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Smith Commons, Atlas District - Chef Kamal Chanaka Replaces Frederik de Pue

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I had read almost nothing but good things about Smith Commons in the blogosphere the past week or two so was excited about trying it out. We have been frequenting Liberty Tree, but there's some competition now!

My +1 and I went for dinner tonight and I'm looking forward to more meals there. Walking in it reminded me a bit of Birch and Barley with the stairs immediately up to the second floor and a warm, wood-filled dining room to the right. We only briefly checked out the second floor, which consists of a second bar, a few tables and some loungy tables and chairs, but it looks like a nice place for HH or a few drinks with friends.

I started off with the small version of the Belgian Endive Salad ($6 - Sliced Endive, Feta Cheese, Hazelnuts, Dried Cranberries, Pink Pepper, Red Wine Vinaigrette) which was a pretty good size for a starter. Despite no evidence of the hazelnuts in the description, and the addition of some slices of apples, it wasn't mind blowing or special, but was very good. Made me think endive is under-utilized in the salad arena. The +1 had the Mushroom Velouté ($7 - Wild Mushroom Cream Soup) and this was really delicious. A large bowl full of earthy goodness. It will be difficult not to order this on future trips (we even asked for extra bread to wipe the bowl clean).

Instead of entrees we decided to split a few starters. The crabcake sliders we wanted were unfortunately sold out for the night, but what we ended up with was certainly tasty. The Eggplant Lasagna ($11 -Grilled Eggplant, Creamed Spinach, Goat Cheese Crumble, Thin Sliced Toast) is a bit of a misnomer since there is no pasta and it's served stacked in a bowl, but was very good. There was a surprising amount of food stuffed inside a seemingly small bowl, and we both agreed it would be tough to eat an entree if you had this dish as a starter all to yourself. The layers of thin-sliced eggplant were layered over a large serving of creamed spinach that was light on the cream and let the veggie shine through. The goat cheese on top had been browned under the broiler and it was all topped off with a healthy handful of arugula and pinenuts. The Beef Carpaccio ($12 - Thin Sliced Lean Beef, Capers Oil and Parmesean Tuile, Baby Arugula) was another generous serving of tender beef topped with pesto, shaved parmesean, pinenuts and more arugula. The flavors really married well. We also added a side of Macaroni & Cheese with Aged Manchego ($7). Although extremely rich and creamy, I would be hesitant to order this again based mostly on the size to cost ratio. It was definitely good, but nothing special, and not worth the price.

We managed to leave a little room for dessert and ended up with the Belgian Chocolate Lava Cake ($8 - Vanilla Whipped Cream). This was another instance where I thought the serving size was rather small for the price, but the taste mostly made up for the lack of size. The small ramekin held more "lava" than cake, but it went very well with the delicious ball of whipped cream served alongside.

So far seems like a great addition to the rapidly growing H St. corridor and I can't wait to head back and check out the entrees and a little more of the menu.

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Fast forward about 4 months from my previous visit and I almost felt like I was at another restaurant. The menu had a lot of changes, and even the bread served pre-meal was different! The carpaccio remains on the menu, but the mushroom veloute, endive salad, eggplant lasagna and crab cake sliders have disappeared. But, I have to say that overall we enjoyed the meal yet again.

The bread this time was more of a dense corn muffin served with soft butter with a pinch of salt. It was good, but I think the old bread (sliced sourdough?) was a better accompaniment to the soup and salad starters.

Two of us began with the Tomato Salad ($12 - Confit Tomatoes, Micros Basil, Balsamic Reduction, Robiola Fresca Cheese). The online menu lists a $6 option, which was not on the menu at the restaurant. I wish it had been because although it was good, it was a fairly large serving and I would have preferred something smaller and cheaper! It mainly consisted of red and yellow cherry tomatoes on top of a few small greens with a drizzle of balsamic. The cheese on top was creamy and almost goat like. One person had the Beet Salad ($12 - Rhubarb, Artichokes, Champagne Granita, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese) which she liked (but since she was the only one at the table that likes beets, we all had to take her word on it B) . A cheese plate that came to a neighboring table looked very tempting.

For entrees two people had the Skewered Tiger Prawns & Chorizo Sausage ($20 - Granny Smith Apple Potato Salad, Parsley Pesto). This was a very pretty presentation and both people cleared their plates. The small bite of shrimp I had was slightly overcooked, but I didn't get to try the chorizo or salad. One had the Seared Scallops ($22). The description on the menu last night different from online, but included some version of corn that was really good. The scallops were small, but well-cooked (perhaps 5-6 on the plate?). The dish I had is not on the online menu but was Virginia Black Bass ($20 - curry spaetzle, wilted spinach, capers). There is a sauce or two I am missing, but I think I had the best dish at the table. It was two decent sized bass fillets with crispy skin topped with sauteed onions and roasted red peppers. The curry spaetzle was delicious as well and an interesting change from the usual starch accompaniments. All three entrees were pretty decent serving sizes, and most mains on the menu range from about $14-$25 or so, so not too bad.

We were too full for dessert, but I noticed they added a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie to their menu.

I also wanted to mention that the new patio on the back of the second floor is a great place to grab some drinks and bar snacks. We camped out there for a while on Saturday night and really enjoyed it (aside from the $10 cocktails adding up quickly).

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Saturday morning, I was surprised to be able to get a reservation for either 7 or 8 that night for three people for my first visit. After asking to turn down the heat (it was to the point we would have had to leave had they not), which they happily obliged, we dove into the drink list, with the warning that the drink menu changes frequently so some items may be gone, with others not on the list having been added. I really enjoyed that they had a robust beverage program, both for wine AND beer, but unfortunately I couldn't tell you what we drank is none of it was on the printed menu.

The menu is certainly is definitely in full fall mode, with Braised Short Ribs, Beef Stew, a rich Lobster Ragout, and pumpkin soup all on the menu. The details (as best as I can recall, the menu on the web is a bit outdated) for the food - started with the Brussel Sprouts, braised with bacon and served with dried apricot, a combination that worked surprisingly well together - there wasn't a bite left on the plate. The braised short ribs with pickled celery were the low point for me - the beef was fattier than I'm used to, even with short ribs, and the flavor wasn't as deep as I was expecting from slow roasted meat. The beef stew DID have that depth of flavor, with merepoix and a veal stock sauce. The meat was lean but tender, and the portion 'just right' - not ridiculous, but a filling entree. The appetizer of the seared scallops was pleasant if unremarkable, and the pumpkin soup was a rich, thick pumpkin broth with a chipotle crouton and small bits of dried apple - a great fall dish.

Overall I liked the restaurant in a way that I would go back if in the neighborhood again, but probably not drive across town for. Except for those brussel sprouts. Those were money.

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Interesting to find only four posts on this place. Ate here last week and had an excellent meal. A couple of well-made bourbon cocktails, an appealing caesar salad (thankfully with anchovies, the way it's supposed to be made), excellent lamb chops on polenta, and turducken! A reasonably-priced bottle of 14 vines rounded out the proceedings. (Ooops, forgetting a couple of snorts of Woodford Reserve for dessert!)

Service was efficient and pleasant, the downstairs room is lively, with a young-skewing crowd happily indulging at the bar (upstairs closed when we came in).

I had stumbled upon Smith Commons only because it has 30% off availability through savored.com - showing why restaurants ought to look carefully at using that site's excellent service. I definitely shall return, and unreservedly recommend the place. Even if you can't get a discount, their menu prices are very reasonable for DC (i.e., $19 turducken entree, $21 for the lamb chops).

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