First Look & Bite: Smith Commons – A New Place To Eat On H Street
Dakota | Jan 18, 2011 | 10:00AM |

photos of the interior by Dakota Fine, food photos by Jeff Martin, words by Daniella Caruso

BYT dropped by Smith Commons (H street’s newest restaurant) last week on a mission to taste and see all the good stuff. The name Smith Commons is an homage — according to co-owner Miles Gray — to both the most popular last name in the English language and a nod to metalworkers of the world. In keeping with the metalworker theme, the decor has a bit of an industrial feel to it in a turn of the century kind of way, and the stools and high chairs are made of well-crafted metal frames. The space is comprised of 3 floors, the bottom floor being the main dining area, an alternate dining room on the second floor containing a lounge as well, and the third floor functioning primarily as a bar and party space that overlooks a splendid iron chandelier and the large second floor bay window. The venue has ample natural light on all three levels and at night highlights the main floor with filament bulbs for a bit of a New York feel. It looks good, definitely worth a visit for anyone who is curious to see what will be the latest in the long line of restaurants on H street to make us want to visit Northeast more and more often. -DF

SCROLL FOR FOOD REVIEW RIGHT BELOW:

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Daniella weighs in on the food: My latest assignment brought me to Smith Commons, three-level bar & restaurant and the newest place on H St., NE boasting an “internationally-inspired” menu full of “eclectic, but approachable cuisine.” It was named after the most common surname in the United States. You know, Smith. Interesting way to help your restaurant stand out, but here’s to hoping the food will speak for itself. According to their website, Executive Chef Frederick De Pue will be using Smith Commons as his venue to “bring worldly dishes to the ‘everyman’s’ table.” I read this and then looked at the menu. Macaroni and cheese with aged manchego? Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Sliders?? Bitch, if you let your servers bring this food to any man’s table other than mine, there’s gonna be trouble.

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When I arrived, the hostess seated me at a table full of old white folk, so naturally the topic of conversation initiated with “The Atlas District” (is that what we’re calling it now?) and it’s less than peachy reputation (*cue news story on recent bar stabbing). I know this part of town is a little rough around the edges, but we DO live in a city after all. Oh, you don’t actually live in D.C.? Uh oh, that changes everything! Hold on to your seats, ladies and gentlemen! You’re not in Old Town Alexandria anymore! That’s right, you’re at Smith Commons now, sucka. A place so hard you can find Maine lobster on the menu, grab one of 40 craft beers and take a seat next to the upstairs window and watch the TERRORS of H St. unfold from the safety of your comfy high-back chair.

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But just before I could make any snarky comments, I had the pleasure of meeting Miles Gray, Managing Partner of Smith Commons, but more importantly the man to thank for the wonderfully extensive drink menu. I had heard the hype before I came, but was interested in learning more about the concept… though my minimal attempts at making conversation probably suggested otherwise: “I love what you’ve done with the place!” Which of course really meant: “THANK GOD YOU HAVE A BAR ON EVERY FLOOR.”

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Luckily Miles did most of the talking, informing me that the “comfortable and sophisticated” atmosphere they had hoped to create went beyond the low lighting, white oak floors, and exposed brick. Smith Commons was to be the new neighborhood go-to for a nice dinner – a place where you could fill up on a good meal and a few drinks without all the fuss or pretense; a place where you don’t change into something fancy, but show up wearing whatever you want. I hung on to those last few words and my ears perked up. Whatever you want, huh? Wish I had heard that sooner so I could’ve ditched this dress and shown up in pajamas. Not really, though. Nobody wants to be that asshole in pajamas.

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Miles moved on to make the rounds, the conversation at the table continued and I tuned out, choosing to focus my attention on the menu instead. Ok so, to start out we’ll be having a “First Course Trio” featuring a selection from each of the starter, garden and soup menus with beer & wine pairing options (which you know I took full advantage of). Just then the server brought out our plates, which my empty belly was more than thankful for.

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Beef Carpaccio… alright, I’m into it. A Belgian Endive Salad… sure, why not? Mushroom Cappuccino… SAY whaaat? Wild mushroom soup with a milk cream topper, oh HELL yes. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the ‘cappuccino’ all you pricks order at Starbucks, but one I’d still gladly drink out of a thermos. Preferably even out of a beer bong. Hell, I would drink this out of my smelly work shoes. I would take a body shot of this mushroom soup off Ron Jeremy’s hairy man chest. ANYTHING but the tiny .05oz shooter glass it came in cause I would kill to have a whole bowl of this. OH WAIT you can, cause its on the menu! BOOYA! Oh, and I guess that other stuff was good too…

Next we had a choice of three main course options: sea bass atop grilled baby greens in a balsamic basil dressing; lamb chops with grilled eggplant and fingerling potatoes;and some vegetarian medley that nobody cared about.

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I can only speak for the fish (which was perfectly cooked, by the way), but I was honestly more excited about the wine pairing (an Okanogan Pinot Noir) than anything on my plate.

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It wasn’t until I noticed “pan roasted garlic butter is available upon request” on the main menu that I knew what my entrée was missing. Excuse me, Mr. Server? Could you bring out a bucket of that? Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna dip this slice of Papa John’s pizza I’ve been keeping in my purse real quick, then slather the rest all over this sea bass Paula Deen style. Unfortunately it didn’t exactly pan out that way, but there’s always next time.

For dessert we could have Belgian Chocolate Lava Cake, Crepe Mikado, or Sorbet/Ice cream. Wait, I thought this menu was supposed to be ‘eclectic’ and ‘internationally-inspired?’ Now that I’ve gone through the whole thing, it’s sounding a lot more to me like a fancy Chili’s. Either way, I do consider myself to be a fan of crepes, ice cream, and chocolate sauce, so the Crepe Mikado would have to do.

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I began to eat, slowly at first, but the longer it sat there, the more it reminded me of a middle-aged woman’s cold, flappy upper arm skin doused in Hershey’s syrup. But I guess if you’ve got a cougar girlfriend and some freaky food fetish, this would be a real treat for you.

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I left with a full stomach and a bit of a buzz thanks to the wonderful lady who kept refilling my wine glass. It is really the best way to leave a restaurant (as long as you’re not driving, whoops!) so I can’t say I went home unsatisfied. I walked past the chalkboard to the front door, thought about drawing a giant penis and signing my name in cursive, but I do want to be allowed back for dinner again, AND for “Smith Hour” (5-7pm Tues-Fri) for $5 drinks and bar snacks (seared scallops, angus beef sliders, and wood-grilled tiger prawns, yum!), so I decided it was best to just leave as quickly as possible before I did anything too embarrassing. It’s worth a visit, if not just to sit at the bar, so go check it out 1245 H St. NE

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