How often do you get to indulge in tuna tacos and a short rib sandwich on your lunch break? Well, now you have an excuse to do just that. This hearty surf and turf assembly is just one of the combinations you can choose from the dineLA lunch menu at Upper West in Santa Monica.
On this 10th anniversary of dineLA, Upper West and more than 300 restaurants will be offering specially priced prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner from Jan. 12-26. Now in its eighth year of participation, Upper West’s focus for this two-week event is to welcome new guests to a distinctive and diverse food experience.
Upper West is known for their unconventional fish tacos: ahi tuna mixed in an orange-chipotle vinaigrette and jicama-cucumber salsa, sprinkled with rice cracker beads, and served on crisp tortilla shells made from plantains. If you’re trying to pinpoint the cuisine to which these tacos belong, don’t bother. Upper West Executive Chef Nick Shipp doesn’t even know.
“People always want to know what our cuisine is,” said Shipp. “To be honest, I don’t have a clue.” Nonetheless, Shipp, who is also a co-owner of Upper West, is passionate about bringing a spectrum of cultures and flavors to the restaurant.
Shipp first embraced whimsical styles of cooking in Fort Worth, Texas while working with fellow chef Clark McDaniel, who Shipp calls his “Chef Yoda.” At the bygone restaurant, Angeluna, they challenged Texan palates with eyebrow-raising combinations, such as Chinese Spaghetti, rib-eye steak with gorgonzola napa cabbage slaw, and buttermilk ice cream with black pepper.
Though Shipp came to Los Angeles to pursue a path in music as a drummer, he soon realized he missed the thrill of a kitchen. After honing his skills with Wolfgang Puck’s catering service, California seemed a natural fit for him to expand upon his eclectic culinary beginnings.
“Here, you can eat Japanese, Ethiopian, and Italian all in one day,” he said. “So we wanted to turn that experience into a restaurant with some Americana thrown in.”
On the dineLA dinner menu, the Southern staple of pork chops and applesauce gets an Upper West makeover. The tenderloin—sourced from Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Northern California—is coffee crusted and charbroiled, topped with a jalapeno spiced applesauce, then served with goat cheese mashed potatoes in the style of a French puree.
The Upper West dineLA menus are designed to showcase the essence of their regular menus and please many different appetites, Shipp said. He assures the portions are big and the staff is prepared to hand out to-go boxes. “The main thing is not to skimp on size,” he said.
But leave room for dessert! Shipp refers to his brioche bread pudding as “the big beast” for its grand size, which commands shareability. It’s on the dineLA dinner menu along with another weighty dessert: a carrot cake sandwich with cream cheese ice cream.
Customers who come for dineLA often come back, which is why Upper West works hard to make a great first impression, Shipp said. A return trip to Upper West would give you a chance to try several other renowned dishes that aren’t on the dineLA menus, such as the veggie burger.
“It was an accident, really,” Shipp said, on conceiving the burger. As a Texas native, vegetarian cuisine was foreign to him, he said. So he experimented with veggies, pulverizing them until they formed a substantial paste that was close to the consistency of ground beef. He cooks this innovated patty in vegetable broth and wine to intensify the flavors.
Shipp also highly recommends trying the mussels from their regular dinner menu. He buys them fresh from Santa Barbara through the Dock-to-Dish sustainable fishery program and cooks them in a garlic-saffron broth with chorizo sarta and a cilantro garnish, accompanied by buttered ciabatta.
The restaurant’s name is a reference to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a tree-lined area of New York City known for its cafes, restaurants, and bars. The restaurant adopts the look of a spacious New York loft with the rustic industrial elements of wood, metal, and high ceilings.
Upper West was the first restaurant of its kind to open in the neighborhood on the border of Santa Monica. Shortly after its success, more restaurants settled in on this patch of Pico Blvd., and the area grew more inviting as the city invested in beautifying the sidewalks and planting trees. Located adjacent to the 10 Freeway exit ramp, the restaurant is easy to reach for regulars coming from Downtown LA, Pasadena, and Calabasas.
Now that Upper West is a Santa Monica institution, Shipp says the name has taken on a new meaning: a place that’s fun, sleek, and full of atmosphere. Simply stated, he says, “It’s a state of mind.”