Driving on the 405 freeway anytime after 3:30 p.m. puts me in a bad mood – but a visit to the intimate Upstairs 2 restaurant in West Los Angeles, with its flavorful Mediterranean-inspired small plates, is a surefire way to quickly lift my spirits.Located upstairs in The Wine House – Los Angeles’ largest wine store – this unique restaurant opened almost 12 years ago, and features a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. Walking inside, we were immediately greeted by sommelier Marilyn Snee, who led us to a table in the softly lit dining room.
As Snee explained, the Upstairs 2 food menu is divided by wine type to help customers select perfectly paired dishes. For instance, the sparkling wine section pairs with a couple of starters that include bacon-wrapped Medjool dates and tempura frog legs. The crisp and refreshing white wine section offers a crab and shiso rice paper roll, and ahi tuna crudo – both of which sounded delectable. And under the full-bodied white wine section, the burrata salad with Black Mission fig and prosciutto caught my eye.
Settling on the last three items mentioned, we enjoyed a glass of full-bodied 2015 Selbach Oster riesling kabinett that Snee paired with our meal. The German wine offered hints of lime, apple and buttery vanilla, and went nicely with the crab and shiso roll filled with cucumber, radish sprouts and carrots. The wine also thankfully calmed down the heat of the tangy and spicy Vietnamese Nước chấm glaze of the dish. The ahi tuna crudo arrived next, coming out on a long plate with the red ahi tuna slices lined in a row, beautifully and deliciously complemented by bright green basil flakes, thinly sliced serrano chili medallions and a dollop of grapefruit granita on the side.
The Black Mission fig salad proved to be a favorite of mine, especially with its generous scoop of creamy white burrata and sprinkling of olive oil and black pepper. It was served with slices of folded prosciutto and wild baby arugula alongside thin slices of purple ninja radish and cucumbers drizzled with basil dressing. The riesling, again, paired perfectly, cutting the fat of the prosciutto.
Similarly, even though Upstairs 2 chef Maiki Le’s signature fried chicken bao ideally should be paired with a glass of rosé, the riesling went nicely with the crispy Jidori chicken thighs glazed with a slightly sweet pineapple gochujang. Le folds the soft and white bao like a taco around large pieces of fried chicken, and adds a sweet and spicy sauce to a slaw made with Napa cabbage and celery for a truly flavorsome experience.
For my entrée, I chose the monkfish, which Snee paired with a glass of Martinelli Sonoma Coast pinot noir. The wine offered a pleasing rose petal aroma, with hints of molasses, raspberry and sandalwood. While I enjoyed the wine, my pan-fried monkfish, was a complete standout. I loved the ethereal Meyer lemon cream sauce on top, mixing in the Yukon Gold potato mash, Brussels sprouts and baby carrots with my fork to get every last drop.
My husband ordered the pan-fried duck breast, paired with a glass of medium-bodied Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas. The wine offered a pleasant essence of fruit and a hint of black pepper, which balanced nicely with the rich duck. Overall, the entrée, topped with crispy onions and a whole-grain mustard sauce, was a hit with my husband. He also enjoyed the spätzle and Brussels sprouts served on the side.
Our meal was finished off with a visit by executive chef Le, who had chatted with all of the guests in the dining room. The chef is friendly smart and talented too. Le graduated first from Brown University before moving on to the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. Working her way through esteemed restaurants, she even
eventually competed in “The Next Iron Chef.”
To meet Le and enjoy her tasty food, make a dinner reservation or go for the Rush Hour 1.5 menu. From Wednesday to Saturday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., the restaurant offers happy hour specials on beverages and some of Le’s signature dishes to soothe any traffic-frayed nerves. Sip the beer of the week for $4, or a glass of red or white wine for $6. Le makes a nice variety of dishes for guests to enjoy until the traffic subsides. There are bacon-wrapped dates, Jidori chicken lettuce wraps, venison meatballs, apricot barbecue-pork sliders, grilled Kansas City dry-rub beef tenderloin skewers with chimichurri, tri-tip tacos with beans and a dry-aged burger.
Next time you find yourself stopped in traffic on the 405 freeway between Wilshire Boulevard and the 10 freeway, take exit 54 and treat yourself to perfectly paired food and wine in a peaceful setting. $$ 2311 Cotner Ave., Los Angeles, (310)231-0316.