A splashy newcomer is now filling the fine dining gap in San Antonio’s artsy Southtown neighborhood. Up Scale — a high-end concept from Little Em’s Oyster Bar duo Emily and Houston Carpenter — officially opened to the public on October 20.
Housed in the former home of Feast, at 1024 S. Alamo St., Up Scale is a departure from Little Em’s sunny coastal vibe. Although the dining room is washed in a soft, flattering blush, guests are greeted by an alcove swathed in a bold de Gournay-esque wallpaper and the tentacles of an Entler chandelier unfurl at the host stand. Brass accents — lit by some well-placed lighting — sparkle at the bar.
“Our interior designer, Crystal Sinclair, went for ‘vintage glam’ and she obviously hit that target,” Houston Carpenter tells CultureMap.
That glam extends to the cuisine. True to the wordplay in the restaurant’s name, executive chef Austin Bush, chef Jake Gonzales, and sous chef Rob Arambula focus on freshly caught seafood. Guests can start with nigiri or rolls (the Up Scale appropriately dazzles with both caviar and gold flakes) before diving into olive oil poached halibut, lobster tagliolini, or diver scallops in a pumpkin curry.
But where the restaurant truly stands out is in its luxury dishes. Houston recommends the dover sole, presented tableside with foie gras, buttered farro, and a luscious beurre blanc. If diners are feeling particularly decadent, they can order a 32-ounce, 60-day dry-aged tomahawk steak for $140.
“We’re all about the casual scene and it’s something we enjoy providing across the street at Little Em’s Oyster Bar,” says Houston, “but we felt the neighborhood needed something elevated.”
The service follows suit with a tight hospitality program led by general manager Sam Castillo and director of hospitality and beverage Jacklyn Giddens. Though the eatery is far from stuffy, it does pay attention to details like cutlery and perfectly crisp tablecloths — the latter of which is likely to see a few boozy spills.
Though Up Scale does offer a full cocktail menu, it features a gobsmacking multi-page wine menu — and more than a few splurges.
“We decided to push the upscale envelope a bit more with the wine list,” explains Houston. “The goal was to create a hybrid wine list that showcased the highest expression of both classic grape varieties and famous wine regions while continuing to align with Up Scale’s minimalist elegance and sophistication.”
If all of the considered touches seem too formal, guests need not worry. The attention to detail certainly makes the restaurant an attractive choice for anniversaries and other special occasions, but the convivial atmosphere is far from staid. Like Little Em’s, Up Scale has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant. Indeed, for Houston and Emily Carpenter, who live just blocks away, it is.