Spanish lesson Tuesdays have placed me in a bit of a hotbed of new and buzzy NYC restaurants. In addition to Cosme, Upland opened late last year with all eyes upon it, as the chef was partnering up with mega restaurateur Stephen Starr (e.g., Morimoto) and leaving his post at the much beloved Il Buco Alimentari. When Pete Wells at The New York Times gave it a very good review a few weeks ago, I immediately looked for a post-Spanish reservation and was a bit gobsmacked that I got one. Given the crowds that can occur post-NYT review, I didn’t want to risk trying to get a seat at the bar. And well, Cosme has turned me off trying for such seats at new places for a while.
If you had told me that I was visiting on Saturday at eight o’clock, I would have believed you. It was wall-to-wall people in the bar, the dining room was full, and there were many people hovering in the large entranceway when I visited last week. This was significant to me because Upland isn’t a tiny 50-seat downtown place where you knock elbows with the table next to you. Upland is a seriously large Starr endeavor where there is ample room for everything, the crowd visually cueing that this is a place you’re supposed to want to visit. How nice that there was room for my coat AND bag on the banquette. I might have even been able to lay down without touching my neighbours. My neighbours were a mix of what you might expect to find in the Flatiron on a Tuesday night or at a recently reviewed restaurant: after work suited types, after work casual types, the young and beautiful, clearly moneyed young and old. And heaps who look like they don’t use Open Table like plebes like me do.
I ordered with no sense of adventure by going with dishes that were highlighted as standouts in numerous reviews I had read. Eating alone was not ideal, as I would have loved to have shared a bunch of appetizers and then gotten my own main or pasta. There are a number of vegetable dishes that sound good, but I wasn’t sure if I would like a whole plate of just one vegetable for myself. So, I went with the Caesar salad. And it might be a new favourite. I love the romaine salad at Roberta’s for being a Caesar/not officially a Caesar, but this one might top it for its assertive anchovy dressing. Definitely not for those who don’t like those little fishes. The range of lettuces was nice, but I will complain that the kale seemed a bit wilted. Or was it just over-massaged? It easily or should have been shared by two people, but I had no problem finishing it by myself.
To make up for that, I didn’t embarrass myself by eating the whole loaf of house bread with cultured butter. The couple next to me didn’t touch theirs’, so I thought eating only two-thirds of it would nicely hide my addiction.
Given Chef Justin Smillie had come from Il Buco Alimentari, where the pastas are terrific, I knew that I wanted to have a pasta as my main. They all were enticing, but given my newfound love of chicken livers and the endless praise for this dish, I went with the estrella. It’s a star-shaped tubular pasta that is about the length of one-and-a-half penne shapes. It was nice and chewy and the ridges picked up the chicken liver sauce well. There was nothing liver-y about the sauce. It was just like one of the best Bologneses you’ve ever tasted. It had a meaty richness that was enhanced by fragrant herbs. The livers themselves were so finely minced that you could tell a child (or someone like me) that it was some other ground meat, and we’d not bat a lash as we dug in. The length of the tubes was slightly awkward though. I had to use my fork (no knife provided, but a spoon was, oddly) to cut them in half to be able to eat the dish with some decorum. This reminded me of how my mom eats a plate of spaghetti. Working from the bottom of her plate to the top, she works her way through by cutting the noodles into bite-size portions with her fork, which she then scoops up. This annoys me as much as American cutlery usage bothers my Continental-style (#forever) European-bred friends. Nails on a chalkboard. I could have asked for a knife, but not providing me one suggests that I was not to use one. Maybe I’m just clueless in pasta etiquette. Maybe my mouth is just too little for the tubes. The portion leaned more towards a proper primi size, but as I ate all the salad and a good chunk of the bread, it sufficed. Had I not, perhaps too small as a standalone order. But who eats like that anymore?
No dessert interested me, and by that time, I was a little bit tired of eavesdropping on the two (male) boobs sitting to my left and avoiding the view of the couple canoodling on my right. As a solo female diner, I rarely get outstanding service, so I can only say that they were friendly and timely. I would happily go back, but only if I knew I could secure a table. The location and crowd aren’t inviting enough for me to want to wait endlessly for a table. But I did get some supreme whiffs from the ‘ndjua pizza on the boobs’ table, and I’ve kind of been dreaming about trying it ever since.