Seasonal American at Upstairs in Montclair

by Melody Kettle

Local foodies are quietly buzzing about Montclair’s new bar and restaurant, Upstairs.  Owned by Aki Kaneda, Upstairs is the metro-sexual, alter ego of the subdued Japanese restaurant, Dai Kichi, Aki has quietly operated for twenty-four years and counting. 

At Upstairs, the décor is decidedly modern - a world away from that of Dai Kichi.  But don’t let the emphasis on superficiality fool you, this restaurant is not all-show-and-no-go!  Aki has succeeded at harnessing the elusive and delicate balance between a chic, fashion forward lounge and a well-grounded, food-conscious restaurant. 

The railroad style space at Upstairs has been divided into three distinct areas.  In the middle, the heart of the restaurant, a rugged, rustic, exposed brick is boldly juxtaposed against a sleek shiny, stainless steel kitchen.  

And what comes out of that kitchen? According to general manager, Scott Hirschberg, “seasonal American fare.” Executive Chef, David VanMorrelgem, has a quiet confidence as he and his kitchen team, including Christopher Ryan Arturo, formerly of acclaimed Montclair restaurant, Passionne, work together with attention to culinary detail.

Upstairs offers a streamlined menu of small plates and large plates.  The small plates are priced from $9 - $13.  Notable standouts include Crispy Duck Salad ($12) with watercress, celery root, and orange vinaigrette, Littleneck Clams ($13) with hard cider, garlic, bacon and fennel, a chef favorite, Spicy Pork Meatballs ($11) with cilantro puree, scallion, and sweet potato chip, and another favorite Grilled Shrimp ($13) with wheat berries, lemon thyme aioli and honey. 

Enjoy a video inside Upstairs, and check out Chef VanMorrelgem prepare Littleneck Clams.  

There are currently four large plates on the menu.  They are variations on American standards like grilled steak ($24), pork chop ($27), seared trout ($23), and a beautiful and balanced seared scallop dish ($28) accompanied with creamed corn, grilled bacon, leeks, and arugula.

As you move forward, toward Valley Road, the middle room leads to an ultra-sleek, long, bar with flat screen televisions, flanked by white, mod, chairs, that swivel in front of an blue lit, wet-look, bar. Above hang many, thin, mod/contempo pendant lights that simulate the look the falling rain. The cocktails, which we've discussed earlier, are shaken and served traditionally, by professional mixologists, with a flare for food and flavor, who work in tandem with the kitchen, concocting libations that showcase flavors indicative of the season.

The back of Upstairs is a more private dining room with vaulted ceilings and black and white framed photos on the walls that document the construction of Upstairs; a testament to the roots of Upstairs.

I don’t generally discuss the bathroom, but at Upstairs, the  salle de bain gets a mention.  Here’s why: When you enter the ladies room (I’m not sure what happens in the men’s room) the toilet seat automatically lifts when you flick the light switch.  But it doesn’t stop there; suddenly you realize – get this- the toilet seat is heated! At first, I was uncertain, perhaps, uncomfortable, and a little nervous, but then I started to like it.  I digress, and my apologies to the sensitive. Simply said, the bathrooms are really cool.

Upstairs is a unique Montclair restaurant, not only because they hold a coveted liquor license, but because the visual and gastronomic aesthetics are refreshing and exciting. Upstairs serves dinner Monday through Sunday 5 pm – 10 pm.  The bar is open Monday through Saturday 5 pm until 1:30 am, and on Sundays 12 pm until 12 am.


Upstairs Restaurant

608 Valley Road

Upper Montclair, NJ 07043