Experience The Smith
It's easy to discount chain restaurants when debating dinner options, certainly in Manhattan. Visions of Times Square eateries filled with hoards of tourists, uncooperative offspring in tow, are sure to come to mind. Hard Rock Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, and, horror of horrors, Applebee's to name a few. On the national scene, there are a few that actually aren't bad at all--so an Olive Garden might be a welcome sight in Fargo, if not in Soho. We have mini-chains of our own though, multiple locations with the same decor, menu and, of course, name. Successfully opening several locations in this town must mean they blend in and are pretty good. But because we tend to be somewhat concentrated in where we dine (usually near work, home or play), we might not even realize one of our usual haunts has other locations unless we've looked at its website.
This was certainly the case for me when researching for this review after I tried The Smith one evening in Midtown East. It's a neighborhood best known for reliable but unexciting standbys, filled with the cane and walker set, so I was happily surprised to walk into a lively, spacious and stylish spot filled with twenty and thirtysomethings having a roaring good time. There was a 30-minute wait for a table despite its cavernous size, although dining at the bar was available immediately. The bar, too, was tremendous--a nice poured concrete affair. It goes well with the small hexagonal white-tile floor and the white subway tiled walls. Wooden tables with bentwood chairs complete the vaguely 1890s feel.
The cuisine though is definitely not from the turn of the last century. It's modern American comfort food all the way. If the soup of the day is creamy mushroom, then by all means order it. Deeply flavored, it has the consistency of a grainy chowder. If not, then the Brussels Sprout Flatbread ($13) would make a good choice as a starter. The large, ultra thin bread is spread with a subtly flavored topping of minced Brussels Sprouts and onions mixed with Italian cheeses and a lemony dressing. It's best to share but fine for a hearty appetite as well. The Brick Pressed Chicken ($25) is well executed here, with the skin nice and crispy and the meat underneath juicy, and served over basmati rice. Being a cold night, I couldn't resist ordering the Braised Short Ribs ($32) and was very glad I did. It was fork-tender and very beefy without being gamey as this dish can sometimes be. The butternut squash puree underneath was a great complement. We also ordered the garlic whipped potatoes ($7) which were very good but the mountainous portion was ultimately too much for two of us after all the above.
The standout desert, surprisingly, was the Hot Fudge Sundae ($9). It sounded rather Prosaic, but the chocolate froze on contact when poured over the vanilla ice cream, just as it should. And anyway, when was the last time you actually had one?