This restaurant is closed!
79 MacDougal St (Houston St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 260-0100
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Pablo Romero
2nd Cuisine: Contemporary
Area: Greenwich Village
Getting married is great. Planning a wedding, not so much. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean. Now, it’s not like I wasn’t warned. I’d heard that planning was very stressful from friends and I sort of laughed it off. I’ve seen movies about wedding planners, and rolled my eyes at the thought of hiring one. What’s the big deal, I thought. You plan a party, send out some invites, wear a pretty dress and you’re all set. But now that I’m actually doing it, I’d love for J Lo to show up at my apartment and take over. Anytime now would be fine. No need to call, I’m here.
Aside from the massive and insane amount of money it takes to throw a party for 150 of your closest family and friends, there’s the delicacy of who’s invited (or more importantly, who’s not), where to do it (the city, the North Fork, Tahiti?), and in my case the added stress of divorced parents who don’t really speak, and many of their close relatives who will not come unless the menu is Glatt kosher. Can you say Oy? So I’ve been pouring myself a few fingers of bourbon with my coffee in the mornings, and making it through. After a few breakdowns where eloping was discussed and planned (City Hall is so nice this time of year), Craig and I found a beautiful space (a loft called Manhattan Penthouse), and a fabulous kosher caterer whose food was good enough (and reasonably priced enough) to cater a wedding for foodies (Bruce Soffer of Chef’s Table http://www.chefstableltd.com/). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My dad, who’s turned into a father-of-the-bride-zilla, calls me several times a day to talk about the wedding. I find this to be sweet, hilarious, and stressful all at the same time. This week he wanted to discuss details about our orchestra (come again, Dad? Orchestra?), Craig’s tuxedo, my wedding dress (He’s got ideas!), in addition to “suggestions” about florists and photographers. He’s a breast cancer surgeon but clearly he’s missed his calling. The man could run circles around J Lo’s Mary Fiore. Anyone need a wedding planner? Call 1-800-DrStrong. He’s ready.
Anyway, look, at the end of the day, it’s all good. I’m marrying someone I’m crazy about and psyched to spend my life with. And my goal is to keep focused on the fact that this should be a fun process and that’s it’s really about happiness and love and commitment and all that good stuff. Some days it works and other days I’m back to the 4 train to City Hall plan. Anyway, the other night, after scheduling meetings with DJs (there will be no orchestra) and photographers, registering for our honeymoon (clearly, we can’t afford one after throwing this wedding), and picking out bride’s maid dresses (I need to find a new term for bride’s maid by the way. What do you think of Bride’s Hot Babes?), we left our wedding madness, er, planning behind us, and had a proper date for dinner at a place that takes your stresses away on entry. It’s called Smith’s.
Smith’s should not to be confused with THE Smith, the American Brasserie on Third Avenue or Smith & Mills, the cocktail den on North Moore Street. Smith’s is the snug and sexy new American restaurant from Red Cat and Harrison founding partner and owner of The Mermaid Inn Danny Abrams, Raul’s Cindy Smith and architect Mark Zeff (who designed Red Cat).
The restaurant is quite striking, a sort of glamorous Art Deco feel in black and white, with intricate swirling wrought iron trim and stunning lantern lighting that warms the rooms (there are three) with soft dreamy light. Each of the three rooms offers a different vibe. The front room is open and airy, filled with mirrored bistro tables and lined with a wall of windows facing out onto MacDougal Street. Past the host stand is the second room, a railroad car styled dining area with an extraordinary barrel ceiling covered in distressed squares of mirror, and filled with large booths made from smooth polished black leather tufted with copper-headed nails. Cream-colored walls are hung on one side with square oil paintings with individual portrait lighting, and Deco sconces dangling with heavy crystals on the other. Through the railroad car room you’ll find a square clubby bar room wrapped in cushioned velvet the color of the sky during a thunderstorm. At the bar snacks like spicy lobster deviled eggs are served on long white rectangular plates and cocktails of bourbon, lemon, and maple are shaken and poured into wide Old Fashioned glasses. It’s a place so intimate, sexy, and almost forbidden that you’ll feel as though you should’ve entered through a door hidden behind a bookcase, or after performing some special secret handshake. It’s wonderful.
Beyond the swanky décor is the food on your plate, which is in the hands of Pablo Romero, who was sous chef under Cesar Ramirez at Bouley. Like Ramirez (now at Bar Blanc), Romero is very meticulous with technique, articulate with flavors, and artful with plating. His approach is ingredient driven and soulful, and he turns out food that gets treated to bold, playful flavors when needed, and more subtle accents in other cases.
