Entries in Chip Smith (2)


The Simone

For at least a decade, the Adult White Tablecloth Restaurant in New York has suffered from media neglect. Open one of these, and the critics are likely to say, “No one eats like that any more.” The exceptions are rare, and usually have big names behind them, like Michael White or Daniel Boulud.

So imagine my surprise when The Simone—an expensive, totally retro, white tablecloth restaurant opened on the Upper East Side—and Pete Wells awarded three stars. Yes, the Upper East Side, where most critics seldom go, and which Wells has repeatedly disparaged, as if it were a foreign nation.

You’ll find more fifty-somethings than thirty-somethings at The Simone, which is just fine by me. I do get tired of being lectured about “the way we eat now,” when I never tired of the the way we ate before. There’s something refreshing about an old-fashioned restaurant. The Simone shows that the format still has plenty of life, when it’s done right.

The chef, Chip Smith, serves straightforward, French-inspired fare. After moving to New York from North Carolina, he cooked briefly at Le Midi near Union Square, a restaurant I found promising, but limited in its ambitions—bearing in mind that no entrée rose above $28. At The Simone, entrées are in the $30s and $40s, and Mr. Smith can do what he wants.

His wife, Tina Vaughn, writes out the frequently-changing menu in a voluptuous, cursive script. There are no tasting menus, snacks, side dishes, seafood towers, sharing plates, or large-format specials; the format is appetizer, entrée, dessert. The End. When was the last time you saw that?

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Bistro Le Midi


Note: At the time of this review, Chip Smith was the chef. He has since moved onto The Simone. We’ve not been back to Le Midi since he left.


French cuisine is making a small comeback. It never really went away, but for a long time in the mid-aughts, new French restaurants were more dreamt of than seen.

I’ll believe France is really back when a French restaurant like Ai Fiori or The NoMad opens, and gets three stars. Otherwise, chefs are just doodling around the margins of excellence, fearful of critic backlash.

But there is plenty to enjoy in the meantime. Enter Le Midi, a new casual bistro near Union Square. It offers the sort of hearty, rustic French menu that I love. The space is modern-looking, and a bit austere, despite the white tablecloths. Old movies play silently on a screen above the bar.

The menu offers bistro standards, with a few announced specials. Soups and starters are $8–14, mains $18–28, sides $5–6, plus the obligatory burger at $14. Fries didn’t come with any of the dishes we had, but should you order them, the portion size is ample, and they looked irresistible.

The wine list is better than it has to be. We were surprised to find a 2005 Médoc for $48 (above left). New places in this restaurant’s price range tend to have very little older than 2009, or so. We ordered that, and were quite pleased with it.

The bread service (above right) was humble, but at least served warm.


My fiancée nominated a warm Frisée aux Lardons ($12; above right) as an early candidate for Salad of the Year, with a luscious poached egg and a musky bacon flavor. A duck terrine ($12; above right) was fine, but not as memorable.


Duck Leg Confit ($21; above left) and Coq au Vin ($21; above right) were good renditions of classic dishes—not the best you’ve had, but at this price well worth your trouble.

We ordered dessert (a rarity for us), a perfectly respectable Strawberry Shortcake ($9; left).

I didn’t make note of the cocktails we ordered at the bar before our meal, and there isn’t an online list, but my recollection is they were a good deal better than you’d expect at such a place. They wouldn’t transfer the tab, a lapse I’ll forgive at Le Midi’s price range. Once at the table, the server was attentive, his ordering advice dependable.

The restaurant, doing comfortable business but not full on a Wednesday evening, attracts what appears to be a neighborhood crowd. So far, Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice is the only professional critic to have noticed it. He departed a happy man. So did we.

Le Midi (11 E. 13th Street between University Place & Fifth Avenue, Union Square)

Food: French bistro standards
Service: Casual, but just fine at the price range
Ambiance: An austere, modern space, where tablecloths don’t feel old-school