Sometimes you find a place so magical and lovely you don’t want to share it with anyone, but also can’t keep quiet about it. That’s how I feel about Uchida Eatery/Shokudo. I saw Uchida’s lovely looking Japanese food on Instagram a few months ago and immediately wanted to visit. The restaurant is tucked away in a small courtyard off Courtney Street right downtown; if it’s open they will have their cute fish sign outside. You turn in right before the Bug Zoo. It’s small and only open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., although they do takeout and eat-in.
Walking in, you’re immediately confronted with the open kitchen. You can see everything that is going on, and you need to go to the counter to order, which is efficient. I enjoyed watching the chef carefully put together the meals. (We even saw him searing our tuna with a blowtorch.)
The menu was simple and many items were already sold out by the time we got there (around 1 p.m.). Their menu changes constantly, and the menu of the day hangs on a chalkboard above the cash register. They included photos of some of their food, which I thought was a nice touch for those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. We decide to both get the donburi tuna (tuna rice bowl) for $9. The food came quickly and was presented simply. There were about eight pieces of lightly seared tuna on top of some fresh lettuce greens and hand-milled organic rice.
I thought just tuna, greens, and rice sounded a bit boring, but my first bite changed my mind. The dish was out-of-this-world amazing. Everything tasted fresh and flavourful, but maintained the simplicity in its presentation. The flavours were clean and simple, but balanced and tasty. The fish was lightly seared around the edge, but quite raw in the centre (how I like my tuna) while the salad greens had a similar freshness and taste to the ones I usually get from my grandma’s garden (my freshness gauge), the rice tasted a little like barley and had a less sticky texture than regular rice. The rice was so good we picked our bowls clean! It was the star of the dish. Everything was lightly seasoned with grated ginger, soy sauce and a bit of wasabi on the edge of the bowl (so you could add it to your own taste). The bowl was on the small side, but it was so amazing I honestly could have ate another one.
I also had some hojicha (roasted matcha tea) which for the tea lover in me was amazing. I loved that they served it at a drinkable temperature, and the flavour took me back to my time in Korea and Japan since I hadn’t had that type of tea since leaving Asia. It had a nice, smooth, subtle flavour. I’m not well versed in how Asian teas should taste, but I had such a nostalgic experience drinking it I’d say it was delicious.
Uchida was magical for me because it felt like you’re in a hole-in-the-wall eatery in a quiet Japanese town. To ensure an optimal experience, make sure you take the time to appreciate the food. It is simply divine.