a frat party shot contest, the ice is pretty much broken.
jonah crab with kaffir lime, green papaya, and nuoc mam*
*which I know now is Japanese for “mixed fish sauce”

I would have liked this dish regardless of how it tasted, simply because hearing ‘jonah crab’ made me imagine a cartoon crab chilling out in the stomach of a whale and, well, that made me giggle on the inside.
Of course it was incredibly light, fresh, and continued a beautiful progression of courses. But aside from all that fancy review mumbo-jumbo, what I really came away with was the necessity to package up those little rice paper-like chips so I can eat them from a foil packet at home while watching TV on my couch.
diver scallop with ramp, cashew cream sauce, and lemon
If y’all don’t think the words “cashew cream” made my stomach flutter than you just don’t know me at all. I’m pretty sure whoever said, “I could eat about 12 more of those,” hit the proverbiale nail on its head.

What might have been kaffir lime zest (although I was just guessing) pretty much made the whole dish shine. [I may or may not have scraped it, and the remaining cashew cream–up with my finger. I may or may not like to eat what others consider to be garnish.]

yellowtail with crisp ginger, leek, and black sesame
I don’t really have words for this. I think because I was a little distracted. What could possibly be so distracting, you ask?
Oh I don’t know…maybe it was just that….
the chef was getting ready to bring out the pig.
roasted suckling pig with saba rice, tomato, and a fennel + green strawberry salad
It’s hard to see, as I was sitting face to face with the little oinker, and therefore couldn’t photograph much more than his creepy smiling face, but, although the meat was good (perhaps not as fun or yummy to eat as the giant turkey leg at the rodeo?), the star of this wooden plank was, somewhat surprisingly, the crazy delicious, I-want-to-eat-this-and-only-this-all-summer-long, “Oh, did you want more? Sorry, I ate it all!” fennel salad. Y’all don’t even know.
Of course, then they took the head away and cut it in half for me.*

*And by me, I mean everyone. But sometimes I like to think these dinners exist solely for my own amusement.As I shared on facebook following the dinner, this photograph was taken just shortly before I ate part of the pig’s brain.* I have decided to leave the photographs of this safely stored on my external hard drive. After all, just the idea of freaking out my (vegetarian) roommate by sticking the pig’s head in our fridge was enough morbid cruelty for one evening.
*Check that off the list of “I can’t believe you ate that!”

seared foie gras with quinoa ‘candy’ and shiso
I missed the initial description of what was being set on the table, and I figured after the pig we must be at dessert by now. I wasn’t sure how this was dessert, but I did hear the word ‘caramelized,’ so I just went with it, thinking, “After I photograph it, I’ll just see what’s what.” It’s a good thing my new friends and dinner companions were accommodating, forgiving people, as it was only after I had wasted a good 3-5 minutes snapping photos that we were told these were ‘best eaten immediately.’ Oops.
No worries, mate. Still one of the best things I think has ever come in contact with my tastebuds. Everyone kept looking around, hoping someone would turn it down at the mention of the foie gras, but I guess we should have realized–after witnessing the demolition of the roast pig previously set before us–that this was a rather adventurous group, not one to turn away from anything.


It was about this time when the dishes were cleared away and the dessert spoons were set out, tempting us simply in their existence on the table. I found myself saying, “I just don’t know if I can eat anymore!” Had it been cake or something baked, I probably could have had just a bite and been finished…but I think the Uchi chefs have been struck by the semifreddo gods, because of course it was captivatingly creamy. And cold. And y’all know how I react in the face of ice cream and its various cousins and long-lost relatives….

okashilemon ice with a sweet cream crouqant and green strawberries
(finished tableside with strawberry soda)
The thin chip-like substance was strawberry glass, and must have been made by dehydrating some strawberry juice or something. It tasted of pure strawberry and was delicious. Also amazing? Those little white granules of what I guess was “lemon ice” but tasted somewhat like a shortbread pie crust and added a really great texture to the whole dish.

Needless to say, this didn’t last long.

Alright Uchi, you charmed me the first time, entertained me brilliantly on the second…now what could possibly happen should I visit you for a third adventure? [Of course, there’s still Uchiko waiting for me, too….]

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