John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’s two-for-one special in the West Loop offers elevated tasting menus upstairs and the city’s best burger (yeah, we said it) in the dark, sultry basement. But we're here to talk about what's happening on the ground floor, at Smyth, where diners can book a 2.5-hour, $285 tasting experience. The offerings change daily based on the couples' trips to a 20-acre farm located south of the city. The stunning and delicate dishes on offer incorporate fresh, seasonal produce, making every experience feel very, very special.
The following review was published in 2017.
The fine-dining sister to the Loyalist brings a comforting taste of Virginia to the West Loop.
You’ll find some of the most interesting and indulgent dishes at Smyth. Case in point: On one plate, tender pieces of Dungeness crab are covered with slices of rich foie gras and scrambled kani miso (a.k.a. crab innards). It’s a small but powerful bite that oozes with opulent ingredients. It’s surprising, then, that it feels like you’re eating it in your best friend’s living room—if your best friend happened to be a particularly fantastic cook with impeccable taste in décor.
It’s all part of the high-low mix that defines Smyth. The West Loop fine-dining destination is homey and welcoming with dishes that are truly over the top. That balanced dichotomy is all part of the vision for chefs and owners John and Karen Urie Shields (Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea), who dreamed up a happy, easy-going spot that would highlight the time they spent in Smyth County, Virginia. The restaurant is filled with oak wood, yellow light and lived-in touches, such as vases of thistles and a rolling bar cart. Like the Loyalist, the relaxed but classy bar downstairs, it feels like a place where you could truly unwind. The big difference here is the caliber—and price—of what you’re about to put in your mouth.
First things first, you’ll have to decide how many courses you’re in for: five, eight or 12. We went for the 10-course menu, which has since been discontinued. Regardless of your choice, prepare for luxurious ingredients (think caramelized lobster, crispy duck tongue and creamy uni) to make their way from the kitchen to your table. We were especially dazzled by a salted licorice-soaked egg yolk that’s cradled in a cup of yogurt meringue. The show-stopping dish is perfectly matched with an Alsace pinot gris, which boasts a medium body and hints of citrus. The drink pairings—a mix of white and red wines plus a beer for good measure—are selected from all over the world and complement their food counterparts. From a crisp sparkling white from the Loire Valley to a Belgian Brouwerij Rodenbach sour, the selections add depth to lighter dishes or take the load off rich flavors.
But even with all these cheffy details, Smyth maintains a down-home, come-as-you-are feel that sets it apart from other fine-dining restaurants we’ve seen this year. By the time you walk out the door, you’ll feel like you know the Shieldses on a more personal level—from their time spent in Smyth County, Virginia, to their favorite dining menus framed in the bathrooms.
Atmosphere: The bi-level space has an airy warmth and big, open windows, a stark contrast to its downstairs sister bar, the Loyalist. Still, the room is refined with a comfortable vibe.
What to eat: If you’re stuck on how many courses to go with, we recommend looking at the eight- or 12-course options to get the full experience. Trust that you’ll want to savor every last bite of shima aji, prime rib and saddle of lamb.
What to drink: If you opt for a pairing, your server will walk you through the expert wine list. Still, we’d recommend staying after your meal for a vintage negroni—a splurge, but if you’re at Smyth, you might as well stay for another drink or two. The cocktails match, if not outshine, the drinks at the Loyalist. And that’s a compliment considering the top-notch cocktailing happening downstairs.
Where to sit: You won’t have much of a choice here, but rest assured that every seat in the house is comfortable. We were more than happy at our two-top table with other diners on either side of us.