Showing off his more bold side is a stew of creamy flageolet beans and guanciale that brings a hearty masculinity to a delicate filet of perfectly seared line caught bass ($24). Ditto a shower of diced pancetta that punches some salty smoke into tender charred ringlets of baby squid set on a slick of aioli ramped up with rendered pancetta fat, lemon confit and olives ($10). (It’s brilliant.) Eggplant is slow roasted until its flesh is soft and creamy, and topped with a plucky combination of piquillo peppers, raisins, and a splash of sherry vinegar ($7); the eggplant just sits there like a happy sponge, soaking up all these beautiful bright flavors. Beets are also coaxed to sugary sweetness, roasted and topped with soft nuggets of goat cheese, walnuts crushed into a powder on a gloss of horseradish dressing ($7). The surprise element here is a beet sorbet that’s sweet as summer berries, and adds a smart foil to the sharpness of the horseradish.
But there’s also a sincere refinement to his approach that comes across in his steamed egg appetizer ($8). For someone like me who loves eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this dish was both ethereal and essential. A cloud of warm airy foam steams the egg and the polenta even at the table, keeping the egg warm until you press your spoon through the foam and puncture it’s center, letting its yolk slip out over the pale (emphasis on creamy) grits. If you’re like me, you’ll eat this with a spoon, like a child lapping up a bowl of farina for breakfast, and wish for a second order as you mop up the last yolky grits with a crusty piece of torn baguette.
Another astonishing example of his delicate approach is his super minimalist Bibb lettuce salad ($8). Wide soft fluted leaves in lime green are dressed with a zippy buttermilk herb dressing and showered with sliced grapes in the same perky shade of cartoonish green. Now, I’ve had green grapes and then I’ve had Pablo’s green grapes and let me say this: You’ve never had grapes like this—plump and oval, almost bauble-like in size, they’re sweet and tart, and wildly juicy. Later on, I asked Pablo about the grapes, wanting to know their source. He was hesitant with his reply. “They’re not regular grapes,” he said. “I don’t get them from a regular produce guy.” He seemed to content to leave it at that. I was not.
“Really? Well, tell me more. Where do you get them?” I asked, wanting to get a stash for myself. “Look, I got a guy,” he replied. “You’ve got a guy?” “Yeah. I got a guy. A grape guy.” Craig was cracking up. “What do you meet in a parking lot and do your transaction in cash?” Craig asked. Pablo just smiled. “Somethin’ like that.”
The brussels sprouts ($8) might also come from a “guy.” They’re peeled into ruffled leaves and tossed like flower petals into a bowl with toasted shaved almonds. Sounds simple enough, but these rival illegal drugs on the addiction scale. Hopefully they won’t be outlawed anytime soon. Though if they were, I am certain a black market would creep in. And there would really be a brussels sprouts guy.
Scallops here are among the best I’ve had. They’re really fat and seared so they’re nicely caramelized to a sweet-sticky sugary glaze, and served on coins of roasted fingerling potatoes with Savoy cabbage in a smooth gloss of sunchoke puree ($26). The scallops are sprinkled with a toss of sunflower seeds that adds this unexpected and wonderful touch of nuttiness. Cod is also treated to an unusual and really fun preparation. It’s formed into a sort of glorious fish cake and pan fried and set over a mound of black pepper taglioni topped with lemony gremolata ($23).
Once in a while the presentation takes itself too seriously and the food does seem a little too conceptual. This was the case with the grilled rib eye steak. A round of beef glossed in bone marrow gravy (not as heavenly marrowy as I’d have hoped) sits on an austere white plate a few inches away from with three brown potato croquettes shaped like little footballs ($28). This is not to say it wasn’t good, it was. The beef was nicely marbled and perfectly cooked, but the presentation was too artful and dainty. It doesn’t make you feel like eating, it makes you feel like taking a picture. Granted, once you get the shot, you’d be missing out if you didn’t dig in, and enjoy that beef as we did.
After a bowl of warm and milky rice pudding (yummy) and a somewhat dry apple cake (not so yummy), Craig and I made our way home and discussed our plan for the weekend. There were DJs to meet, invitations to layout, flowers to choose, and photographers to find. And when I got home, there were (as expected) a few messages from my wedding planner/Dad. In one, he wanted to check on whether we’d decided about the orchestra (he won’t give up), and on another there was something about taking me shopping at Vera Wang. Now that’s my kind of planning.
Review By: Andrea Strong