Art & Soul, located just inside the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel in Washington, DC, is Chef Art Smith's first restaurant in DC. Chef Smith, better known as Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef, opened this new restaurant as the first Southern restaurant in the nation's capitol, serving the gamut of traditional but modernized comfort food. The space—indoors and out—really lends itself to gatherings and parties. Bold touches of red throughout as well as basic black accentuate the sophisticated atmosphere. I think it helps show off the traditional Southern food in an even more modern light.
While I was in DC with Destination DC, I had the pleasure of staying at the Liaison Hotel and dining at Art & Soul on my first night. I was joined by two other bloggers, Cathy from Gastronomy Blog and Olga from Mango Tomato, as well as writers from other parts of the country. The best and most surprising part was that Art Smith himself was there to have dinner with us. It was truly an experience to be savored and remembered.
Our evening began with Southernized hors d'ouevres and cocktails. First luscious and creamy fried mac 'n cheese balls. Then small hoecakes with smoked salmon and caviar. Fried chicken with gravy that were served between bite-size biscuits came next. Finally seared tuna atop a fried green tomato with green tomato relish. I never imagined Southern food could work as such elegant finger food. The salmon hoecakes were my favorite. I've never even heard of a hoecake before, but the mini pancakes had such great texture and worked well as a vehicle for the salmon.
The cocktail menu looked very good. I could hardly make my choice. I ended up choosing the Potomac's Dawn. Since the Potomac is the name of the river nearby, I figured why not try a locally inspired drink? It was made of mango, tequila, and rimmed in chile pepper. Other drinks on the menu included the very popular snow cone cocktails, which are basically glasses of shaved ice with the cocktail poured over, pretty fun.
As we waited for our food to arrive, Chef Smith presided over the dinner table, sharing stories about his travels. It was very easy to have a lively conversation with Chef Smith. He is a very humble and fun host. For starters I ordered the traditional Southern favorite of shrimp 'n grits, which I've never had but always have wanted to try. The shrimp was nicely grilled and came with a coarse grits, bacon, and chow-chow relish. I was pretty pleased with the shrimp. And I surprisingly still had room for a main course.
For entrées, many ordered the crab three ways, which the Chef had highly recommended, but since I'm not a fan of soft shell crab, I ordered the crispy fried whole rockfish. I found it hilarious that the server asked "with or without the head?" I didn't bring my camera for nothing, so definitely I had to have it intact. The fish looked like a monster and with the dirty rice and andouille gumbo, it looked like it had emerged from a swamp. Even if it didn't look that great, the subtle flavor and tender flesh of the fish was wonderful. I massacred the monster in no time. Others had ordered the grilled grouper, scallops, salmon, or rib-eye, which all looked enticing.
Dessert soon followed and I could hardly wait. I have a sweet tooth and as we know Southern desserts are some of the sweetest, so I was hoping for the classics. And the classics was what we got. First came the Bourbon pecan pie, which turned out to be the airiest and least dense version I've ever had. I was in love. My other favorite was the chocolate terrine, a cake that had everything right going for it. We also had a terrific cheesecake, cinnamon bun pie, and a selection of baby cupcakes that included the famous hummingbird cake, which as the Chef said is so called because it's so good that it makes you hum. Southerners are known for their cakes and a mini red velvet cake, for which I have soft spot, was also among the babycakes.
I could not have had a better first night in DC than my experience at Art & Soul. It was the perfect introduction to Southern food and hospitality. The restaurant is a great place to visit even if you are not staying at the Liaison Hotel. But if you are than you might also consider trying out the room service, which all comes from the restaurant. The breakfast menu features the chef's healthy favorites. If I'm back in town I might just stop by for some hoecakes and a slice of that terrific pecan pie.
Art & Soul
415 New Jersey Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Open daily for dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., and until 11 p.m. from Friday through Saturday. Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Open Saturday and Sunday for brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Appetizers range in price from $9 to $14, and entrées from $18 to $35.