Sweat, toil, and never-ending challenges and difficulties—that's the narrative at this accomplished, if somewhat twee, restaurant. Every course is accompanied by a three-minute monologue from the waiter about the lengths the cooks went to to get the dish on the plate. That blackish red lump in the middle in the bowl? It's a beet from chefs' John and Karen Shield's farm that was smeared with beef fat and then steamed for eight hours. The crepe-like item covering the aged ribeye? Not a grain of anything sullied it! Instead, a sous chef coddled high-quality milk (again from the farm—they'll likely offer you a picture book of photos from that bucolic paradise to gaze at as you dine) for hours at just the right low heat until it formed into the thin pancake you see in front of you. And to prove that this isn't all hokum, the kitchen is open and spotlit so guests can watch the (often) tweezer-wielding chefs going about their tasks.
So does it all pay off? Often. The crepe/beef dish was delicious, thanks to a lovely jus, some Marmite, and another cream sauce. But I couldn't help thinking that a wheat-based crepe would likely have been just as nice. And the beet tasted like... well, a beet. But there were some definite "Wows" on my recent visit, like the bowl of Dungeness crab, scrambled eggs, seaweed crackers, and foie gras that could have been the most decadent breakfast dish ever. And an oyster with oyster mayonnaise, a slushy of watermelon radish, and apple—a succulent bite. One of the dessert courses, too, was stellar. That was a chocolate-and-raspberry treat dusted with shiitake mushroom powder. (I could have done without the other dessert: egg yolk soaked overnight in salted licorice until it turned to a substance resembling wax, redeemed only somewhat by a frozen yogurt topping.) The menu changes seasonally, so I can't guarantee you'll get to try these courses.
At Smyth, you'll be asked to pay for your dinner in advance, including the tip (it's part of the reservation process). It's not the most romantic setting for a meal this pricey—the room is very spare, with uncovered wood tables set under modern versions of Edison bulbs—but the staff is adept at making diners feel special. Downstairs is the owners' other project: a hopping bar called The Loyalist that serves up a locally famous burger.