Chef Frederik De Pues new restaurant, Smith Commons, strives to be one of the H Street corridors finest dining experiences, with a broad menu, smart cocktail list and inviting atmosphere.
Here are two phrases you usually don’t find in the same sentence: “the chef once worked under Alain Ducasse” and “H Street Northeast.”
But they happily combine now that chef Frederik De Pue — who did, in fact, work for the famous Ducasse — is helming the kitchen at Smith Commons, the newest, and perhaps the foodiest, establishment on the H Street corridor.
Smith Commons occupies a three-story building that once housed a carpet warehouse, and the setting offers a warmed-up industrial vibe that’s all soaring ceilings, exposed brick and candlelight. On the ground floor, a good-sized bar and flattering light invites sipping, as does the cocktail list that’s smart without being overwrought and the array of craft brews and wine.
The best seats in the house might be on the second floor, where low lounge chairs snuggle up to a massive plate glass window that offers a sweeping view. Overhead, a chandelier forged from antique wine barrels casts a soft glow.
So far, Smith Commons still might sound a little, well, common. Plenty of other establishments in the neighborhood offer stylish backdrops and a good bar scene. But it’s the food that sets this newcomer apart.
Comfort-food standards like burgers, roast chicken and pasta carbonara are a chiffonade above average. The brawny burger is topped with portabello mushroom and miso mayonnaise, a combination that sounds like excess but serves to punch up the patty’s beefy flavor. And the carbonara is a deep bowlful of penne made glossy with a combination of smoky bacon, Parmesan and egg.
The menu also offers a few options that read — and taste — more like fine dining. A mushroom veloute soup is refined in texture but earthy and rustic in flavor. Entrees such as seared scallops and duck confit would be at home on a starchy white tablecloth.
“I put a menu together that’s all over the board,” De Pue says. “I wanted to give people options. This can be an everyday restaurant or more of a special weekend one.”
Prices range from $25 for a dry-aged rib-eye steak to $14 for the burger.
For much of the past 15 years, the Belgian native’s clientele has been even more exclusive than it was at the fanciest French restaurants: Washington’s diplomatic corps, including luminaries such as Alan Greenspan and Hillary Rodham Clinton, were among those he cooked for as the executive chef to the ambassador of the European Commission Delegation in Washington, D.C.