Upland Miami is an offshoot of the New York restaurant with the same name by restauranteur Stephen Starr and his Chef Justin Smillie of Il Buco. It is located at the southern most end of Collins Avenue. If you remember correctly I was not a big fan of Upland in New York. But I wanted to give this brand new spot a fair chance and check it out. Guess what? I had a much better meal here. First of all the room is similar to New York with the macerated lemons in jars and wines and olive oils on display. But the room was even prettier. It has a bistro setting, like New York’s restaurant, with lots of green leather booths and tables – they have the same blue and white runners. But this restaurant is much more open and spacious. It seats 185 with indoor and outdoor seating. The kitchen here is open and you can hear the staff joking and barking orders. It is fun to see them stretching the dough and placing it in the beautiful copper wood-burning oven. The restaurant has only been open about a week as I write this review. There are a ton of staff and managers walking around, and we had much better service than we did in New York. Our server was friendly, helpful and accommodating.
One thing I did prefer in New York was the little loaf of homemade bread that came to the table. Here it is a sliced bread basket with a VERY petite dish of bean dip. The menu is large with lots of choices. The pizzas are the first category and here are smaller and I would say more of a personal size pie. Then the menu is divided into One, Two and Three. One is the appetizers, Two is pastas and Three is mains. We started with the Little Gem Salad. I have to say that it sounds so much more appealing on the menu, with avocado, cucumber, ricotta salata in a walnut vinaigrette. But this dish, which is large enough for 3-4 people, is tasteless. I was afraid to try the hen of the woods mushrooms because of my experience in New York, so instead we went with the wood grilled eggplant in an Israeli yogurt and roasted poblano and tomato sauce. This dish fared a little better. Things definitely improved with our mains. The coal roasted salmon with Florida grapefruit, pickled beets and farro is properly prepared and tasty. The fish is moist inside with a nice crispy skin. The wood-fired lamb chops are meaty and tender and really flavourful, accompanied with a coal roasted eggplant, confetti tomatoes, crispy chickpeas and mint. The portion is quite large, although I seemed to polish them off just fine. For sides, we tried the charred broccoli in a tahini sauce with seeds and a wonderful crispy polenta with shavings of parmesan Reggiano. The food could have been more artfully plated, it wasn’t exactly a visual joy. But, this could be a work in progress. The food is still modern, creative and inspired by Southern California cuisine.
There were quite a few options for wines by the glass and cocktails. I would like to see even more California wines by the glass to choose from. The bottles focused on American, Italian and French wines.
For dessert, my eyes were immediately drawn to the soft serve creamscicle with chocolate crumbs and chocolate pearls. This was a highlight for me and reminiscent of my favourite childhood ice cream flavour.
So not everything was notable but there were definite standouts.
Upland is part of the new development south of 5th. Starr now owns more than 30 restaurants. This adds to his portfolio in Miami, along with Makoto, Continental, Le Zoo and Verde at the Perez Museum. He also has a restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale.
At Upland the food showcases Smillie’s rustic/comfort food and seasonally influenced fare, very similar to what he is doing in New York. The prices are pretty steep for Miami residents and tourists. In New York it is almost expected.
It is not my favourite Stephen Starr restaurant but I would return to this Upland. It is open seven days a week for dinner. Lunches just began as did Sunday brunch.