Initially I thought these “novel” times would really restrict our abilities to enjoy fancy restaurant meals; forget high-end happy hours. Dishes with multiple components and elevated technique often suffer with time, especially if that involves transportation and packaging. But Denver restaurants have really come out swinging in the face of these trials, and Uchi has done so with happy hour. Between 3:30 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, you can order happy-hour dishes for pick-up or delivery anytime between 4 and 5:30 p.m. (the same day or the next, depending on what time you order). And the options aren’t stingy. Willing to do curbside pick-up? Wine, beer and sake are 25 percent off.
I’ve been jonesing for sushi lately, and while I might look askance at most sushi happy hours, I felt like Uchi would be one place I could trust. A glance at the six-item sushi happy hour, including a chef’s choice of nigiri or sashimi, is enough to get you going, but you would be remiss if you overlooked the four hot tastings they have on offer as well. I decided to go for broke with three hot tastings, two sushi options and a bottle of M.A.N. chenin blanc out of South Africa ($16 before the discount).
Having blocked off its patio, Uchi is running a smooth curbside pick-up operation, helping you keep maximum social distance. The kitchen has also managed to neatly package every little item, complete with sauce pairing, soy sauce packets and wasabi, keeping your happy hour happy until you’re able to get home and dig in.
Noticing the fried lacinato kale atop my “yokai berry” salmon sushi ($10), I couldn’t help but snag some of the thin leaves right away. I have no idea how they did it, but the blueberries on the composed dish were juicy while the kale remained somehow both crispy and fresh. What really blew me away was what seemed to be a slightly pickled bright and juicy Asian pear (that I could swear tasted of honeydew melon), offsetting the creamy texture of the ample rectangles of raw salmon.
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Next I had to snag a bite of the pork belly ($9) before my roommate devoured it all. With the dish’s inky smear of black garlic, which was as beguiling as it was an earthy, balancing force to the vibrant pickled green strawberries, Uchi found a way to make pork belly interesting again. The Chinese broccoli and wood ear mushrooms ($6) made me feel like I’d had my vegetables, but I quickly moved on to the melt-in-your-mouth scallop roll ($7), comprising yuzu kosho, avocado, cucumber and a viscous soy aioli. I didn’t share that one. Paired with the mineral-forward chenin blanc, I had to be impressed by the level of haute cuisine I was enjoying at my picnic table.
Finally, I feel like the perfectly-cooked filet of walu (escolar, $9) just pushed the whole happy hour into meal territory. As the Uchi staffer on the phone kindly described it to me, it’s a meaty fish, akin to swordfish, but is still light in flavor yet succulent (one chef beautifully described it as sultry), precisely suited to its accompaniment of gently acidic yuzu marmalade. If it weren’t the beginning of spring, and the patio at hand weren’t my back yard, I might say this is the best patio happy hour of the season. But I have faith in Denver, and can’t wait to see what else restaurants have to dish out.
Uchi is located at 2500 Lawrence Street and is currently open from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday for dinner (including special Sunday dinners for two), with happy hour available from 4 to 5:30pm. View menus on the Uchi website, then call 303-444-1922 between 3:30 and 8:3 p.m. or use online ordering to reserve a pick-up time or DoorDash delivery time.