This past weekend, I had an uncanny moment where I felt like I had the same meal at two different restaurants. On Saturday, I had dinner at Vic’s, the relatively new Italian-Mediterranean restaurant that replaced Five Points in Noho. The menu consisted of seasonally driven appetizers, a good selection of traditional entrees like roast chicken and flank steak, as well as a pizza and pasta selection. The next day I had a meal at Upland, a Flatiron restaurant featuring “California cuisine”. The menu consisted of seasonally driven appetizers, traditional mains like chicken and skirt steak, supplemented by pizza and pasta. You would think that Californian and Italian-Mediterranean might be materially different, but the two meals I had tasted very similar.
Atmosphere: Let’s start with the dining ambiance. Vic’s is more of a neighborhood spot, whereas Upland is more of a scene. As a result, people tend to be more dressy casual at Vic’s, with a slant towards the preppy, whereas things got a little clubby at Upland. I personally like a more comfortable, neighborhood vibe, so I would probably return to Vic’s, less so to Upland.
Starters: At Vic’s, we had the crispy sweet onions and the bitter greens, whereas at Upland we had the Japanese mackerel and the complimentary potato bread. Based on pure taste, the ones at Upland slightly edged out Vic’s’. The potato bread was outstanding–it was sweet and buttery like a brioche, dissolving into a golden pool of starch at the slightest touch. The Japanese mackerel was wonderfully rich and oily, tempered by the tangerines and brussels sprouts that came with it. The only downside was that it was very heavy…
…which was why I ultimately preferred the experience of eating the lighter vegetable dishes at Vic’s. The bitter greens were refreshing and had a lot of depth for a green salad, much more interesting than your run of the mill bibb lettuce or mesclun mix. I was hoping the onions would be thin and very fried, in which the breading and the oil would cook out all the sharp, raw flavors of the bulb, but they were a little too preserved. Luckily the side of thick, melted parmigiano cheese almost made up for the strong onion flavors lingering in my mouth.
Pizzas: I had the burrata pizza with anchovies at Vic’s, while we tried the ‘nduja pie at Upland. The burrata pizza at Vic’s won this round, hands down. I loved how the crust was super crispy and thin, and how the medley of melted burrata and anchovies created a delicious fishy, salt lick on top of the surface. The ‘nduja pie, on the other hand, was just so heavy and overbearing. The crust was way too thick, and the thick passata tomato puree was intensely concentrated, like it had been freshly squeezed from a tube of tomato paste and chorizo.
Fish. This was more of a draw–the whole roasted Long Island porgy at Vic’s vs. the whole grilled branzino at Upland. Both fillets featured wonderfully flaky and fleshy white meat that was flavorful and fantastic, although the citrus vinaigrette seasoning at Upland was a little more refined and pulled together. The Vic’s version felt like a watered down rendition of a Thai chili dish, but because the underlying meat was so good, it almost didn’t matter.
Overall, the meal at Vic’s edged out the one at Upland. Something about Vic’s felt very comfortable and cozy, and that made me want to come back. I felt like I was having dinner with an old friend, who happened to have a beautiful home with a warm, inviting dining room. Whereas at Upland, I felt like I was with my former sorority sisters one-upping each other with stories about career wins and luxury hand bag purchases. So while you might have a pizza or fish at either, the way you enjoy it may differ significantly.
And true to my word, I’ve been back to Vic’s multiple times, trying several new things in the process. I absolutely fell in love with with the “little purse” pasta, these small, chubby ravioli-like pouches filled with the creamiest ricotta cheese. There was also a roasted delicata squash appetizer that I really enjoyed, although I think it was a seasonal item that is no longer on the menu.
The burrata with mushrooms was fine, but ultimately the earthy flavors of the mushroom and the saltiness of the toast overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the cheese, which was a shame. The roasted chicken and brussels sprouts was very solid, arriving with the requisite crisped skin on top and plump, juicy meat underneath. The flank steak was a palate pleaser as well, although our medium rare arrived a little too red. I find myself planning a lot of group dinners here because everyone can find something to like from the roster of delicious, dependable classics, all at reasonable price points. Vic’s is truly a neighborhood restaurant in every sense of the word, and a very valued one at that.
31 Great Jones St (between Bowery and Lafayette)
New York, NY 10012
345 Park Avenue South (between 25th and 26th St)
New York, NY 10010