New York’sUpland is a collaboration between celebrity restaurateur Stephen Starr and Il Buco chef Justin Smillie. It is located on a drab stretch at 345 Park Avenue South. The restaurant is billed as Californian cuisine but it is just as much Italian influenced as well. It is a large eighty-eight seat restaurant, with a young hip crowd and there is a lot of buzz from the moment you walk in the place. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. You can wear jeans if you wish.
The restaurant has a nice ambience with dark green leather banquettes, navy lacquered painted ceilings, and copper shelves stocked with backlit wine bottles and jars of preserved lemons. It’s a typical Stephen Starr theatrical production.
However for me this restaurant did not live up to the Stephen Starr standard. There were a lot of missteps that I noticed. The service was good for the most part but then our waiter disappeared for a half an hour once he dropped off the dessert menus. But I do love the checkered aprons the waiters wear that match the tablecloths.
The menu is large with lots of choices. It is divided into pizza, one: small plates, two: pastas, three: mains, and vegetables. As soon as you sit they bring a small brioche bread with butter, which was fine but nothing special. I can’t report on the quality of the pizzas as no one at our table tried one.
The little gem salad, with avocado, cucumber and ricotta salata in a walnut vinaigrette was not so small, but can be shared for two or three people. It looked and tasted a little like a creamy Caesar to me, but they also offer a Caesar salad on the menu. Their famous crispy mushroom, which is considered a highlight, was a huge disappointment. It was a large hen of the woods mushroom that was deep fried to a dried out piece of cardboard and served with a creamy sauce. The blistered shishito peppers were not cooked through enough and the sauce on top was not very good. Chef Starr does a much better rendition of these at his restaurant Makoto in Miami. The bucatini cacio e pepe, a favourite dish of mine throughout Rome was a contender for one of the worst ones I have ever tasted. It should be luscious and cheesy and heavenly. This one was dry and too lightly sauced.
The cioppino, or fish stew was an improvement.
The grilled Long Island duck with cherries, gorgonzola and savoury granola was good, but I am not a fan of smokey meat. That is just a personal thing for me. I appreciate when the menu mentions if an item is smoked. The grilled Berkshire pork chop was huge, a double thickness with a Meyer lemon sauce and wild spring onions. The meat was moist and tasty. The best dish of the evening was the Creekstone farms skirt steak with a romesco sauce and bunching onions. The meat was cooked perfectly to a medium rare and was delicious. For dessert we had a rhubarb and berry crostata. It was okay, but it didn’t blow me away. The basil infused ice cream that it was served with was interesting. The portions were all generous but the food is ho-hum. It was satisfying but not memorable. Would I run back here? No, not really. There are a lot of better restaurants in New York.