Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dinner | The Smile

Last week, I had dinner one night at The Smile in NoHo with Laura and Tiffany, two former colleagues of mine. Since our initial days at the same bean counting firm, the three of us have parted ways to different places in our careers (still as bean counters), which called for a reunion dinner, so we'd be able to catch each other up on all the gossip we carried with us until the next time we'd meet.

I heard about The Smile randomly from the "City Guides" by Fathom for Kate Spade New York, a collaboration that was released a couple months ago. The "City Guide" for New York description of The Smile's "rustic dinners" in a "low key and cozy" atmosphere was convincing enough. Tucked away on Bond Street, the restaurant is pretty easy to miss as it is unassuming with an entrance that leads a few steps down to the cellar level.

The interiors of The Smile are quite tavern-like with the space's exposed brick and dark-wooded fixtures. Very cozy and warm, indeed.

The mastermind behind the kitchen at The Smile is Chef Melia Marden, who began cooking during her college days and opened a catering company shortly after. Per New York magazine, her style is "most influenced by her mother's eclectic, informal dinner parties and the various exotic locales where her family lived and traveled." As a result, she "cooks like an especially talented dinner-party hostess, re-creating taste memories of places she has been and dishes she has loved."

Laura had the roasted balsamic chicken with lemon and thyme roasted red potatoes. Nicely browned on the outside, the chicken was evenly coated with a sweet and vinegary balsamic glaze. The simplicity of this dish with its no-nonsense roasted potatoes proved that sometimes perfect execution of a classic recipe can really wow and impress.

Tiffany had the roasted pork loin with fresh peach chutney as well as with roasted red potatoes with lemon and thyme that substituted the original sautéed swiss chard. The thick slices of pork were juicy and perfectly cooked, and the fruity flavors from the chutney was great for enjoying the last remnants of summer and fall.

I had the sliced hangar steak with sweet potato mash and broccoli rabe. The hangar steak was super tender and juicy with medium rare center. The sweet potato mash was hearty and fluffy, mixed in with flavorfully sautéed onions or shallots. It went very well with the medallions of hangar steak -- not at all salty or overbuttered, making it very easy to devour. As with the previous two main courses, what made this dish so awesome was how simply it was prepared -- minimal dressing up and with only the most essential ingredients (about three or fewer) -- yet how seamlessly delectable it all was.

I couldn't resist ordering a side of cous cous with onions, currants, and pistachios -- pistachios are one of those ingredients where if I see it in a dish, I have to try it. The grains were soft and delicately mealy with some well-balanced textural contrast with the pistachios (nutty with a toasted crunch) and the currants (subtly tart). This could easily be one of the best cous cous dishes I've ever had -- the combination of the ingredients says enough.

For dessert, we shared the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla cream sauce (if I recall correctly). I liked that the brownie had an evenly slight burn to its exterior -- the best part of any brownie, in my opinion. The vanilla cream sauce countered the richness of the chocolate quite smoothly. I wouldn't say this dessert blew my mind, but it was pretty good anyhow.

Findings: Chef Melia Marden at The Smile unabashedly cooks up uncomplicated, tasty, and hostess-savvy cuisine with grace and sophistication. What New York observed about her eclectic influences and her style of simple, approachable cuisine was spot on -- the menu served up comfort food without being over dressed in grease. Each bite went down smoothly and comfortably, as if we were over at the chef's house for a holiday dinner of some sort. I am disappointed that I didn't get a chance to explore the drink menu that evening as many of the cocktails seemed like fun and interesting twists on cold weather spirited beverages -- next time for sure!

Sometimes less is more, and it certainly is the case here at The Smile. I know I'll be back here for future weeknight dinners if I'm in the mood to venture out of my own kitchen and into the dining room of Chef Marden's no-nonsense cuisine.

Price point: $18-20 for each entrée, $6 for each side, $6 for each dessert.

--November 28, 2012

The Smile
26 Bond Street
New York, NY 10012

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