I found myself singing the praises of Smith Commons several times over the winter. The three-story resto-lounge’s clean lines, open spaces and brick-and-honey hues add up to one of the most attractive spaces on H Street NE. The beer program is growing into one of the city’s best, and the crowd gathered around the bar or on soft leather couches is frequently the most diverse in the neighborhood.
Smith Commons’ menu — both liquid and solid — has changed several times, but what’s drawing me back now is the second story patio, especially the daily “Smith Hour.” Like the indoors, the patio is simple and refined: wood plank walls to keep the noise out of neighbors’ yards, shield-shaped tables, metal chairs with woven seats and backs. The afternoon sun finds several tables in the shade as well as the sun.
“Smith Hour” brings $5 beers, rail drinks and wines by the glass and $6 appetizers from 5 to 7 p.m. during the week and 3 to 7 p.m. on weekends. That it’s offered al fresco is a treat — there are enough places that insist happy-hour deals apply only at the bar. A friend and I stopped in last week for crab cake sliders (two good examples, topped with green tomatoes) and angus beef skewers, plus a couple of drinks. House white wine was fruity and nothing to shout about. The happy-hour mixed drinks are made with brands you’ve heard of. And the draft selection includes refreshing beers if you have the table in the sun (Ommegang Witte, Bell’s Oberon) and stronger brews if you’re in the shade (Stone Arrogant Bastard, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch).
As with Standard, timing is everything. Show up on a Thursday night and it will be bustling, there will be no seats and you and your friends will be standing awkwardly between tables and trying not to be in the way. Stop by on Monday or Tuesday night, and you can even have the run of the place at 6 p.m. If you have the kind of friends who say, “Oh, I don’t go out during the week,” this could be an easy way to change their outlook.
-- Fritz Hahn (June 17, 2011)
Tom Sietsema wrote about Smith Commons for a Feb. 9 First Bite column.
There's no one named Smith tied to Smith Commons, the three-story newcomer to the District's rapidly expanding food and drinks scene on H Street NE.
General manager Sheldon Robinson says the owners of the combination restaurant and bar, Bailey Real Estate Holdings, thought "a common surname" would be easy to remember. The second half of the title, he says, reaches out to the commoner: you and me, in other words.
There's less that's routine about the look of the place, whose floor-to-ceiling windows and huge chalkboard for visitors' scribblings grab attention on the street and inside. What was previously a carpet warehouse is now a handsome, loftlike interior consisting of oak floors, exposed brick, tufted sofas and candlelit fireplaces in the upstairs bars and a rear patio that is sure to fill up come spring and warm weather. Checking out the space, I wanted to move in.
The food, from Belgian native Frederik De Pue, borrows from all over, in keeping with the theme established by 42 Degrees. That's the chef's catering company, whose moniker refers to the 42nd parallel connecting "many of the greatest gastronomic cities in the world," as his bio reads. At Smith Commons, a diner could commence with clams and bok choy splashed with a miso-mustard sauce, advance with fish and chips and end the night with creme brulee.
Our early experience? Duck leg confit finds flabby fowl, and the tough steak is upstaged by its golden french fries. Paper-thin slices of beef carpaccio dressed with arugula followed by scallops on a puddle of creamed corn make for better dinner memories; the seafood benefits from a sweet-hot dusting of gingerbread. Vegetarians might feel some love coming from the eggplant lasagna, a starter that could qualify as a light entree. Creamed spinach and a topping of goat cheese give an edge to the usual layering.
You can drink your way to happiness, too. My path of least resistance here starts with a Christiansted: rum, maraschino liqueur, a swirl of simple syrup and fresh lime juice.