Close to Union Square you’ll find Upland, a restaurant by Stephen Starr and erstwhile Il Buco chef Justin Smillie. Housed in the old Manzanilla space on the corner of 26th Street and Park Avenue South. Upland is named after the town in California (and Smillie’s birthplace)
Inside the Restaurant
To match the unparalleled food and drink, designers Roman and Williams capitalized on specific materials to capture the true spirit of Upland.
Touches of natural oak, elegant leather, custom-blown glass and patinated copper implemented throughout the airy open space call to mind heritage and utility, two key virtues of the approach. Acclaimed artist Wayne Pate has created original murals featuring classic California produce, like figs, artichokes and citrus, to usher New York’s open-minded diners into unexpected territory.
The interior is lined by shelf after shelf of preserved lemons in jars, each one illuminated by three tiny LEDs until they become something like citrus lamps. When their marmalade glow hits the copper trim around the dining room. The tables in the dining room are generously large, the seats the kind you want to stay in all night.
There’s also a lively bar area that’s perfect for a quick drink and some food, and the tables in the dining room behind it are comfortable, spacious, and just quiet enough that you can actually carry on a conversation.
There are a lot of factors that make Upland a special restaurant. The food, handled by former Il Buco Alimentari chef Justin Similie, is California- inspired, vegetable-driven, and absolutely incredible.
In fact, Smillie’s menu includes a bone-marrow crostino, fancy pizzas with pear and stracciatella, slow-roasted sunchokes with salsa verde, and porcelet with Jimmy Nardello peppers, charred onions, and persimmon. And there will be pasta, of course — farro spaghetti spiked with sea urchin sourced from Maine, plus ricotta gnudi with broccoli and bagna cauda.
The kitchen sends out much to love, with Mediterranean and Italian accents to keep it all very interesting and delicious. Estrella pasta, star-shaped rigatoni dressed with crushed chicken liver, herbs, and pecorino, is a savory delight; crackling skin pork belly is seasonally plated with kale, blistered shisito peppers, and fuyu persimmon; and the yuzu soufflé with kalamansi curd is phenomenal.
Upland holds for drinkers who are on the lookout for unexplored grapes and for those who call all white wine chardonnay. The wine list is long with affordable options by the glass and bottle. Italian or Californian? New Yorkers can challenge their parochial disdain for California wines with classics like Chateau Montelena and leaders of the modern style like Cathy Corison. Or they can dip into one of several affordable Bordeaux, so unfashionable, so delicious.
It’s no secret that everyone loves the restaurant, which is why New Yorkers have descended on Upland making it feel like the buzzy, cool place to be. And there’s no denying that Upland feels sunnier than your average Manhattan joint. If you’re looking for a lift this winter, you might consider tucking into a shiny green banquette for a vibrant bowl of pasta and Smillie’s super seasonal and well balanced California cooking.