First the bad news: Masazumi Saio — a fixture behind the sushi bar at Uchi since it opened in 2003 — is no longer at the restaurant. The silver lining, however, is that he is now working with Kome co-owners Kayo and Takehiro Asazu on Austin’s newest casual sushi spot.
Uroko will officially open May 1 at 1023 Springdale Rd. in the Springdale General complex. The eatery packs a lot of style into a tiny space, starting with a panel of fish scale tiles (in keeping with the Japanese translation of Uroko) offset with a paper lantern printed with the restaurant’s logo. Further seating is provided in a common area that will eventually also serve Julie Myrtille Bakery, and a patio area beyond.
The flexible space allows the restaurant to offer three distinct experiences. The main focus weekdays is on temaki, the cone shaped hand roll cousin to the more commonly seen slices of maki. Saio says the goal is to be “quick, fresh, tasty, and not too expensive.”
That menu is small with less than two dozen offerings, but it covers all the bases from raw basics like hamachi, spicy tuna, and a California roll with krab salad to vegetarian avocado, cucumber, or pickles. Cooked offerings like barbecue eel, shrimp tempura and a Philly roll with smoked salmon round out the menu.
It would seem the most intriguing section is the chef’s creations. There, the team plays with flavors and textures, combining fatty hamachi with wasabi butter and crispy quinoa; a crawfish tail salad with pickled jalapeño; and raw beef tenderloin with garlic chips and ginger.
On Thursday evenings, the restaurant switches over to a classroom for informal sushi workshops, which Saio says will start in approximately two weeks. The classes are meant to be intimate with only a handful of seats.
Saio says he wants to be able to help people get closer to the food they eat. “I want people to know more about sushi,” he says. “There [are] so many reasons why sushi is good. It’s not just fresh fish, there are so many different techniques.”
Friday and Saturday evenings offer one more change as Uroko rolls out a quick omakase, a 45-minute alternative to the traditionally lengthy prix fixe experience. The serves runs through 12 dishes including Japanese seabream with shiso oil, lemon zest, and sea salt; scallop with yuzo kosho (a pasty condiment made with salt, fermented chiles, and the namesake citrus fruit); sweet prawn with dashi jelly and lime zest; and sea eel with ginger and orange oil.
Again, the team wanted to keep the offerings affordable. While a restaurant like South Austin's Otoko runs more than $200 per guest, Saio says Uroko’s only will set guests back around $60.
Accompanying all three service styles is a small, but curated selection of beverages including sake, Asahi on draft, Austin Beerworks cans, a yuzu sake slushi, and a nonalcoholic frozen soy matcha latte. Guests who want to keep going can stroll next door to The Front Page, which recently opened in the same building.
Uroko is currently accepting reservations for the sushi 101 and the omakase, but those who want first dibs should act fast. As of publication of this article, only a couple time slots were available for the first weekend service.