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

or comfortable.

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.

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