Upland is a restaurant in mid-Manhattan. It serves California-inspired cuisine food, in what I would call a semi-casual setting. I felt pretty underdressed in a t-shirt and jeans, everyone else was in a suit coat and slacks. I think that’s just how people dress in Manhattan.
The staff looks immaculate. They are polite, knowledgeable and perfect. Everyone is in uniform in this restaurant and you can taste the professionalism in the air. This is something that is common in New York and its strange and lovely how upscale even a “casual” restaurant can be.
This space is big for NYC, it seats around 80 and has a decent sized private events space downstairs. Every table is made for community seating. The dining room looks like a couple of large wood backed couches with large wooden tables. All of the tables are set lower and it has high ceilings, so the entire space feels big.
This is something New York institutions do a lot. They want it to feel big because nothing feels big in NYC. It’s really impressive to see the different ways people play with their aesthetics to make space feel large and inviting.
The restaurant has a very modern yet rustic appeal. The walls are covered in shelves for wine and preserved lemons and everything in the space is either wood or copper. It looks, like a lovely gay man I overheard, “It’s not over-decorated.” I thought that was perfect. Upland has just the right amount of decorating.
The kitchen is set at the back of the restaurant. It is a large, French-style kitchen. Think vertical, not horizontal. It stands behind the stairwell that leads to the bathroom. It’s entirely open, but if you weren’t looking you could easily miss it. It makes a great backdrop for the guests and it doesn’t throw the kitchen in your face like a lot of open kitchens.
The kitchen itself is big and beautiful, Upland has only been open for a couple of years, and the kitchen is clean. It works on an order/fire system that is very fine tuned. Every dish has been timed out and the chefs call back times for every ticket. There are a handful of stations that include pasta, grill, and pizza (yes there is a pizza oven, it’s tits).
This kitchen is professional. There is a lot of “yes chef” and that helps this place be the machine it is. This place is run like an incredibly tight business. Protein counts are done a couple of times a day, and all of the ordering is monitored closely. The Sous Chef’s (there are a lot of them) keep track of how the stations are doing compared to other stations. They keep the numbers up to date so you can see if a station has started to do less business than other stations, or if that station is losing the restaurant money.
It’s insane how tight this ship runs. To me, it’s incredibly eye-opening. I love knowing that this is something that is not only possible but, I believe, necessary. With something run this tightly, you would think that the food would suffer. It does not.
The food is made for groups. There are a couple of items that are made for groups of people, Including a whole Bronzino and well, pizza. Everything is made fresh and the proteins are handled incredibly well. The menu feels very Italian, but it has incredible flair of other cultures, Polenta is very northern Italian, but it feels like something you would get in the deep south. The whole fried Hen of the Woods is seasoned with chives and espelete, and a swoosh of cloumage (It’s like French ricotta, it’s delicious).
The pasta is amazing. All of the pasta is made in-house, including my new favorite, estrella, which is a star-shaped pasta. All of the pasta is made to order and they are perfect. they are finished with two different kinds of cheeses, or herbs, or in one very special pasta, a crazy amount of bottarga. They are all simple and perfect.
The food is exceptional. You can tell that it has been well thought out and crafted with years of intense study and discipline. I never had the opportunity to meet the Chef Justin Smillie, but it is obvious from his staff that he knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing.