- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

A simple black-and-white sign above a narrow entrance leads down steps into a hallway and a discreetly lit bar marked by a small bright-blue lamp. The atmosphere is decidedly nautical, like being encased in a finely appointed undersea cavern.
That is the point of Smith Point named for a sandbar on a far end of Nantucket where David Scribner and Robert Blair, partners in this 8-month-old enterprise, spent many happy years leading parallel lives. Still just in their 30s, the two District natives became acquainted off-island. Mr. Scribner, who says he is largely self-taught as a chef, worked on the island but was at the excellent Felix in Adams Morgan until just over a year ago.
The sea theme is consistent throughout at Smith Point. One day Mr. Scribner, who does all the cooking himself, was busy painting the walls of restaurant's ladies room with what he said was "a cool Bay Bridge color."
Besides the signature blue lamp, there there is a deeper blue color on walls of the dining area beyond the bar. (A smaller bar sits empty in the back, like a ghost item remaining from the restaurant's previous incarnation.) Seascapes are key decorative elements, apart from tiny white candles. The atmosphere is cozy and intimate, and conversation is no problem in spite of light jazz playing in the background.
To date, the partners have limited their open hours to three evenings a week Thursday, Friday and Saturday but they hope soon to expand the schedule. They serve about 35 diners on a good night and are open for private parties Monday through Wednesday. The 21-and-over crowd that flocks into the front bar late at night, generally around 10 or 11 p.m., can be nourished until 12:30 a.m. on appetizers.
It follows that the menu, while small and eclectic, would rely heavily on seafood a point of pride for Mr. Scribner, who has brought along from his time at Felix a delectable seared rare tuna with crushed sesame, wasabi creme fraiche and sticky rice. At $20, the entree is one of his standouts.
Further blessings: The light blue menu (complete with a stenciled fish) is written in plain English with none of the excessive capital letters and pretentious verbiage found so often in some restaurants of note. Information overload creates a suspicion the chef is hiding something behind the prose.
The wine list is equally modest but inviting, with eight choices available by the glass. Here again, the owners have tried to make selectivity their strong point. Some of the labels, such as the Oregon Witness Tree chardonnay, are not found on many local menus.
The wine was served quickly, as was the butter and standard-style French bread. The waitress poured portions attentively and perhaps a bit too fulsomely.
A person wanting a light meal could dine well with a choice of starters, headed by the "Nantucket style" clam chowder with bacon, potato and celery. Steamed mussels come coupled with bits of cured ham, intriguingly enough. (The cured Virginia ham turns up again in an entree of seared scallops accompanied by white corn grits and apples.) Sauteed wild mushrooms are sliced portobellos wonderfully immersed in thyme and garlic atop creamy polenta.
Best of all are the lamb kebabs and fried calamari. The kebabs have been marinated with spices and teamed with mint-flavored feta-rice salad alongside a cucumber-yogurt sauce. The calamari is perfectly done, its normally bland taste enhanced by a lemon-tomato sauce with chili powder. The chef throws caution to the wind by offering a platter of any three of the above (including the familiar grilled bruschetta with brie, tomatoes and olive oil). A budget-minded diner might easily consider the bargain platter a satisfying enough meal.
The entrees change periodically, at least every two weeks, with at least one special entree each night.
One night the special was a buttery sole possibly a little too buttery for such a subtle fish served with capers and tiny bits of zucchini and tomato. Nothing extraordinary beyond a pleasant encounter with a properly prepared dish.
Far more unusual, and welcoming, was the "traditional chicken pot pie with peas, carrot, celery and homemade pastry." It might not be your mother's or grandmother's recipe, but it will sit well on a cool autumn evening. Instead of being encased in a light, flaky pastry shell, the beautifully blended contents rest under a pastry cover, a single layer presented without fuss. The dish speaks well for the restaurant's goal of bringing the feeling of Nantucket home to Washington with food that is casual and not overly sophisticated.
Comfort food is a strong point here. A sirloin steak has a serving of garlic mashed potatoes. The menu also promises a cheeseburger with a choice of brie or fresh mozzarella and a fish sandwich.
For some people, the downside of not being all-inclusive is finding that after-dinner coffee is "plain American," regular or decaf. No espresso or cappuccino is available. There are just three dessert offerings but each is created fresh daily, depending on Mr. Scribner's impulse. Recently, in addition to a tasty caramelized banana split, chocolate ganache cake and blueberry bread pudding, the evening's special was almond cake baked with fresh pineapple and topped with fresh whipped cream.


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