Brian McNally is a smart guy. He’s got a new restaurant open in the
East Village, and he’s working the media as masterfully as ever. This
time, post-9/11, the spin is that it’s low-key, it’s not about the
glitz and the glamour, it’s just another neighborhood restaurant.
Yeah, right, Mr McNally: you’ve been open less than a week,
and already the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times is gushing
over sightings of "Julianne Moore, Ellen Barkin, Sophie Dahl
and Mr. McNally’s onetime roommate, Anna Wintour of Vogue."
So of course I had to pop over there and check it out.
It’s called Smith, although you have to read the media coverage to
know that: the name appears nowhere on the awning, the door, or the
menu. It’s chaos inside, as you might expect from a brand-new joint.
The woman who takes my name at the door promptly disappears and isn’t
seen again for the rest of the evening; the barmen seem to spend half
their time apologising for the lack of various spirits and the other
half trying to work the cash register; the dishes are curiously unaccompanied
by cutlery; the bread arrives in the middle of the first course; the
waitress knows nothing about the food. All these things will be ironed
out, I would guess, sooner rather than later.
What needs no ironing out is the food, which is fantastic. Remember
that this is Brian, not Keith: a man who aspires to something slightly
greater than the souped-up French bistro food of Balthazar and Pastis.
I don’t know how he’s done it, but within days of opening up, I have
to say he’s got the best kitchen in the East Village. It’s certainly
not pretentious: their sardines are served in the can (and they’re
delicious, when accompanied by Smith’s flavourings). But it is ambitious:
I ordered sweetbreads followed by rabbit ravioli, both of which were
mouth-wateringly delicious, bringing out the earthier flavours while
remaining sweet and succulent.
And the bread oh! the bread. When it arrived, it was
quite simply the best rye bread I think I’ve ever had in my life.
I have no idea where it came from, but this stuff can give Bouley
a run for his money.
The one real disappointment is the decor: this is visually a very
bland restaurant indeed, both in the rear dining room and in the front
bar area. Apparently there are murals coming, but there is no feel
of fabulousness, of being a destination at all. It’s not even cosy
Still, I can highly recommend a trip to the restaurant: after all,
located as it is on the same block as Chez Es Saada, Prune and the
Tasting Room, there’s no shortage of alternatives to go to if you
fail to get a table. Just hope they haven’t changed the bread.