06 Jan 2011

First Bite: Smith Commons

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the official opening of Smith Commons at my house.  There’s something about it that has made my husband absolutely certain that THIS is the bar he’s been waiting for — the place he can call home.  To the point that he’s been stalking it a bit: walking by, peeking in the windows, asking around about it.  He was rewarded last week when he made yet another detour to swing by and caught one of the partners, Miles, going inside and tagged along for a tour of the three-story space.  This week is the soft open, with about half the dinner menu available in the downstairs dining room and drinks in the second floor lounge (but later they will serve small plates); the third floor will be for overflow and private parties.

They set a high bar from the moment we walked in for dinner Wednesday night.  The aesthetic hit the mark for me: simple but not plain, with dark and light shades of grainy wood complimented by wrought iron accents.  We sat at a table for two next to the stairs leading down to the kitchen, but never got that bustling “we’re sitting next to the kitchen” feeling.  Though the menu is limited this week, there were still several selections: appetizers, salads, a soup, entrees, various cuts of meat and sides like frites and macaroni — you know, the fatty junk food for which the Hill is now world renown. They also have an extensive list of beer and wine to choose from, though only wines by the glass were available.  For the domestic connoisseur, you’ll be pleased to hear they have the likes of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and Ommegang’s Witte and Abbey Ale on draught.  They also carry a selection of “Big Bottles” and round out the beer offerings with a list of mostly imports by the bottle.

We skipped the appetizers and went right for the main event.  Having ridden the Bikeshare to get there, we were both in the mood for something warm and substantial to take off the chill.  We ordered the penne carbonara and the half pound Angus beef burger.  The penne had a heavenly texture: deliciously creamy and smoky.  Perfect for a cold winter night.  And the burger … oh the burger …  I’d pretty much stopped ordering burgers because Chef Geoff’s makes one that I so adore, anything else is tasteless in comparison.  But no longer.  Served on a brioche bun with a portabello mushroom and miso mayo, the Smith Commons burger is mouthwateringly juicy and full of flavor.  No more trips downtown for me!  We finished up the meal with the Crepe Mikado, a sweet crepe with vanilla ice cream and Belgian chocolate sauce.  It was the perfect size for sharing – two crepes with a good-sized scoop — and though I loved the texture and slight tinge of bitterness in the chocolate, I might have put a little cinnamon in the crepe batter.

The service, I am happy to say, was fantastic.  No “considering it was a soft opening” qualification needed.  When I wanted a different table, we were quickly relocated.  Our server was friendly, asking us if we lived in the neighborhood and sharing that she’d just moved to DC two weeks ago, but not overly so.  The food arrived quickly as did the drinks, and the server checked on us regularly but in a helpful, not intrusive, way.  The dining room was full at the time, too, which bodes well for the full opening next week.  The only drawback I noticed was when we saw some friends sitting at one in a row of tall tables for two between the bar and a row of booths.  The tabletops were small, such that their two oversized dinner plates didn’t fully fit on the table.  But that didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm for the food (confit of duck leg and tiger prawns to start, veal porterhouse and sea bass for the meal).

All in all I think my husband is right, I can see making this a home away from home.  So it is perhaps appropriate that we went on the evening after the opening day of the 112th Congress, because we are thrilled to welcome this Mr. Smith to Washington.

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    It’s great to read such a good review for the new restaurant. Even though I have only recently moved to the neighborhood and have yet to familiarize myself with all the other bars/restaurants the area has to offer, I have also been looking forward to S.Commons opening. I will be going for dinner tonight and am very much looking forward to it. SAMUEL SMITH OATMEAL STOUT!!! sold.

  • Curious

    I realize I could click the hyper link and it would probably tell me, but address?

    This better not be the case of H St. getting another really good restaurant and Barracks Row getting another Chesapeake Room or Ted’s (apologies to Ba Bay, which was very good but if I’m going to pay that much, I’ll go downtown.)

  • Curious

    Now I see that it is tagged under H street. I guess that answers my question.

    If H St. could do something about parking, safety, and the unsightly construction, I would definitely go there more often. Strong restaurant lineup.

  • east h

    We tried it out last night. Things were generally good and this place has tons of potential. The biggest issue is that they don’t have a vegetarian entree.

  • Sharee

    Curious: 1245 H St, NE

  • Rake

    Chef Geoff’s?! Comical. Even if liking Chef Geoff’s basically eliminates any / all credibility the reviewer has, I’m looking forward to Smith Common…

  • Lee

    I actually rang in the New Year at Smith Commons with my wife and a group of friends from NOVA. We started at Atlas Room for dinner (which, BTW is terrific!) and followed it up with drinks….too many drinks…at Smith Commons. Great atmosphere, great service, and great drink selection. We didn’t get a chance to try any food, but we’re planning a return visit tomorrow night to check out the rest of what SC has to offer.

