Upland

Restaurants, Contemporary American Flatiron
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanEstrella at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanNduja pizza at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanPappardelle at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanTorpedo beets at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanHen-of-the-woods mushroom at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanPorcelet at Upland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanUpland
 (Photograph: Liz Clayman)
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Photograph: Liz ClaymanUpland

California cuisine has always been a curious thing. It’s local but globally inflected, lean but filling, as driven by its ingredients as by the chef seasoning them. The vague concept is more an aura than anything else—for a homegrown likeness, see the farm-to-table Brooklyn-eatery stereotype—a Golden State glow that radiates throughout Upland, a glossy tribute to chef Justin Smillie’s hometown nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The big, buzzing room, where even food-world brass like Bobby Flay recently had to wait for a table, is damn near sunny on a drab stretch of Park Avenue South, a testament to designers Roman and Williams who, between this and the similarly luminous Lafayette, prove to have a gaffer’s eye for great lighting. 

That good-looking gleam extends to the copper shelves stocked with uplit wine bottles and jars of preserved Moroccan lemons, the green-leather banquettes that carve out the space, the lacquered ceilings and the illustrious diners sitting beneath them, suit jackets tossed behind their chairs as they tuck into pear-and-arugula pizza ($18) and crispy, yuzukosho-smacked duck wings ($17). 

Smillie’s cooking is fittingly vibrant, bridging those West Coast roots and the hearty Italian he dazzled New Yorkers with at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. Torpedo beets with white chocolate ($13) and chili-zapped brussels sprouts ($11) tout to the former, but it’s the pizza and pastas here that act as ample reminders of Smillie’s italiano finesse. 

Of the three charred, puffy-crusted pies on the menu, the nduja ($19) is a standout: thick, bready and candidly greasy with puddles of stracciatella cheese and smudges of spicy, spreadable Calabrian pork sausage. 

Zesty sausage recurs in Smillie’s gorgeous bowl of house-made pappardelle, al dente ribbons slick with porky, robust ragù and silky wisps of kale and Parmesan ($18). The estrella ($17) is even better, ridged tubes coated with creamy nubs of a shallot-and-rosemary–kicked chicken liver that’s so meaty, you’d be forgiven in mistaking it for beef. With a splash of sherry to cut the richness, it’s like bolognese on overdrive. 

Fusion flourishes are deployed with a steady hand. A brush of kale, puntarelle and Bordeaux radish is given the Caesar treatment ($14), lighter and fresher than your nonna’s but with a sharp garlic-anchovy dressing that nods to the original’s satisfying brine. San Francisco’s cioppino ($35), stewed here with red shrimp, Jonah crab and striped bass, gets its unexpected thrum from Korea’s pungent gochujang (fermented chili paste). 

A few glaring technical missteps, however, threaten to spoil an otherwise effortlessly good meal. A fried head of hen-of-the-woods mushroom ($14) is grease-limp and lacking crispiness, weighed down by a drag of thick goat cheese, and while Smillie’s porcelet ($34) has a nice hard-candy crackle, that crust comes at the expense of moist, juicy flesh, and the accompanying Jimmy Nardello peppers and lightly pickled persimmons provide stomach-turning acidity. 

Smillie may have happily married Italian and Californian cooking, but he still needs to hitch that easy-breezy West Coast lineage with discerning New York standards. Then, he’ll really be golden.

By: Christina Izzo

Posted:

Venue name: Upland
Contact:
Address: 345 Park Avenue South
New York
10010
Cross street: at 26th St
Opening hours: Mon 5:30–10pm, Thu–Sat 5:30–11pm, Sun 5:30–10pm
Transport: Subway: N, R, 6 to 23rd St
Price: Average entrée: $25. AmEx, Disc, MC, V.
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Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

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tastemaker

Up it to a 5! This never disappoints and I've been a lot! Duck wings and a vodka martini..... tartare and a Bordeaux, the best Caeser salad in town, pasta perfect and pleasing people. It's a great spot in a hard to find area for great food, decor and vibe.

tastemaker

LOVE UPLAND. I used to live in Philly so I'm a huge Stephen Staff supporter and Upland is great! This is one of the best burgers I've had - great portion sizes and so fun for brunch. We managed to snag a seat at the bar while waiting for the rest of the crew for a glass of rose. ROSE ALL DAY! The we got one of these awesome round tables for our group of 5. Everyone left fat drunk and happy!

tastemaker

Great ambiance and decor. Bright lighting and open spaces with clean design are striking. Good mix of comfort food - American with West Coast and Italian influence. Hearty portions are filling, and tasty. Went for brunch, suitable wine list, focused and refined, with lots of options for sharing, as well as larger plates. Went for a cheeseburger and fries, which included avocado, and followed it up with a devil's food cake. Be sure to save room for dessert.