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Mar 15, 2010 02:11 PM

Review of Upper West in Santa Monica

Full write-up with pictures:

A new restaurant called Upper West has emerged in the place that was formerly the Santa Monica Bar and Grill, located on Pico blvd. almost directly under the 10 freeway overpass. Upper West has 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 start off with a $10 specialty drink, the Pepperoncini Martini with Casadores Reposado tequila, pepperoncini tomato juice, Belgium white beer. 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.

First appetizer is 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.

Next appetizer is Braised lamb crepes: Port braised Colorado leg of lamb, crunchy russet potato, madras curry crepes, garlic spinach, Israeli feta and lavender demi. 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.

My entree was the BLT: pastrami spiced thick cut Nueske bacon, green tomato, butter lettuce and sweet corn sun-dried tomato aioli on focaccia. Nueske bacon is delicious (the best I've had) and Upper West made sure to fill every bite of the BLT with lots of it. 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.

Others in our group tried the short rib and the burger. I tried a little of the burger and thought it was good, but I'll save final judgment until I get my own.

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.

Upper West
3321 Pico Blvd
Santa Monca CA

Upper West
3321 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

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  1. Nice write-up. I wondered about this place when I drove by the other night.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ElissaInPlaya

      Thanks :).I've drive by here occasionally and it's usually a happening place. I'm going back this week to try the burger, and can't wait for them to start brunch.

    2. Hope your review gets folks in the door, as this property has a VERY checkered past.
      I mean, it was Alligator Lounge, Flint's, 310 Bistro and Santa Monica Bar & Grill - all in the past 10 years or so.
      Very easily missed, yet easily enough remembered as being quasi-across the street from the original Santa Monica Trader Joe's on Pico.

      1 Reply
      1. re: carter

        good lord i'm encouraged - the loss of the alligator lounge was truly a tragedy, especially since it has been followed by an extensive list of not just failures but places that deserved to fail (nice memory, carter, i don't know if i could have come up with all of those).

      2. Tried it tonight and have to say "Oh Yum"! Pre-dinner happy hour priced appetizer and Ginger Cosmo. Dinner was Flatiron steak - perfectly prepared and so, so good. Side was asparagus and tuscon beans - garlic and lime was so delish! Friend had the halibut and we both loved it as well. Have to say the bread pudding we shared for dessert was average. Mgr/owner stopped by for feedback - service was impecable. Casual place - great for game night. I will go back!

        1. Watched the dreadful US v GH world cup match at Upper West over the weekend.

          I was pleasantly surprised with the food. Ordered their house burger and chose a side of french fries.

          The fries? Very solid!

          Nice and crisp on the outside and still chewy inside. The ketchup is infused with chipotle which is an added bonus.

          The burger? Very solid as well!

          Soft, challah bun, goat cheese, pasilla pepper and dry aged beef. Cooked to med rare as requested, you can clearly tell the beef is of very high quality.

          My only complaint is the kitchen over dressed the burger with the goat cheese; in fact, I'd be happier without the goat cheese since the aged beef tastes so delicious on its own.

          Upper West
          3321 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

          2 Replies
          1. re: vinosnob

            Had lunch here yesterday and the curry chicken salad was outstanding.

            1. re: Thor123

              Agreed! It is one of my favorite salads and what I always order when I go. And it is also on the happy hour menu.