Stepping out of the elevator on the fourth floor of the chrome building where Upper Side 81st Street is located, you enter a spacious lounge, graced by a wooden bar and terrace where guests are dining at leisure. The atmosphere is relaxed and elegant. Even though you are high above a well-transited Bogotá street, the noise level is muted, and a softly spoken waiter utters some key words: “Can I get you something to drink?”
I realize that I have arrived in a place where premium gins are a house specialty. I order a Mediterranean Citric. The drink comes served splendidly, with Mare, a Mediterranean gin flavored with four principal botanicals: basil, thyme, rosemary and, most unusual of all, Arbequina olive. The Upperside rendition includes a 1724 tonic and confited orange peel. The lunch could not have gotten off to a better start. My dining companion, (who also harbors a penchant for gin), orders a Roses are Red. In her glass, rose petals are encrusted in a frozen ball of ice, swirling with the tonic and Hendricks. There is even a cocktail named after one of the Upper Side’s owners, Aileen Sasson: Aileen’s Gin combination is Bulldog mixed with fresh violets and a sprig of mint. The gin selection and house combinations are a real treat, and cost $35,000 each.
When Upper Side opened it doors in 2012, it embraced a philosophy about food, “proper food” as owners Javier Coria and Aileen state; and one of quality dining and consistency. There is no improvisation, nor fusion, happening in the kitchen. By going over the main menu, you see dishes which are multi-ethnic, drawing on French, American and Italian influences. Take for example, the 400 grs of New York steak, with onion rings and base of peanut sauce ($52,000), or the Black Label tenderloin served with cherry tomatoes, a balsamic sauce, bacon and cranberries ($48,000). Another Upper Side classic are the Jim Beam BBQ ribs accompanied with corn cakes and coleslaw ($52,000).
On the comfort side of the culinary balance are burgers and sandwiches. They all look appetizing, especially a Brooklyn – Montreal favorite, the Kosher pastrami sandwich, with pickles and Deli mustard. “You won’t leave hungry from Upper Side,” states Aileen Sasson regarding their generous portions. For guests who stay clear of meats, the proprietor recommends the house’s seared tuna.
Javier Coria came to Colombia in 2008 from Spain and got involved setting up a restaurant venture near the Parque 93. Meeting Aileen, who frequented his establishment, the two entrepreneurs quickly became friends and inevitably an idea arose of them going into business together. They found the ideal space for Upper Side adjacent to the El Retiro shopping complex, and even though Javier wanted a Mediterranean restaurant, Aileen envisioned a Tribeca loft setting with food reflecting New York’s many cultures and diversity.
Javier and Aileen are at the helm of Upper Side and feel passionate about what they have achieved so far, and where they are heading gastronomically. From the casual business lunch to a formal night out (think date or anniversary dinner ), Upper Side has evolved into a “classic” without compromising its commitment to fresh ingredients and qual- ity. The latter, an aspect which can’t be stressed enough. “We are all about quality, quality, quality,” states Sasson.
And there is a phrase written in bold, over the metal kitchen window, which drives home the Upper Side experience: “ One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one not has not dined well.” Words chosen carefully by one of the great modernists of the 20th century, writer Virginia Wolff.
My companion and I dined extremely well at Upper Side, and the gins even made us think that much better. I will return many times, as this restaurant, like big cities, only reveals its true spirit over time.
Cra 13 No.81-24. 4th Floor