Capitol Hill's Smith restaurant serves good "grub," atmosphere
Something about Smith brings out the Annie Oakley in me. Could be the stuffed moose heads and assorted avian taxidermy on the walls, or...
Special to The Seattle Times
|House-made potato chips||$3|
|English pea soup||$6.50|
|Roasted chicken breast||$12|
332 15th Ave. E., Seattle
Reservations: Accepted for parties of 8 or more.
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily and 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays.
Prices: $$ (plates $3-$14)
Drinks: Full bar; more than two dozen beers; inexpensive wines, all offered by the glass.
Parking: On street or in nearby lots.
Sound: Conversation competes with a high-volume jukebox.
Who should go: Urban cowboys and -girls.
Credit cards: MC, Visa.
Access: No obstacles.
Something about Smith brings out the Annie Oakley in me.
Could be the stuffed moose heads and assorted avian taxidermy on the walls, or the wainscoting and floor boards scuffed as if to suggest decades of boot heels and brawls, but suddenly I feel like saying "Shucks, ma'am" to the perky waitress and checking my firearms (or at least my cellphone) at the door.
Linda Derschang knows how to mood a saloon. Her newest one, on Capitol Hill's less-edgy east side, seems likely to capture a broader audience than some of her other ventures (among them, Linda's Tavern, Viceroy and King's Hardware).
The bar occupies only a corner of the cavernous room. Long trestle tables fill the middle ground, accommodating groups or communal dining. Booths and bench seating rim the perimeter, beneath the mini-Museum of Natural History on one wall and a Museum of Not-So-Fine Art on the other, hung with somber, gilt-framed portraits that look as if they were painted by numbers.
Beyond the vaguely dissolute flea-market décor and the blare of the well-stocked jukebox lies a kitchen that troubles to roast marrow bones, confit pork and make potato chips from scratch.
Chef Tyler Palagi is in charge of what the menu modestly calls "grub." Some of it is just the sort pub-crawlers crave after one too many bourbon lemonades or "blujitos." Things like ham-and-cheese doughnuts, corn fritters, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and poutine are useful ballast when the room threatens to spin — but it isn't what has me hankering to revisit Smith.
That would be pork shank, brined for two days, submerged in duck fat for hours and fried — yes, fried — to order. The resulting hunk-o-meat had a tender, rosy middle beneath a crusty exterior. Two protruding bones made pulling it apart easy. I used my fingers — this ain't a fancy place — and besides, there's no better way to mop up the last pungent green drop of anchovy and parsley oil.
I did switch to a spoon for the English pea soup, which also benefits from a splash of parsley oil. The elegant purée is smoothed with crème fraîche and topped with curls of pancetta.
Crème fraîche turned up again as a dip for corn fritters, but it didn't do much to excite that litter of hush puppies; they remained dry and listless. And hard as it is for me to diss fried dough, I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for hard, clunky ham-and-cheese doughnuts, not even after extensive dredging through very good béchamel.
Both the ultra-creamy deviled eggs sprinkled with fresh herbs and the lavishly sauced macaroni and cheese needed a sharper bite to buck their richness; but poutine, Canada's gift to the comfort-food genre, was seasoned just right. The guys in our group made quick work of those French fries and cheese curds swaddled in brown gravy, though the curds were way too chewy to me.
The kitchen clearly has a knack for spuds. House-made chips are exceptional, and three bucks buys you a Mason jar full of those crisp, salty tongues wrapped in paper. Dreamy puréed potatoes accompanied a succulent chicken breast, notable for its crisp, golden skin and rosemary-spiked gravy. Likewise, skirt steak was as memorable for its mountain of herby haystack fries as for its tender, pink flesh and fruity red-wine reduction.
But potatoes aren't the only vegetables on the menu. Grilled asparagus recently debuted as a special with smoked salmon, then found a spot on the regular menu paired with prosciutto. A trio of marrow bones comes with a stunning slaw that merged crisp green apple, fennel and stone-ground mustard. I only wished the marrow itself hadn't been so liquid.
Salads include a beautiful lemon-dressed bundle of butter lettuce dotted with radish coins and Parmesan curls. Beets tossed with arugula were served on a plate coated with creamy mascarpone — a presentation I found odd, but I liked the flavor combination, especially the touch of horseradish.
A side of braised escarole with pine nuts and currants needed salt. Luckily we ordered it as a side with cornmeal-crusted catfish, a fine, fresh, cleanly fried fillet served over ham-laced lentil stew almost as saline as the sea.
Prices are so reasonable that you should have room in the budget — if not the waistband — to order dessert. Both the buttery, chocolate-almond toffee and the smooth panna cotta, served in a mini-Mason jar with a thick topper of blackberries, lived up to the server's hype.
Service was nimble one night, less sure-footed another, but the staff works in concert, which helps pick up any slack. Even though the sign at door says, "Grab a Seat," someone bothers to greet you and point you in the right direction.
Smith is at heart a no-frills neighborhood hangout. Silverware comes wrapped in a paper napkin. Beer can be ordered by the pitcher ($11.25). Wine is poured into tumblers. None of the bottles on the short but diverse list will set you back much more than $30, unless you've a mind to splurge on bubbly. Veuve Clicquot is $60. It would be swell with those potato chips.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
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