A Norah Jones album. A partly sunny day. A dog that sheds minimally and sometimes plays fetch. These are all perfectly nice things, and here are a few more. A crisp white T-shirt. Ray Romano. The Smith.
The Smith is the equivalent of a cover band at a wedding or a cold glass of 2% milk. It’s that pleasant-enough person you run into sometimes but can never seem to remember. But, most of all, it’s an East Village restaurant that turned into a chain with four locations in NYC, one in Chicago, and two in DC. It’s a useful place to know about if you ever need to eat with people who want something predictable, attractive, and a little bit boring.
The menu here at the original location is the same as all the others. It reads like it was built by committee, and much like a drunk text or a drawing by M.C. Escher, it makes less and less sense the longer you stare at it. There’s bibimbap, fried green tomatoes, and Sicilian cauliflower, for example, and there are also a few pastas, a burger, and a bunch of entrees like salmon and brick chicken. And, for the most part, these dishes range from fine-but-forgettable to actually-pretty-good. The salads are exactly what you need them to be, the short rib cavatelli is surprisingly satisfying, and if you want a burger, the one here will help you scratch that itch and move on with your life.
This place exists to please the maximum number of people, and you can tell just by looking at it. It’s a big open room with plenty of tables both large and small, and, much like every other location of The Smith, it feels like a semi-trendy hotel restaurant that woke up one morning and wandered away from its hotel. With its big windows and white tiled floors, it’s an attractive space, and it’s as consistently busy as the main concourse at Grand Central.
So yes, The Smith gets a little noisy, and it can also often feel like an after-work mixer for young professionals who appreciate cold martinis and bathrooms with adjacent photo booths. But you can usually find a spot at the bar, and making a reservation is about as easy as trading for a middle seat on an airplane. More importantly, you can use it for just about any situation. Just think of this place as a nice pair of khakis or a spare tire in the trunk of your car. You’ll never be upset with either of those things, and they might just come in handy.
The Smith is essentially a TGI Fridays that hired an etiquette coach. So it’s surprising that the cavatelli here is so good. The short rib is tender, the ragu is flavorful, and if you served this at a place like Lilia, people would be talking about it.
With its special sauce, cheese, and bacon marmalade, this burger has a lot going on - and it works. We’d eat this once a week.
Have you eaten roast chicken before? If so, you know what this tastes like, and you also know that you’ll probably be just fine with it.
If you’re looking for something on the healthier side that’s also pretty substantial and won’t make you feel like you’re just eating a bowl of lawn clippings, order this chicken paillard. The chicken is grilled (but tastes like it’s fried), and it comes with a lot of well-dressed salad.
Wow, this salad sure doesn’t sound great. But this is The Smith we’re dealing with. Very few things here will actually be bad. Most, like this salad, will just be pretty-good and kind of boring. Order it if you need something green.
Do you like burrata? If your answer was “Yes,” order this perfectly good burrata with peas and pesto. If it was “No,” Google burrata. You might be thinking of the wrong thing.
A slightly better version of the mac and cheese you buy in the freezer section at your local grocery store. Order it if you want a solid snack, or just give The Smith a few more years, and you’ll probably be able to buy this in the freezer section at your local grocery store.
When you see these stacked up on a table next to you, you’re going to feel a strong desire to order them. Resist. They’re a little tough and don’t really taste like much, and you’d be better off eating fries or burrata.
This mushroom flatbread does indeed deliver on its promise of being a flat piece of bread. Unfortunately, it tastes like something made by an easily distracted student at a pizza-making workshop, and it might make you sad in a weird, subtle kind of way.
At most restaurants, your server will ask you something like, “Still or sparkling?” But here, you automatically get both - and this might be our favorite thing about The Smith. Actually, we’re going to award an extra tenth of a point just for this. The Smith is now a 7.2.