Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Goodbye, Manzanilla.  Justin Smillie departed Il Buco Alimentari, and has taken over the sprawling space to create Upland in an effort to bring " contemporary California cooking to a polished East Coast setting".  I'm not sure how much of California Smillie was able to drag across the continent, but in terms of quality and execution, this Park Avenue newcomer has hit the ground running.

On a frigid late autumn night, there wasn't a reservation to be had, and the place was bustling.  We waited a solid forty minutes at the bar (as the hostess predicted), but the warm, convivial atmosphere floats those minutes by practically unnoticed... aside from my escalating appetite as the enticing aromas wafted by from hearty plates toted to awaiting diners.  It's a glowy, golden room, comfortable with blonde wood accents, gleaming white-washed walls and curving leather banquettes.  The simple,
 minimalist plaid linens belie the some of the sophistication of this kitchen, much like the similarly patterned Hastens bedding company nearby,
 whose luxury mattresses are the things of which dreams are made.  Luckily, Upland's food follows suit, for we were unequivocally impressed with our meal.  

The menu, in perfectly synchronized simplicity, lists its offerings from Pizza, One, Two, Three and Sides.  Pizzas are easily a meal for two, priced respective to their ingredients, from a savory-sweet $18 pear and straciatella option to the pricier $29 white version with truffles (hopefully ample).  We started with a whole, crispy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, its frilly ruffles fried to a crisp in contrast with its tender, just-warmed center,
 left earthy and dense.  Shy Brother's goat cheese lived up to its name- just a subtle essence of mildly goaty milkiness, flecked with vibrant herbs, and served with juicy wedges of lemon- which should be squirted generously.  Their acidity brings the whole dish into harmony, enlivening the dairy of the yogurt and refreshing the salty crisp of frying.   Despite my preference for novelty, it would be hard not to order this starter again.

Section Two is compromised exclusively of pastas, a creative array of novel preparations served in main course proportions.  Herein lie the most unconventional preparations.  Chilled farro noodles paired with sea urchin and Japanese seasoning wouldn't be found at any red sauce joint for sure, and while others tend more Italian, ingredients like chicken livers and kale elevate them from the ordinary.  

Three covers protein-centric mains.  We chose a lamb, roasted just rare, it's gaminess countered with sweet, plump dates and planks of confit carrots in its own savory, brothy jus.   The signature Upland Cioppino featured a heftier broth, more akin to a marinara than soup, a richly seasoned pool that just begged to be sopped up with bread- fortunately provided in the form of a soft, pillowy potato loaves, generously supplied.  The stew is concocted of mounds of crabmeat, clams, lobster, scallops and swordfish, and if the delicacy and freshness of the seafood is somewhat obfuscated by the profundity of the sauce, revel in how masterful said sauce is.  It muscles past the constrains of a classic cioppino thanks to a lusty douse of gochujang, a spicy, pungent Korean condiment that has just topped my grocery list for my next visit
to Kalustyan's.    And while I'm there, I probably wouldn't be remiss in picking up some grating bottarga if I thought I might be preparing any shishito peppers, milder now that their spicy summer peak has past.  The dusting of funky
 cured roe made up for any zip that have seasonally ebbed from these delicacies... and  still, there was a little heat in a couple of them.  Shishitos are always an adventure.

There is a really nice spectrum of desserts, light and fruity with an Asian-esque pomelo salad, homey cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, and a chocolate option spiked with orange and sea salt.  I, however, honed in on a yuzu scented souffle, studded with intense sour cherries that sunk to the bottom, where the citrusy cloud melted into a warm, tangy pool of cream.  It was a most impeccable accompaniment to a finely drawn espresso, using acclaimed Counter Culture beans.  Which may be the most counter-culture aspect of Upland.  It comes across not so California-esque-  what with globalization, I feel like bi-coastal is practically locavorism.  But regardless of its slant, Upland gets a thumbs-up.

 345 park avenue south New York NY 10010
 reservations call 212-686-1006

No comments:

Post a Comment