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Smith’s

Address: 79 MacDougal St., between Bleecker & Houston Sts.

Phone: (212) 260-0100
Hours: Dinner, Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11:30 p.m.
Cuisine: Modern American
Vibe: Glamorous dining car
Occasion: Romantic date; see and be seen dinner
Don’t Miss Dish: Portuguese sardines, steamed egg with polenta, roast lamb saddle
Price: Appetizers, $6-16; entrées, $21-26; desserts, $8-11
Reservations: Highly recommended
Capsule: Smith’s is not just another pretty face

Step into Smith’s main dining room and you’ll feel like you just
stepped aboard a luxury railroad that’s made its final stop in the West
Village. It’s appointed with black-leather booths, chandelier sconces
and a mirrored ceiling – a stylish setting that’s attracting nearly as
stylish a crowd.

Smith’s rests in a long, narrow storefront in a neighborhood populated by dive bars, coffee shops and NYU
students. It’s an unlikely destination for a glamorous dining car that
serves butter-poached lobster on trumpet mushrooms and a steamed egg
over polenta.

But restaurateur Danny Abrams (the Mermaid Inn, the Harrison)
has proven to have uncanny instincts for building thriving neighborhood
restaurants. The couple’s first labor of love, Smith’s is also Abrams’
first joint venture with partner Cindy Smith (Raoul’s.)

Chef Pablo Romero (Bouley) has devised a modern American menu that wanders into Europe
for inspiration. Sardines get an Italian treatment usually reserved for
meat. Two enormous sardines are butterflied, then crusted in panko
(Japanese breadcrumbs) and sharp parmigiano, their briny demeanor
smartly tempered by sweet chunks of tomato.

Chatham cod is showered in a gremolata (parsley, shallots and lemon
zest) and encircled by a vibrant puddle of leeks, fish stock and
fennel. Both dishes are a quick trip to the Italian Riviera by way of MacDougal Street. Even a simple starter of roasted eggplant beckons Spain: It’s topped with piquillo peppers and a biting splash of sherry vinegar.

The menu delivers approachable fare with unmistakable polish. Juicy
lamb saddle perches above parmigiano purée, and tender lobster poses on
rich trumpet mushrooms with a velvety swath of butternut squash purée.
There’s just something about dining on a steamed egg above polenta –
dizzied up with a sharp gorgonzola froth – that feels entirely
appropriate in this setting.

Other than a section labeled “Seasonal Starters,” Smith’s abides by
the latest seasonal sanctions without making a fuss about it. A head of
Bibb lettuce salad looks like it’s just been plucked from the garden.
Brussels sprouts benefit from the crunch of toasted almonds, and a
yellow and green bean starter is enlivened by a simple kick of lemon.

The pork chop doesn’t deliver the fatty succulence it promises.
Instead, it arrives boneless – a prim, overcooked chop. It’s
accompanied by a nibble of braised pork cheek – a juicy teaser of what
could’ve been.

Pasta is not the kitchen’s forte. Each emerged in downright heavy
sauces with muddy flavors: a linguine submerged in a pasty artichoke
pesto; soft disks of corzetti burdened by a brandy-streaked sludge of
walnuts and mushrooms.

A restaurant built in reverse, Smith’s is not without its design
flaws. Guests must travel through both dining rooms to reach the back
bar. Luckily, it’s a handsome payoff: gray velvet-cloaked walls and
lobster deviled eggs – available only on the bar menu – make a splendid
case for a bartop table for one. And if you manage a premium booth in
the main dining car, you’ll be forced to lean over the table to engage
in any form of conversation. It’s a pretty room in desperate need of
soundproofing.

No matter. Just surrender to the scenic view of sophisticates over moist apple cake with a spicy dollop of ginger ice cream.

, it arrives boneless
– a prim, overcooked chop. It’s accompanied by a nibble of braised pork
cheek – a juicy teaser of what could’ve been.

Pasta is not the
kitchen’s forte. Each emerged in downright heavy sauces with muddy
flavors: a linguine submerged in a pasty artichoke pesto; soft disks of
corzetti burdened by a brandy-streaked sludge of walnuts and mushrooms.

A restaurant built in reverse, Smith’s is not without its design
flaws. Guests must travel through both dining rooms to reach the back
bar. Luckily, it’s a handsome payoff: gray velvet-cloaked walls and
lobster deviled eggs – available only on the bar menu – make a splendid
case for a bartop table for one. And if you manage a premium booth in
the main dining car, you’ll be forced to lean over the table to engage
in any form of conversation. It’s a pretty room in desperate need of
soundproofing.

No matter. Just surrender to the scenic view of sophisticates over moist apple cake with a spicy dollop of ginger ice cream.

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