Monday, April 19, 2010

Upper West: Your new neighborhood bar that will hopefully break the curse of its location

We decided to happy hour at the new Santa Monica bar Upper West before an art show in West LA. Upper West is located by the 10 freeway in a cursed spot on Pico by Centinela. I remembered when it used to be a myriad of failed restaurant/bars including Flints, 310 and Santa Monica Bar & Grill. The shuttered restaurants were always empty but ironically, the Trader Joe's across the street was always packed. Somehow the only restaurant in the neighborhood that could stand the test of time was Michelin starred Valentino Restaurant.

Enter modern, trendy restaurant bar Upper West. I liked the way they renovated the space. It has a very New York feel to it, with high ceilings, dark wood walls at the bar, exposed wood beams, covered patio with huge projector and doors that opened out to the sidewalk, communal tables where diners can dine and mingle.

After chatting with co-owner Elad Benisti, it was clear what his focus was for the restaurant. His intention is to open up a modern, upscale, classy, sophisticated, place but yet casual enough where it could be somewhere you could walk in for brunch in your yoga outfit. After all, this is the Westside. We don't like waiting in lines, we hate red velvet ropes, we don't want to pay $20 for valet, we don't want to get dressed up in a tight mini dress and heels for dinner, we want something that we can walk to or take a short cab ride to, we are casual yet chic. We're not Hollywood. And that, Benisti and partner Eyal Raziel have accomplished. The place was packed in both the dining room and the bar area.

Happy hour is from 5-7pm, offering select beers and wine for $4, PBR on tap for $3, cocktails for $6 and some bar food items for $6-8. They had a ginger cosmo with my name on it (Ginger vodka, elixir g, lime juice, cranberry juice and a ginger candy garnish). Their regular dinner menu includes American comfort fare such as burgers, meatloaf, steak and fish, all done in an upscale fashion but at reasonable prices.

They have a couple good beers on tap including Allagash Curieux and Blanche de Chambly.

We made it just in time for happy hour for a cocktail.

Calamari from their happy hour menu, served with mint chili sauce, slivered carrots, sesame vinaigrette. I liked that this was a large portion for happy hour prices. The calamari wasn't greasy, and was served with an Asian inspired sauce which I thought was a nice change from tartare sauce.

Ahi tuna crispy tacos from the dinner appetizer menu. Sushi grade ahi tuna loin, crispy plantain shell, rice crackers, sprouts, orange chipolte vinaigrette and jicama cucumber salsa. The fish was of good quality but I thought the taco was over sauced with the sweet vinaigrette. I liked that they switched it up and used plantain leaves as the taco shell. It's interesting that there are so many components that went into what would normally be a simple dish, such as the tiny rice crackers.

Braised lamb crepes also from the regular menu. Port braised leg of lamb, crunchy russet potato, madras curry crepes, garlic spinach, Israeli feta and lavender demi. The crepe was spongy and had the same texture as the injera that you would find at an Ethiopian restaurant. It was a good choice of crepe as it absorbed all the sauce and flavor from the lamb. The meat was tender, had a lamb flavor but not too gamy. The potatoes were seasoned well and gave the dish a bit of a homey, comfort-food feel. This was like a lamb stew wrapped in a crepe.

The service was great, from the friendly owner to the thoughtful hostess who tried to find us a spot at the bar. The staff seemed to be excited about working there. There's no pretension here. They are all very welcoming. And although I only sampled the menu, I liked what I ordered. They are currently working on a brunch menu with bottomless mimosas. Hello! I'm soooooo there. Upper West is really what this neighborhood was missing. It's really what this neighborhood wants. No hassle, great ambiance, food's decent, the prices are reasonable, there's ample street parking, it's a spacious spot great for happy hour or dinner. Here's hoping that they succeed because I need my neighborhood joint. that serves mimosas. bottomless.

Hits: ambiance, calamari, service, prices reasonable
Misses: location
Rating: ***

Upper West
3321 Pico Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 586-1111

After our time at Upper West, we went to the opening night of a photo exhibition at 5th and Sunset Studio in West LA.

The exhibition I Spy with my Plastic Eye features works by various artists, photographs taken with a plastic camera. The photos were simplistic, there were some lovely scenic photographs including one of Venice Beach, unfortunately the collection wasn't that vast so we were out of the studio in 1/2 hr. Back to Upper West? Sigh, so tempting, but I had to catch my Zzzs. Maybe another time. Upper West will be always be there. I hope.


Mike said...

Hmmm, chalkboard wine list shows a "Cotes De Rhone." Not a good sign.

Diana said...

Just sent a link to this review to my Westside friend. I think we may be paying this place a visit very soon! :)

stuffycheaks said...

Mike - hope you'd still give it a shot :)
Diana - venture out to the Westside! Sit at the bar, chat with the owner, who's also easy on the eyes.