If you remember the H Street corridor from years ago, the place where Smith Commons now stands was the home of a large carpet warehouse. The restaurant is just as massive: three stories with a main dining room and main bar on the first floor, a public house on levels two and three, plus a seasonal patio. Smith Commons is one of the classiest buildings on H Street, both on the interior and exterior, with clean lines, eccentric furniture and the quintessential exposed brick.
The first thing you’ll notice when walking through the doors is how open the space is. Here you aren’t crammed so closely together that eavesdropping on the people sitting next you is involuntary; instead, the excess space makes the restaurant a great place for groups.
Smith Commons bills itself as offering an “international menu of approachable cuisine,” so think fusion. There’s a lot going on when you look at the menu – not that there are a lot of choices, but those choices are quite different. The menu changes seasonally with recipes developed by Executive Chef Carlos Delgado, so it can sometimes be sad to see one of your favorite dishes gone, but then there’s always time to pick a new favorite for the night.
A regular problem with Smith Commons is how long it takes for your food to hit the table. I know that timing can be tough to figure out – you don’t want to put in the orders too quickly and have the entree come out too close to the appetizer, but you also don’t want to have to wait 20 plus minutes for your appetizer.
Smith Commons has one of the best Caesar salads in DC. It has these huge Romaine leaves and comes with anchovies, parmesan dressing, croutons, and also capers. During a recent trip here I ordered the seared scallops appetizer. The diver scallops were small, but I got four – really a good deal at just $12. The dish looked great. While I found the scallops just a bit too salty, the different “toppings” – foie gras, blackberry, raisins and relish – were fantastic, and give each bite (or two) a different taste.
My favorite appetizer on the menu right now is the Braised Pork Belly. It was tender, juicy and cut apart easily. Accoutrements (apple, turnip, and kimchi) complemented the dish nicely, and weren’t distractions.
The Trio of Duck entree my dining companion had was great. It came with Beans Cassoulet, chicken Sausage, and coconut. I couldn’t really taste the coconut, and I could have done without the beans cassoulet, but the sausage was fantastic. The duck was sliced perfectly.
I stuck with the Chesapeake Rockfish served with a Crab Risotto. The crab risotto was the highlight of the dish, with the grean peas and Orange Chutney adding a nice burst of color. The fish itself was a bit dry on one end, though better on the other.
Even though the menu changes every month, signature dishes include Braised Short Ribs with Pickled Celery and Mustard Oil; Lamb Chops with Haricots Verts, Potato Puree and Lamb Jus, so be sure to try those out as well.
My overall verdict? Smith Commons is an integral part of the H Street Corridor, and might just have the best building in that strip of DC. The menu rotates but is always solid, and the seating is comfortable while still managing to be cool and classy. The service is very good, though a goodbye from the hostess when heading out would make it even better.
Smith Commons opened in December 2010, and is ringing in the New Year as well as celebrating its first birthday this year. For $60 per person, guests can enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres from 7:00 – 9:00pm, a prix fixe menu with highlights like braised short ribs and lobster ragout, a complimentary Moet Imperial Champagne toast at midnight and live music and DJ entertainment until 3:00am. Seatings are from 6:00 – 7:30pm and 9:00 – 10:30pm.
Smith Commons is located at 1245 H St. NE. The closest Metro station is Union Station (Red Line). For more information and reservations, call 202-396-0038.