Follow the light. The golden glow of preserved lemons, up-lit in rows of glass jars that beckon from copper shelves, draws diners into the welcoming cocoon of Upland Miami’s oak-and-leather dining room.
Mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr is spinning culinary fantasy again. This time — his fifth venture in South Florida — he has re-created the popular NYC brasserie that prompted New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells to urge everyone to “go to Upland” when it opened in Manhattan in 2015.
If you value attentive, smart service in a sophisticated, casual setting with some reliable, subtle dishes, then we’ll repeat the suggestion and send you to Miami Beach’s southernmost point. There are no stunning head-snappers here, but as a neighborhood comfort spot, Upland Miami has become a major asset for the South of Fifth district since opening one block from the beach in late November.
Named for the California town where chef Justin Smillie spent his childhood, Upland divides its succinct, sharing menu into easy-to-digest sections that highlight raw starters, pizzas, appetizers, pastas, entrees and vegetables. Many of the Italian-accented, California-style dishes from his New York restaurant are repeated here, including the “little gem” salad of avocado, cucumber and ricotta, and all of the pastas, which feature buried treasures – chicken liver, spicy sausage and kale, and shrimp and Meyer lemon – in the deceptively simple-looking bowls.
Starr retains his winning formula and, really, that’s the only major issue I have with Upland Miami. It’s a beautiful place to eat, but this is a template that could be plopped down in Anywhere, USA. There is no sense of place. The staff seems flown in for the moment. Even Smillie’s insistence on no nightly specials seems to imply he may not be around much.
“I’m letting the place still evolve,” he says. Let’s hope he spends more time in Miami so the Upland here evolves into something we can recognize as our own.