December 19, 2011 | BITE: My Journal
The Smith Dishes Up Midtown Comfort.
Secret sauce and very good fries make up for slightly overdone burger. Photo: Gael Greene
I’ve been conjuring that The Smith in the East Village would fling a clone into the Upper West Side. That won’t be till summer, I’m told, when they take over what was Josephine’s and Sushi-A-Go-Go in the gold field across from Lincoln Center. It took a big detour for me to reach the original, a roaring gymnasium on Third Avenue and 11th Street with its loyal hordes from NYU, shy daters, young families. Still I counted it as a favorite spot to eat everything I love that isn’t good for me, on a shoestring, most hauntingly, my favorite mac’n’cheese. Click here to read my earlier BITE on The Smith downtown’s good honest, el cheapo grub.
The Smith Midtown runs on Fast Forward. No time to doze off. Photo: Gael Greene
Now I’m here at The Smith Midtown– a boisterous stadium of tile and glass on Second avenue at 51st Street with the same unisex bathroom. It looks familiar, only stretched out to fit 10,000 sq. ft. upstairs and down, but now it has a raw bar -- $60 for the Deluxe seafood assortment,, $115 for the Royale. YES, the prices have gone up since 2007 in The Smith’s world as they have everywhere else.
This one’s shamefully blurry but it does convey the mood. Photo: Gael Greene
Halfway through the door I feel like I’ve walked into a tornado. I wonder if my friends can tolerate the ruckus. The high communal table is full. Lots of well-oiled women. The bar action is frantic, shouts and screeches bounce off the tile and glass. There’s a sound-mix too, contempo rock. Servers trot, runners pivot and twist, managers are speed walking the room.
“Your table is paying the bill,” one assures us. “We’re a little backed up tonight.” It’s not the first week after all. Even Steven looks bruised by the din. I try not to notice. I want my macaroni.
My uncontrollable monster emerges when chips and fondue appear. Photo: Gael Greene
Finally, after 25 minutes, the five of us are settled at a small round for four – tucked against the window and miracle of acoustical magic – the spot shields us from the worst of the din. “Bring us chips while we study the menu,” I instruct the waiter. I have forgotten how quickly I become unhinged when the signature potato chips arrive under a melt of blue cheese fondue. The chips aren’t even hot tonight, alas, but they’re sturdy enough to handle the melt.
I’m still dipping them into the delicious muck long after my friends are occupied with the deviled eggs and a starter of Moroccan meatballs, moist and savory with slashes of spiced yogurt. “Just give me half a meatball,” I whisper faintly not to be heard. Actually I seem to be the only one interested in the deviled eggs. I pop another into my mouth.
I’m unhappy with the sugared rim on my Normandy Sidecar (made with Calvados instead of Cognac and baked apple bitters, whatever that is). “Send it back,” my friend advises. I’ve already sipped a third and am starting to feel it. The agreeable waiter whisks it away. With a second full size ration of booze, I’m really getting happy. “If we ate like this often, we’d be carrying our livers in a sidecar,” says a dieting guest. She and her husband are sharing a big steak salad with a discipline I refuse to take as a reprimand.
It’s still a favorite mac’n’cheese even though it needs browning tonight. Photo: Gael Greene
I’m torn between warring philosophies: you can have anything you want and you can’t really have everything. But I don’t dwell on it once the macaroni and cheese has arrived in its black iron skillet and I’m spooning up my share. It’s not as crusty as it was the last time we ate downtown, nor stuck to the pan with scrapings for those industrious enough to scrape. But it’s still baked with a respectful ratio between elbows and cheese that reminds me of my mom Saralee.
Even with help from my fork, Steven can’t finish his mighty fine spaghetti. Photo: Gael Greene
Steven’s spaghetti with meatballs, is an Everest piled high in the bowl, like a joke from the kitchen: more than any guy can possibly put away. Still, the tomato sauce is nicely balanced, neither too sweet nor too acidic. Maybe the noodles could be firmer, but maybe they can’t, the kitchen could just be overtaxed.
Both my burger – I ordered it rare – and son Nico’s medium rare – are slightly overcooked. Perhaps that reflects the time it took to get to the table but I'm through sending food back for the evening. The bun is nicely toasted, the bacon is crisp and not dry, and the pink Louis sauce distracts from the over-cooking.
We share a caramel-nut sundae with chocolate peanut butter ice cream. Photo: Gael Greene
Except for the “Quarter Pounders” (trademarked) – three huge chocolate chip cookies --everything on the dessert list is a sundae, wildly accessorized. “Caramel & Nuts” -- chocolate peanut butter ice cream, with peanut brittle, caramel and chocolate sauce is my choice but I worry I'll crack a tooth on the brittle. So I’m picking out treacherous little nubbins to save my smile. By the time The Smith launches on the Upper West Side, I’m sure I will have recovered.
956 2nd Avenue on northeast corner of 51st Street. 212 420 9800. Monday through Friday, breakfast at 8 am, lunch and dinner 11:30 am till midnight. Wednesday and Thursday till 1 am. Friday till 2 am. Saturday 10 am till 2 am. Sunday till midnight.