Recently a neighborhood friend alerted me to a newly opened restaurant–Upper West–located just a mile or so from our residences in West LA. You’d think I would have been all over a nearby restaurant opening but somehow this place eluded me. Am I losing my credibility as a crazed foodie? I don’t think so! Anyway, the restaurant was in its prior life Santa Monica Bar and Grill, and after months of renovation an all-new eatery has emerged with an all-new interior, new owners and staff, and a vibrant menu of American fusion dishes. Championing the kitchen is Nick Shipp, who once worked under Wolfgang Puck and was formerly the head chef at Pete’s Cafe and Bar near downtown LA. Last Thursday night I decided to round up some coworkers for dinner at drinks to see what Upper West has to offer.
I arrived a few minutes past 5pm–the restaurant’s opening time–and met up with a few coworkers who had just walked in. The interior is modern, plush, and tastefully outfitted with mattress-sized prints on the walls, hanging globe lights, and a monstrous projection TV in an enclosed patio. Upper West boasts a full bar with specialty martinis and a handful of wine and beer offerings, some of which are offered at $4 until 7pm. After a few minutes of studying the drink menu, I decided on the Pepperoncini Martini with Casadores Reposado tequila, pepperoncini tomato juice, Belgium white beer:
It’s served in a chilled glass with salt pressed against the rim. Strong flavors of tomato and pepper give the drink a tangy and savory profile; think bloody Mary but with no pulp and a thinner consistency. I couldn’t taste much from the beer, but the smokiness of the Casadores tequila (of which I have a giant Costco bottle at home) came through beautifully and wasn’t overpowering. I loved this; in fact it reminded me of the Blood Sugar Sex Magic at Rivera, but just slightly less refined and much cheaper at only $10.
My coworker Sarah orders a Lychee Martini with Pisco Barsol, lychee juice, and fresh lychee:
The menu at Upper West is simple but intelligently put together with a variety of new American dishes such as a steak frites, dry-aged burger, seared sea bass, and burrata caprese. Anyone will find something to suit his or her palate. Our group starts with some appetizers and then moves onto the larger entree items.
Seared beef carpaccio – Quick seared beef tenderloin, wild arugula salad, basil balsamic dressing, horseradish aioli and extra virgin olive oil. Excellent quality beef is a must for this type of dish to really excel, and these paper thin beef slices were indeed of high quality and seasoned perfectly with the creamy aioli. The arugula cuts into the meatiness while the sheets of Parmesan provide another layer of flavor and texture. Combining the beef with the arugula, Parmesan, and the dressing made for a fantastic mixture of flavors with each bite. I shared this amongst two others but I could have easily finished this on my own.
Braised lamb crepes – Port braised Colorado leg of lamb, crunchy russet potato, madras curry crepes, garlic spinach, Israeli feta and lavender demi. This was recommended to me by several others and so an order of this seemed necessary. The lamb meat was very tender and plentiful in quantity, and it paired well with the spinach, potato, and salty demi. I felt that the heavy and deep flavors from the lamb and sauce completely masked crepe; in fact the crepe’s flavor was mostly lost in this dish, with just some of the crepe’s texture being noticeable. A larger crepe would have helped balance the taste, but otherwise this was a great appetizer.
BLT – pastrami spiced thick cut Nueske bacon, green tomato, butter lettuce and sweet corn sun-dried tomato aioli on focaccia. If you’ve never had Nueske bacon then you’re truly missing out on what might be the best bacon generally available. It’s very lean with an incredibly deep smokey flavor. Upper West made sure to fill every bite of the BLT with bacon, and as you can see there’s plenty of it in the sandwich. Bright flavors from the butter lettuce and green tomatoes completed the BLT experience while the hearty focaccia held everything in place. The accompanying side of chipotle sweet potato fries was different in that the fries weren’t crispy but were soft and even a bit mushy. I enjoyed the flavor but was distracted by the too soft texture. A few others got the regular fries which looked crispier, so next time I’ll stick with those.
My coworkers ordered various other dishes, some of which I was fortunate to sample.
Braised short rib – 6 hour braised short rib “osso bucco” style, cannelini puree and root vegetable pan gravy. Coworkers Sarah and Neil enjoyed this and it does indeed look very good from the picture above. The presentation is fantastic if not whimsical in that the exposed bone is shooting straight up, tempting one to just grab it like a caveman and go old school on it. (You should see me take on oxtail soup.
The Burger – dry aged beef blend, balsamic caramelized onions, arugula; pasilla goat cheese spread on toasted challa. Quite a few people in group ordered this and no one left any trace on their plates. I got to try a little and what I had was tasty, but I’ll save further judgement until I devour one myself. I recently had one of the best burgers ever at Josie in Santa Monica (perhaps even besting Father’s Office), so it’ll be interesting to see how this one compares. Look for a future review soon.
Pancetta wrapped prawns – jumbo prawns “brochette style”, jalapeno-goat cheese soft polenta, blackberry raisin compote and espresso oil. My friend and I were’t too sure about the “jumbo” designation as we were expecting a more substantial prawn. He enjoyed it, however I will say that my wife tried this same dish during the previous night and found it to be merely average in taste. That said, I tried some of the polenta and found it to be very enjoyable with slight kick and a wonderfully deep, silky taste.
For dessert my coworker and I shared the Key lime tart with Graham cracker crust, blueberry syrup, basil-coconut sorbet (below). It was good but not memorable. The key lime filling was soft with a nice sweetness to tartness ratio, but the crust was too thick and was actually overcooked in some parts. A slightly softer crust would have for easier scooping of filling and crust with each bite. The basic-coconut sorbet was nice and refreshing, almost acting like a palate cleanser between each bite.
Overall this was a resounding success for all of us; everyone in our group kept raving about the food, the drinks, and the scene throughout the night. By 7pm the place was absolutely bustling with activity and I can only imagine how packed it would be on a Friday or Saturday night. Our waiter was very prompt and polite, and our empty plates and glasses were cleared quickly. A quick check of the Yelp reviews shows that about dozen others are also singing the praises about Upper West. Prices were very reasonable as well, with the beef carpaccio and lamb crepes coming in at $10 each, the BLT at $13 ($1.50 extra for the chipotle fries), and the key lime tart at only $7.
Lastly, the owners mentioned they’ll be adding lunch and brunch very soon. I have a strong feeling I’ll be making many return visits here. Highly recommended.
3321 Pico Blvd
Santa Monca CA