    Re: “If H St. could do something about parking, safety, and the unsightly construction, I would definitely go there more often. Strong restaurant lineup.”

    Granted, I can walk to anyplace on H, my NOVA friends cannot. That said, they have never complained about finding a spot with 1-2 blocks of whichever bar we choose. As for the construction, these things take time. I do hope that you can look past some orange cones and concrete barriers for a little while longer. It’s worth it!

  • Tim Krepp

    I think the plan for the “unsightly construction” is to finish it.

    Is safety an issue on H St. I mean, outside the normal city living caveats? I’m there fairly often and can’t say it’s any less safe than anywhere else on the Hill.

    As far as parking, yeah, that’s not going anywhere. But I imagine with streetcars, bike share, and people in walking distance, the area will be just fine.

  • Curious

    Is safety an issue? Seriously? How many shootings/armed robberies have there been on 8th St. over the last 4 years? I can think of at least a half dozen on H St. just off hand. I think it has alot to do with perspective. If you live in the Potomac Ave/Stadium Armory area, then, yes, H St. may be comparable, but compared to west of Lincoln Park and most places in NW DC, it’s not comparable.

    Bike share? I assume you don’t have kids because the bike share, while certainly useful for singles, has limited value for families. Similarly, where exactly would one get on one of the streetcars that don’t exist? My understanding is that it will only run to the east. And it’s easy to say that the “plan” is to finish the construction, but what actual evidence is there that it will be finished in the next 10 years? The plan is to develop the Hine School site, but no one is holding their breath on that.

  • Well, I do live near Stadium-Armory, so that’s perhaps why I’m not too intimidated by H St. Mostly I’m not worried about the shootings that happen on H ST (or my neighborhood) because it tends to be violence that isn’t targeted at me. It’s sad, but very rarely do I look at one of those horrible incidents, and go “gee, it could have been me”. Tragic, yes, but hardly a deterrence to me having a good meal. “Safety” is inherently subjective of course, and we all have to make our own determination, but I feel perfectly safe on H St.

    And yes, I have kids. We go to H St fairly often. Many times we do drive, and I have yet to be unable to park more than a block or two away. Other times we take the B2, which is quite convenient for us. CaBi doesn’t really work for families, as you pointed out, but you didn’t mention you had one in your original post.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the streetcar only running east? It’s going to run in both directions. Obviously. Otherwise you’d have a whole lot of train cars piled up on Benning Road and no way to get them back to Union Station. That’s why there are two sets of tracks; one eastbound and one westbound.

    And yes, the construction should be done soon. I can’t remember the timeline offhand (and don’t care enough to look it up), but it’s more or less on track. Well, well, before ten years.

    And it’s easy to say nothing is ever getting done, but the construction is tangible proof that you’re wrong.

  • Eliot

    Fantastic service?! Went in last Friday and the service was ABYSMAL. Sat at the bar, and the bartender was clearly training and overwhelmed. My gf ordered a pinot noir and was given a glass of white. Five minutes later, the lady next to us ordered a glass of red and received a glass of white. I am glad they took it off the bill.

    I’ll give them another chance, though. I think it has great potential and I absolutely love the space, especially THOSE CHAIRS in the window on the 2nd floor.

  • east h

    @ Curious:

    H might be less safe than some parts of NW; Georgetown, the Palisades, Dupont, and Woodley Park come to mind. But I live here and have run the crimes stats, and it is absolutely comparable to Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and it’s a fair bit safer than Petworth. I absolutely agree with Tim that when violent acts do occur, they are usually crew related and I don’t think ‘it could have been me’.

    People who don’t feel safe outside of Georgetown or Dupont probably won’t feel safe on H, but everybody’s personal tolerance is different and a narrow comfort zone has its downsides, namely missing out on the unique vibe of a revitalizing neighborhood before it is blitzed by everyone in the city.

  • We had a good meal at Smith Commons and I would return for sure. I know it’s new and they are still working out the bugs in service, and the manager (or owner?) was there Sunday night and asked for our feedback. We were uncomfortable sitting on the high stools without backs and they had no issue with moving us to an actual table. My wife said the crabcake slider was amazing and the angus burger I had was incredible. The salads have potential but left a bit to desire. The drink menu is large and impressive and I liked the beer selection. I’ve been told via a Tweet that a kids menu is in the works. It’s nice to have a “nicer” place to go on H Street that won’t break the bank!

  • Curiosity killed the…

    While families may derive little utility from bike share, I was under the impression that the goal is to offer multiple transportation options to everyone. One benefit you might see in the next few years is decreased congestion in this fine city of ours. Consider that when your family commutes to H St at a faster rate in your sweet minivan/suv…but dont forget your kevlar

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