Where We've Been Eating

Upper West


Santa Monica is an incredibly popular place to live. It’s near the beach, so who wouldn’t want that kind of easy access to the Pacific Ocean? However, it’s also filled with tons of cafes and restaurants that are overpriced and underwhelming. As a transplanted New Yorker, I’m very picky about my food. New York has such incredible food choices; it takes a truly special place to impress me. So, when I found Upper West, on an underdeveloped stretch of Pico Boulevard in south Santa Monica, I was thrilled.

What first attracted me was the name. I lived on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, so it reminded me of home. The second was the look and décor of the place. Huge windows highlight the high ceilings and a black and white movie was being shown on the front wall. I think it was "Casablanca." I was hooked. I had to try it.
The four owners: a chef, two mixologists and a numbers guy, came from Pete’s Café in Downtown LA. These experienced restaurateurs really know what brings in a crowd. This place is a mixture of neighborhood friendly and urban hipness that brings in an eclectic crowd of diners.

My friends and I chose a Tuesday night to dine, figuring it wouldn’t be as crowded as the weekend. We were wrong. Every table was taken, and the long bar up front had quite a few people enjoying the happy hour deals. There was a long, communal pub table that paralleled the bar, giving us an easy place to rest our drinks while chatting.  Their drink menu is very creative, with lots of twists on standards. The Blood Orange Mojito was outstanding, as was their Ginger Cosmo, served with a candied ginger garnish.  

We got a table in the center of the room which allowed us to peruse the art installation, which also enhanced the trendy atmosphere. We ordered the Braised Lamb Crepes along with some wings to nibble on while deciding on main courses. The braised lamb was succulent and rich with bits of potato and spinach, and the smoky-sweet sauce had a hint of lavender. If I wasn’t in public I would have licked the plate! If you like lamb, come for lunch when these are a main course. The wings were also flavorful and spicy, made with sambal and wild flower honey sauce. These pair perfectly with Upper West’s featured micro-brews and small vintage wines, so I chose an Adelaide Cellars Viognier blend from the central coast of California.

I ordered the Miso-Glazed Duck and Apple Meatballs, served in a large bowl with ramen noodles, fresh basil, cilantro and mint. The salty miso was a great foil for the sweet apple, and the touch of Serrano chili in the broth lifted what could have been tasteless noodles to couture status. My companion’s short ribs fell off the bone and the accompanying parsnip-fennel puree was luxurious with the hearty gravy. If you feel like something vegetarian, go for their Roasted Veggie Burger. Served with a grilled pineapple relish and smoked tomato aioli on a toasted brioche bun, you won’t be disappointed.

If you have a sweet tooth, go for Chef Nick’s signature Ice Cream Sandwich. The rich, chocolate cake that serves as the “bread” has an ever changing array of ice cream flavors, depending on the season or his mood. Peanut Butter was this night’s filling, but he’s also had Guinness Ale, Brown Butter and Sweet Corn ice cream in the middle. The dish is big enough to split, but you probably won’t want to.

I was so happy to find Upper West. Having a neighborhood place that isn’t just a burger joint is a true treasure, and even if you’re not in the neighborhood, it’s worth the drive.

Upper West
3321 Pico Blvd  
Santa Monica, CA 90405

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