Since getting back from Maui, I’ve had some catching up to do – with old friends and new restaurants. After Batard, next on the list was Upland. The darling of the critics, I was doubtful it would be worthy of all the praise. But to check it out, first I’d need to get a reservation for Justin Smillie’s hot spot – virtually impossible at a decent hour. Instead, we braved the lines of people waiting to hear Kanye West’s free concert and the frigid temperatures, and managed to snag two seats at the end of the bar – farthest from the door.
The menu begins with what they call “pizzas” – no thin crust here- more like a bobole with toppings. Get one to share if you want (~$18) and have a drink at the bar. But if you want a full meal, I wouldn’t waste the time or stomach space. Especially when you’ll get a complimentary warm loaf with a salty-sweet butter. A nice touch and often overlooked at most restaurants these days. It’d be a shame to let this one go to waste.
To start, we opted for the crispy hen of the woods over a traditional first course. It’s a must, if only for the decadent sauce that accompanies it. A meaty-style mushroom, it’s a filling portion and great to share.
Next, I considered the octopus, which I loved so much at Il Buco where Smillie cooked previously, but didn’t want to mar that taste memory. Then we thought about the duck wings, but they’re a little messy, as we saw from diners nearby.
Instead, we opted for the estrella pasta with chicken liver. The rich sauce was tasty, but the pasta was a little over-cooked. I also thought the chicken liver could have been more of a star. Using it as a sauce made it lose some of the flavor, and it was basically re-cooked so it was thinned out. (I’m really picky with my pasta dishes and my chicken liver.) I don’t think I’d order this again, but it was fine to try as a shared dish, especially for the price ($18).
Loved that crisp skin too! The peppers, onions and persimmons that accompanied it seemed a strange combination, but spicy, sweet and smoky make perfect sense. I love gnawing on a bone, but since this wasn’t a BBQ joint, I took it home, not wanting to miss out on a single bite.
The wine list, as Pete Wells noted, has lots of well-priced options, so I’d suggest getting a bottle. This is definitely a place where it makes sense to have wine over cocktails, most of which are on the sweeter side. I found a white from Saint-Pourcain in the Loire valley, which was perfectly balanced and worked well with all the food. I can’t imagine it will last too long on the list at that price ($39).
Instead of dessert (none of which seemed that interesting to us, although they’ve been getting rave reviews), we had an after-dinner drink — a spiced spin on an old-fashioned that hit the spot before venturing back out into the cold.
The room is brightly lit compared to most places these days. Tables are close together in the bar area, while booths are big in the main dining room. Since we sat at the bar, I can’t comment on table service, but the bartenders were very attentive and helpful, especially with portion size. It’s always nice when you’re given an honest assessment of the food over trying to upsell.
I’ll have to check out the rest of the service and dessert in a few months, when I can actually get a reservation.
Three Forks (if only for the mushroom!)