Selecting Scottsdale for Uchi’s seventh location was a “no brainer,” the James Beard Award-winning chef says, calling the area “the holy grail.”
“Scottsdale is where a lot of amazing concepts have started,” Cole says, adding that his kids are “addicted” to eateries created by restaurateur Sam Fox that have proliferated across the country, like Flower Child. “I have respect for everything that’s come out of Scottsdale and everything that’s here now.”
The restaurant officially opens on Feb. 1 in the former home of Bandera. Though Valley diners are no strangers to sushi, Cole says he’s excited to introduce people to Uchi’s approach.
“We’re trying to take the sushi bar experience, meaning sitting at a sushi bar where I’m feeding you by the bite, to the entire restaurant,” Cole says. “That way every bite is the perfect bite – that’s the goal.”
Former Bandera location gets a new look
Hai Design Studio has transformed the interiors of the former Bandera space, partnering with Phoenix architecture firm AV3 Design Studio and Tucson’s Hazelbaker Rush.
Gone is the dark wood of Bandera, which closed in 2021, and the aura of what a 1994 Phoenix New Times review called an “80s yupscale bar and grill.” In its stead are arched ceilings on each side of the restaurant, featuring wood panels in sandy tones that are echoed in the tables and on the floors. Brass accents pop up throughout, including a large beveled wall separating the entry from the dining areas, adding warmth.
Inside, the restaurant boasts 171 seats. Two dining areas flank the room, and a horseshoe bar – Uchi’s largest – sits at the center. Past that is the sushi bar, which seats 14, along with a few tables and L-shaped benches, creating a chef’s table-style view to watch dishes being crafted. Uchi also has a 36-seat patio.
The design is critical to cultivating the right balance of energy and excitement at the restaurant, Cole says.
“There’s a certain level of connectivity and contagiousness at Uchi,” Cole says. “The vibe is joyful.”
Fresh, evolving menu and service key to Uchi experience
Uchi, which means “house” in Japanese, aims to make guests at home with its take on Japanese cuisine and rigorous approach to service.
The restaurant offers a core menu of hot and cold dishes, sushi and daily specials, along with curated tasting menus. In Scottsdale, that format continues, with the kitchen helmed by Chef de Cuisine Blake Luecke. He comes to the Valley from Uchi’s flagship restaurant in Austin.
As at all of Cole’s restaurants, the chefs will make use of local produce and proteins, he says. However, there will be a few dishes specific to Scottsdale. These include Lamb Sirloin with roast kabocha puree, cranberry-ginger relish and spicy pickled kabocha, as well as Masu Crudo, made with ocean trout, Japanese sweet potato and makrut lime leaf.
He adds that the Uchi team works to create a thoughtful experience for each guest – including creating special dishes and moments for customers – no matter the occasion.
“I think what built us from the ground up since day one 20 years ago is front of house and our service component,” Cole says, noting the restaurant’s servers train as assistants for 18 months before taking on their own tables. “It’s what really breaks the mold with Uchi.”
That expertise and care is critical for the type of food Uchi serves, Cole explains.
“Sushi’s like French fries – it has a lifespan – so the sooner you eat it after it’s made, the better,” he says. “That’s why at Uchi the way we serve sushi is incrementally.”
‘30 years ago, sushi was not popular’
Cole says there’s something “wildly addicting” about sushi, and he still gets a kick out of seeing people try it for the first time.
“When I started 30 years ago, sushi was not popular. Not many people ate it, and I got very lucky and was blessed to have the opportunity to become a sushi chef,” Cole says. “I never thought then that sushi would still be gaining popularity.”
Cole grew up in Florida, arriving in Austin to attend the University of Texas. Needing money to cover his classes, he found a dishwashing job at the Japanese restaurant Kyoto. He’d never had sushi, but the experience put him on a trajectory that would define his career – allowing him to work under two sushi chefs in Austin, as well as in Japan.
Cole opened Uchi in Austin in 2003, and national recognition – from Food & Wine Magazine and the James Beard Foundation, among others – followed.
That success wouldn’t be possible without his team, Cole says. And, as he looks to expand the reach of Uchi and its sibling restaurants, he’s excited to add to that group, which he calls “a bunch of badasses.”
“It’s pretty surreal to have started in Austin 20 years ago and now be growing a restaurant nationally. I’m very grateful for that. It’s all about the people and the culture we have,” he says. “We keep evolving by the day with food.”
Opens Feb. 1
3821 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Sara Crocker www.phoenixnewtimes.com Food & Drink/Chow Bella
2024-01-18 15:00:00 , Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix New Times –