November 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm EST | by Jonathan Howard
Art & Soul of the matter
Art and Soul, Art Smith, dining, Top Chef, gay news, Washington Blade

Chef Art Smith pays attention to culinary detail at Art & Soul. (Photo courtesy of Art & Soul)

Gay chef Art Smith has strong ties to D.C. — his father was a congressional page and his aunt was a Redskins weather girl.

Smith is a two-time contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” Oprah was one of his clients and he owns Art & Soul (415 New Jersey Ave. NW). Recently, Art & Soul unveiled a new fall menu, continued to serve “swing state cocktails” and hosted an election night watch party. With so much going on at this Capitol Hill eatery it seemed like the perfect time to pay it a visit.

Smith says a lot goes into planning a new menu.

“My chefs and I talk endlessly about what is fresh and in season and what guests will love,” he says.

The new menu at Art & Soul is the epitome of soul food elevated. Our waiter, Kevin, knew the new menu inside and out and steered us toward some of his favorite items. His suggestions did not disappoint.

We ordered a couple of starters including the soft scotch egg, which was divine; the delicate pumpkin ricotta dumplings; and the shrimp and grits which I didn’t have because I’m allergic to shrimp. The other four diners devoured them immediately though.

For dinner, I had the grilled natural rib eye with roasted mushrooms and sweet garlic marrow butter and red wine jus. If you’re looking for your red meat fix, this is it. If you’re in the mood for fish, try the crispy skin gulf pompano with gulf crab, raisins and brown butter. The Peking duck was cooked perfectly and enjoyed by all but one diner, who insisted he had a pet duck and could never eat his pet.

The red wine glazed beef short ribs were moist and tender and the mashed potatoes were so good I was warding off other diners with my fork. We ended the meal with almost the entire dessert menu on our table; however, the various Art & Soul Baby Cakes were the showstopper. The red velvet was moist and an original spin on the traditional red velvet cake.

This fall Art & Soul has also been featuring election-themed “Swing State Cocktails,” the result of a brainstorming session between Smith, mixologist Ronald Flores and restaurant manager Calvin Hines Junior. When designing these cocktails they, “researched each state because we wanted an element of each drink to be relevant to the state.” Cocktails like the Virginia — gin, viognier and ginger beer; the New Hampshire — filibuster bourbon, pumpkin puree and dolin rouge; and the ever-important Ohio — Wodka, peanut butter syrup and chocolate sauce were available through inauguration day. The most popular swing state cocktail (and Smith’s favorite) was the Pennsylvania — which features house-made peach-infused vodka that is displayed in a mason jar on the bar.

These cocktails were the centerpieces of the election night party. If you wore your “I Voted” sticker, you could enjoy two-for-one swing state cocktails. Plus, every time a swing state was called, patrons could enjoy that state cocktail for 50 percent off for 15 minutes. They didn’t have a Florida cocktail, so nobody had to wait until Friday to enjoy that at half price. The excitement in the restaurant was palpable. People were bustling to see the results and every time a state was called in favor of President Obama, cheers could be heard throughout the room. When asked about the historic wins on election night for LGBT individuals Smith said, “We are headed in the right direction … but it comes down to one thing: there is no room for hatred at the table.”

Art & Soul does not disappoint. Every dish is dynamic but still retains its soul food feel. The wait staff is exceptional and well versed. The “Swing State Cocktails” were creative and delightful; setting this watch party apart from others. Overall, this dinner was one of the best I have had in Washington, not only because the food was excellent, but also because of the impeccable service. Unfortunately, perfection does not come cheap so be prepared to spend a bit more for your meal at Art & Soul, but it will be worth it.

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