Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Restaurant: The Smith

When it comes to eating out I have a number of pet peeves, but maybe one of the biggest is people who go to a restaurant with no idea what to expect, or unrealistic expectations. Going to a diner and expecting a 4 star meal with perfect service and delicious fish is a pipe dream. Going to a steak house, and thinking you are going to find a delicate piece of sushi is possible, but then why go to a steak house? It never hurts to get some idea of what to expect from a place before actually stepping in the door so that you won’t be really disappointed and you can judge the meal and experience in the context of what the owners and chef are trying to present.

With that rant out of the way, The Smith is just that type of restaurant that anyone who goes should make sure they know what to expect. I originally described it to someone as a laid back American style pub and I think that this is probably the best description you can give it. Seemingly trying to walk the fine line between fancy cuisine and the NYU college crowd that is right next door, The Smith has some nice touches for a space that used to house a Pizzeria Uno (R.I.P. – Steve you owe me a dollar). A long bar to the right when you walk in often has single diners or couples either cozying up to some unique and tasty drinks, or eating and chatting with the overly friendly bartenders. A large amount of wooden booths and tables go well with the bathroom like tiling of the floor and the dish towel napkins. Decor aside, they annoyingly will not seat you until your entire party has arrived, a policy that always irks me if at least 2 people are already there.

The wine list is relatively inexpensive, and features a “big carafe” which is well worth the money. We ordered a Malbec and discovered that it is the equivalent of almost 2 bottles. The small glasses make it feel like you are drinking a lot, and needless to say don’t drive home if you split the carafe with one other person. Since the restaurant can get very crowded and loud I suggest going earlier rather than later, but then again it is New York and if you want a quiet restaurant, you can go to North Dakota. The simple salad of arugula, shaved fennel, Parmesan with lemon and olive oil was a nice combination of flavors. The peppery arugula balanced surprisingly well with the fennel and savory Parmesan to make for a refreshingly light salad. The other appetizer on the table was a rich garlic butter and oregano plate of shrimp generously splashed with a sweet balsamic vinegar. Although a small portion (it is an appetizer after all) it was deliciously creamy and savory with the sweetness of the cooked garlic and butter playing quite well with the acidic sweetness of the balsamic.

Main courses are a nice range from steaks and pasta, to fish, chicken and vegetarian options. Our table shared the Skate, Vegetable Bibimbap, and Roasted Cod, with sides of brussel sprouts, and of course, spinach. The bibimbap was a bit overly spicy and you could barely taste any of the other vegetables or egg throughout because of the overpowering heat. Good heat accentuates a dish, bad heat, in this case, ruined it and made it just slightly above edible. The fish dishes, luckily, were much better. The skate was tender and meaty, living up to it's name as the poor mans lobster. Paired with the indulgent brown butter sauce and fried capers the contrast of the butter and the pickly capers made for an exquisite finish to each bite. The roasted cod also had a nice contrast, but more so in texture than in flavor. The chunky soft tomato sauce was a mild flavor, as was the chickpeas and almonds, but the crunch of the latter made for a surprisingly pleasant combo when eaten in the same bite. Brussel sprouts, long the vain of my existence, were edible. They seemed like they may have been flash fried, and had some orange zest, which almost masked how disgusting brussel sprouts truly are. Oil was the undoing of the spinach, with just a little too much left on the plate making it good, but not great.

Dessert, although probably not worth saving room for, is meant to be fun and a little different, like everything else at The Smith. The old school ice cream sundae attempts to make a comeback, as does a few other childhood favorites, like what I ordered - birthday cake. That's right, birthday cake. I ordered it just out of pure entertainment value and it comes with a candle and Happy B-day frosted on it. Sadly, the waitress opted to not sing as she brought it over, which was slightly disappointing. The cake itself tasted, well, like the same cake you have at the office for a birthday, or a cheap child's cake when the parents spent all the money on the bad clown and the rental space.

Ok, since this got so long, I would summarize this by saying The Smith is a nice place to head to for an easy going casual dinner with a slight twist, but most likely evolve into a neighborhood spot. Then again, it would also be perfect for a group of 4+ to get together for a fun and lively dinner.

The Smith (Not the one who kills zombies and robots)

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