No matter how you slice it, Upper Crust Trattoria has come a long way since it first opened as an upscale pizza and salad restaurant 23 years ago. Though the options now encompass “a full Italian/Mediterranean menu, that’s still the backbone of Upper Crust,” said Ron Tyni, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Terez.
After 13 years in the Laguna Village Center, Upper Crust recently underwent a significant remodel, adding a welcoming horseshoe bar and small lounge area in the front and a separate banquet area in the back.
Throughout the restaurant, warm earth tones still create a casual but stylish trattoria feel, enhanced by Terez’s own paintings hanging on most of the walls.
“The banquet room has really gone beyond our expectations,” said Tyni. “We’re able to handle large groups easily without having them impact the rest of the restaurant.”
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Likewise, the bar area has added another dimension, especially during the weekday happy hour when select appetizers such as calamari, crab cakes and pizzas are specially priced.
Upper Crust also serves local wines and draft beers such as Moretti, but the addition of a full liquor license opened the door for specialty cocktails like a Cucumber-tini with muddled basil and a Rolls Royce Bloody Mary garnished with a jumbo shrimp.
At lunchtime, you can choose from more than 15 pasta dishes ranging from penne puttanesca to Szechuan chicken linguine to house-made meat lasagna.
In addition, Upper Crust remains true to its roots by offering pizzas, calzones, chicken pesto crepes, soupof-the-day and a dozen or so salads.
The restaurant’s raspberry salad (with apples, glazed walnuts and blue cheese) is a venerable favorite, or go for an antipasto, a chop-chop with chicken, or a roasted beet salad.
The dinner menu offers all that, and then some.
Additional entrées include chicken piccata or chicken Marsala, veal scallopini or a house-made meatball sandwich, New Zealand rack of lamb with a mint balsamic reduction or a 10-ounce New York steak “that’s so tender you can cut it with a fork,” said Tyni.
Seafood has also made a big splash on the Upper Crust dinner menu, and Manager John Fergus noted that “we’re probably serving more local seafood now than anything else, even pizzas.”
Depending on the season, enjoy daily specials such as the recent sea bass served with porcini risotto, grilled asparagus and roasted red pepper cream. Other seafood options extend to pasta dishes like Florentine scampi with jumbo butterflied shrimp and housemade spinach/ricotta ravioli, or a seafood pasta with Atlantic salmon, jumbo shrimp, green-lipped mussels, calamari and scallops over linguini with a light tomato basil sauce.
Fergus added that “we’re also buying more local and organic produce,” and that more seasonal salads are being phased in, especially with warmer summer temperatures on the way. A current favorite is the strawberry salad with arugula, caramelized Atlantic salmon, candied pecans and house-made strawberry vinaigrette.
Tyni pointed out that “everything like the dressings, sauces and even some of the pastas are made fresh from scratch in house.”
That’s done under the guidance of Chef Martin Gonzales, who’s been at Upper Crust for more than 10 years, as has much of the kitchen crew. In fact, much of the staff has been on board for some time (including Fergus, who’s also logged 10-plus years), and that kind of longevity and teamwork “really provides consistency,” Tyni said. “Truly, the strength of any restaurant starts with the people who work there.”