Yes, hes the Big Os personal chef, but besides that I knew next to nothing about Art Smith before sitting down at Table Fifty-Two. Then came a slap on the back, and five minutes later, I knew everything--the charity, the Obama fund-raiser, the cookbooks. The way Smith works the room I would have expected a line of Oprah groupies out the door, but for now this is a neighborhood place, a spot where Gold Coast old folks can pretend to keep it real on down-home comfort food without suffering the indignity of spending economically. Or, as my companion put it, "Its like Southern Charm Night at your parents country club." Smiths menu visits other parts of the globe--on my visit there was a red curry multigrain risotto with butternut squash and a chicken breast with coconut-ginger-chile sauce--and a wood-fired oven burns for pizza and a fish of the day. But the key ingredients are seasonal and southern, beginning with a dense moist goat cheese-chive buttermilk biscuit that renders everything to follow a disappointment. A crab cake with fennel slaw was fat with excellent sweet crab, but the fried-green-tomato napoleon (with bacon, goat cheese, and greens) was fried too hard, and limp hand-cut french fries with grated manchego werent fried hard enough. A dinosaur-size ancho-crusted Berkshire pork chop was cooked perfectly medium rare, but the flesh wasnt much more flavorful than conventional pig. Similarly, the wood-fired Tasmanian ocean trout--which is supposed to be a step up from salmon--was texturally undistinguished chicken of the sea. The room is small (as are the menu and wine list) and convivially done in Country Kitchen yellow, the only atmospheric anomaly being the waitstaffs brown pajamas--a cross between Shaolin monk and sharecropper.
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