The Upland is the latest in the Starr Restaurant brat pack – the others of course being Morimoto, Buddakan, and El Vez.
More homey than the glitzy, nightclub feel of some of the others, The Upland is a place you can sit back and relax rather than crane your neck to take in all the cirque du soleil-like ambiance. The restaurant style is deemed “Californian,” and the backlit preserved lemons in jars lining the shelves do indeed create a lemony glow; the one bright spot in the gray, slushy landscape that was Manhattan when we visited.
Pete Wells, the critic for the New York Times said earlier this year that “Go to the Upland” is his go-to answer for folks looking for a good new restaurant to try. Pete, you haven’t failed me yet.
Blistered shisito peppers are tender and mild, speckled with bottarga, a salty, exotic substance made from dried fish roe. Pretty good, but were I to return I’d be turning my attention to the slow roasted celeriac with truffle butter.
Don’t even get me started on the brioche. We had
one okay, two loaves. Don’t judge. They were petite.
The hamachi crudo was bracingly fresh, with an icy-silky broth of blended jicama, green apple and olive oil setting the stage for chunks of mild, meaty fish. A haphazard scatter of razor-thin radishes and fennel add the needed level of crunch and texture.
Then there was this audacious dish with its firm, springy coils of house-made pasta coated in a semi- liquid chicken liver pate, which managed to be simultaneously decadent and original without being too heavy. Theres a round, sweet note of sherry. A crisp crack of fried sage, and rosemary lurking in the background. Curls of parmesan only add to perfection. This is worth going back for.
Slow-cooked lamb neck was insanely good, generous enough already to yield leftovers, but with a pot of creamy, delicious polenta on the side to boot. The meat is falling-apart tender, akin to lamb shanks that have spent many lazy hours in the oven getting coaxed to meltingly tender at a low temperature. Aleppo peppers, espresso, and dates make unlikely bedfellows, but cooked down into a thick, coating sauce they elevate the dish to the next level.
Maybe I judge dessert too harshly, but whatever, Pete agrees with me. The chocolate cake was sweet and rich, and certainly pretty with its slick, glossy sheen, but it didn’t have the level of sophistication the savory dishes brought to the table with their unusual ingredients and impeccable flavor combinations. The menu said “orange chocolate” but I thought it more gingery with its snappy graham cracker base.
I’ll be back when I need a little west-coast respite from dear old NYC.