Chic Southtown restaurant Up Scale lives up to its name with steak, sushi and seafood in San Antonio

Up Scale threw some grammatical magic when it opened in Southtown in October.

Step into the chic pastel dining room, marvel at the Lamborghini at the valet stand, shake your head at $59 for a lamb chop appetizer, and try – just try – to describe Up Scale without using the word “ top of the line”. You can not. And maybe that’s the point.

Up Scale owners Emily and Houston Carpenter already set high expectations a year ago with their Instagram-ready Little Em’s Oyster Bar just across from the South Alamo. An inescapably cute bungalow set in pink and white, it has attracted a design-conscious clientele and backed it up with some of the best oysters and service in town.

Up Scale is an upward extension of that brand, transforming Feast’s vacant, battered former home into a stylish boutique in neon charcoal gray and blue outside, with views through floor-to-ceiling windows that glow in the twilight. like this famous “Nighthawks” restaurant painting.

The main dining room opens onto the bar at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant created by the owners of Little Em’s Oyster Bar.

Mike Sutter / Staff

Inside, Up Scale creates a maze of experiences, from the cozy lounge and cosmopolitan curved bar in front, to the alcoves and pink banquettes in the main dining room, to the veranda out back with its baroque wallpaper and pomegranate red chairs and finally to a tent patio out back, twinkling with garlands dancing like fireflies.

In keeping with that choose-your-adventure aesthetic, the menu feels like a four-door room. Behind one is an urban cocktail experience. Another opens into a seafood restaurant. A third offers a steakhouse experience. And the fourth leads to a sushi restaurant.

The unifying factor between the four is that Up Scale tends to do its best when it lives up to its name.

From the bar, the $16 to $18 cocktails make a strong impression. The Up Scale martini shone pink in a gold-rimmed glass with a tart and refreshing mix of gin, raspberry and champagne, while the Hootenanny brought mezcal to the mainstream, tempered with sweetness and citric acid by the fruit passion fruit, orgeat, falernum and lemon.

On the seafood side, a $41 bowl of lobster tagliolini pasta glistened with American sauce, bright notes of tomato and onion over a buttery texture that paired with thin ribbons of firm, handmade pasta. and an abundance of sweet lobster meat.

A 32-ounce dry-aged tomahawk steak is served on a cutting board for tableside slicing at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em's Oyster Bar.

A 32-ounce dry-aged tomahawk steak is served on a cutting board for tableside slicing at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em’s Oyster Bar.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The steakhouse experience found its voice with a $140 tomahawk rib eye, bone-carved table club, all 32 ounces. Not just an artifact of conspicuous consumption, it rumbled somewhere between fat and lean with the primal flavor of dry-aged beef, the alchemy that ripens beef like aged cheese. Seared and seasoned on the outside, it was cooked medium rare and rare throughout.

Sushi chef Ruben Pantaleón honed his skills with the $16-a-piece uni nigiri, using sea urchins so fresh they tasted like the ocean in Southtown. Wagyu beef made for a bite of sushi that packed the satisfaction of an entire steak into one perfectly seared bite. That’s a good thing, considering it costs $18 for this bite.

With all the big boxes checked, Up Scale sometimes struggled to find its true north. It has the bones of a good steak, but not entirely done, tossed by chalky mashed potatoes and grainy panko shrimp in a Cesar salad.

Up Scale has the makings of a good sushi bar, but that’s not all. The shaggy, unruly Feisty Roll was deflected by a sharp serrano and sour onion that overwhelmed the sage hiramasa (yellowtail kingfish) at its heart. And I wanted more fish on chunks of otoro tuna and ora king salmon nigiri and less ginger, seaweed and truffle on top.

Nigiri sushi options include, from left, Wagyu beef, otoro tuna (two pieces) and ora king salmon (two pieces) at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em's Oyster Bar.

Nigiri sushi options include, from left, Wagyu beef, otoro tuna (two pieces) and ora king salmon (two pieces) at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em’s Oyster Bar.

Mike Sutter / Staff

And while Up Scale feels most fully realized as a seafood restaurant, a bowl of seared scallops in a rich pumpkin curry lost its textural war with oversized, rubbery bits of trumpet mushroom.

However, these missteps couldn’t knock Up Scale off its upward trajectory. A jaw-dropping notion at $59 for an appetizer, the lamb chops overcame the price stigma, bringing six to an order, tender seared with strong herbs and a rich feta and mint sauce, a starter in everything except the name. The kitchen lived up to its steakhouse promise with a New York strip that achieved the unlikely goal of a caramelized crust and velvety interior.

A $57 Dover Sole justified its price with a portion almost big enough to feed two people and a clever presentation at the table, manager Samuel Castillo deftly removing the bones and piling the pearl fish on large nuggets of farro-infused grain. with foie gras butter and a finial fleuron of beurre blanc for an unlikely but successful combination of rich iron flavor and delicately sauced fish.

Dover sole is filleted at the table, then served with a beurre blanc sauce and foie gras butter farro at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em's Oyster Bar.

Dover sole is filleted at the table, then served with a beurre blanc sauce and foie gras butter farro at Up Scale, a new Southtown restaurant from the owners of Little Em’s Oyster Bar.

Mike Sutter / Staff

To accomplish all of this, the Carpenters put together an A-team of staff who worked in some of the best restaurants in town. It’s a kind of homecoming for head chef Jake Gonzales, who worked at Feast and now runs Up Scale’s kitchen, led by executive chef Austin Bush, who also oversees Little Em’s.

Along with Little Em’s Oyster Bar, New York-style newcomer Bar Loretta and now Up Scale, this harmonic convergence of King William and Southtown properties is becoming one of the city’s top upscale culinary hubs.

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***½

1024 S. Alamo St., 210-396-7755, upscalesouthtown.com

Quick Bite: New chic bar and restaurant for seafood, steak and sushi from the owners of Little Em’s Oyster Bar

Hit: Lobster tagliolini, tomahawk steak, plain nigiri sushi

Miss: Caesar Salad, Feisty Roll

Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

Price scale: Appetizers, $13 to $59; nigiri sushi, $7 to $18 each; sushi rolls, $13 to $19; salads, $10 to $16; entrees, $41 to $140; dessert, $12-$14

Alcohol: Cocktails, wine, beer and sake

***** Excellent, an almost perfect experience

**** Good, among the best in town

*** Average, with some notable points

** Poor, with a redemption factor or two

* Bad, nothing to recommend

Express-News food critics pay for all meals.


Dino S. Williams