Little Park and Upland – NYC

The best way I can describe Little Park (Google maps) in Tribeca’s Smyth Hotel – is a stylish picnic.  One that you would plan for a date, somebody whose sensibilities include Soulcycle or design magazines and to whom you want to say, “hey, I do eat other things besides Shake Shack and fried chicken.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You bring her here to impress her with some beetroot risotto and the airy tempura of avocado squash & blossoms.  Sure, there are also duck and scallops on this picnic, because you want to ball out a little.  But those come later.  After you eat your vegetables like the cultural connoisseur you are (“za’atar is an ancient spice blend,” you will say, because you checked Wikipedia while she was in the bathroom).

Different from the way that Upland (Google Maps), in Gramercy, is also a picnic.  Your date might also enjoy Upland, and if she’s game to split the short rib for two or she goes fingers-first for the crispy duck wings, confit’d and crisped, slathered with yuzu kosho, then it’s time to consider getting more serious.

Both restaurants are lovely to look at, curving banquettes, rustic decor, particularly at Upland, where gingham and giant wash basins of plants evoke a much more pastoral scene than its corner of Gramercy might suggest.  Both chefs seem to have an affinity for vegetables, although the choices at Upland are heavier.

Little Park has a summer-y shaved snow pea salad, with crushed sunflower and mint, and a strong citrus dressing.  Upland on the other hand has fried hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.  The time before that: delectable fried artichoke hearts, dressed simply with lemon.  Little Park: the aforementioned squash tempura, with yogurt & cumin-charged zaa’atar.  Syrup-sweet strawberries with creamy burrata.

Upland: wine-red beets in a white chocolate sauce.  And some crispy motherfucking duck wings.

Both restaurants have a strong pasta game.  Little Park’s beetroot risotto is visually stunning and surprisingly savory, with little accentuating morsels of goat cheese and an earthy, deep sweetness. An al dente extruded girandole pasta with duck ragu and fried herbs.  The bright red is not just for show.  Chef Smillie’s bucatini cacio e pepe is one of the best in the city.

They both do a wonderful Long Island duck.  Upland used fresh pitted cherries, while Little Park pickled theirs, and added some Swiss chard.  At Little Park, the roasted Lancaster County chicken was fine.  It was well-made, as were the seared scallops with chanterelles and brown butter.  The short rib we had at Upland was not as mindblowing as the version I’d eaten at Il Buco Alimentare, but still a hearty plate.

Hard to go wrong with either of these.

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