August 18, 2015
Upland, opened last October, is named after the California home town of its chef, Justin Smillie. He is doing very well. Pete Wells in The New York Times, the city’s most important reviewer, wrote earlier this year: “ ‘Go to Upland’ is my current answer to anybody who asks for a good new place to eat in Manhattan. It will probably remain my answer for some time.” This was followed by a review praising almost all the dishes and a three-star rating.
Adam Platt in New York Magazine, the second most important reviewer, called Upland a “very fine restaurant” followed by: “Luckily for us, this talented young cook’s particular version of California cuisine passes directly through the hills of Tuscany and Rome by way of the downtown market restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, where he made his New York reputation.”
President Obama took Sasha and Malia to Upland for brunch on July 18.
So Linda and I were looking forward to a fine evening when we went to Upland for dinner on August 2, 2015.
On arriving we were surprised at the loud, pulsating music and young, casual, sometimes sloppy, clientèle. This is Park Avenue and 26th Street, not further downtown.
After we were seated, Linda ordered a glass of Dumaglia “Brut 17” Champagne and I a glass of 2009 Cava Brut Reserva from Agustí Torelló Mata. Nice.
A plate was put on the table “gift of the chef.”
whole crispy mushroom
hen of the woods, cloumage + herbs
Well, I always enjoy maïtake mushrooms. This was, indeed, “crispy,” but it was not freshly prepared and retained some oiliness from its roasting. The herbed cloumage, a cousin of ricotta, brought needed moisture, but was not a good flavor combination, as cheese and mushrooms seldom are.
Linda’s first course was
maine lobster, tomato, olive + marcona almonds
She said that the fresh, tubular pasta was good. The main flavor tasted was tomato sauce and there was crunchiness added by chopped almonds. The lobster added little.
My first course was
seared montauk squid
favas, calabrese sausage + bread crumbs
The whole squid had been split and well charred on the grill. The sauce based on its ink added needed moisture, but the garnishes added little.
Not knowing that the maïtake would come, we had ordered a plate to share as an appetizer of
blistered shishito peppers + bottarga
This now arrived. It was a large portion and we nibbled on it during the next two courses. The shishitos were underblistered, but okay and the crumbly bottarga added some variety.
Linda’s main course was
long island duck breast
rainier cherries, shaved fennel, labneh yogurt + aged balsamic
There were two big strips of duck with their fat. Their flavor and texture were good. She didn’t think the raw, shaved fennel added anything and she did not care for the yoghurt sauce.
slow roasted porcelet
tomatillo mostarda, marinated mushrooms + radish sprouts
The big chop of suckling pig had a good flavor. The fat had been reduced to a nice crackle. The tomatillo purée started out well-matched with the pork, but had been ruined, like the tiny mushrooms, by too much vinegar.
The portions had been large so we did not order dessert.
Well, obviously we were disappointed. The cuisine had embellishments it did not need. The ingredients seemed to be top quality, but the saucing and garnishes failed to enhance and sometimes fought with them. The frequent acidity dulled the palate.
The service was friendly and eager, but somewhat clumsy. The noise level was appalling.
As for Pete Wells and Adam Platt, perhaps they are writing to what they think young New York diners will like, rather than providing an educated viewpoint. It is hard to understand.
I have not seen any reports on what Sasha and Malia thought.