I've been pondering the conundrum of Smith & Jones ever since. The space isn't much to look at during the day, outfitted in blacks and grays with just the enlivening touch of a few brick walls. Light pours through skylights over the drab booths next to the empty music stage, and you feel as if you've stumbled into a nightclub after the party's long over. Once the sun goes down, it's a different story. When we went back for dinner a couple of weeks later, things were livelier. The two rooms and the bar were full. Our service was more polished; a band was setting up on stage. I got the point: Once the music starts rocking, the place takes on the character of a down-home roadhouse. We ate the Midwest White Boy Pot Roast with Gravy, smashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables ($16.95) and found it had a good deal of character in the rich gravy and melting meat. A wild mushroom flatbread with spinach, goat cheese, and balsamic ($10.95) on a thin crust was no more than a fairly well executed bar snack. A plate of crispy fish tacos ($10.95) looked bright and pretty with its tomato salsa, a brisk jalapeño tartar sauce, and sliced avocado, but the flour tortillas had even less character than the ones at Baja Fresh — and those tacos had nothing on the roadside carts of Southern Cal. There's nothing, in the end, to distinguish this comfort-food menu of sliders and franks from the one at Clematis Social, Palm Beach Grill, Yolo, or any one of the half-dozen retro-American restaurants that have opened here lately.

Joe Rocco

The problem with having a name like Johnny Vinczencz, apart from the spelling difficulties, is that you can't get away from it, from the obligations of fame, from your status as a local hero. If Joe Nobody had opened this restaurant, the food would rate OK. It might even taste pretty good at midnight, when you're a little bit drunk and there's nothing else open and you're tapping your toe to live bluegrass in a crowded, noisy room. It could be that Johnny V just got sick of having to rise to meet his own reputation when he got up every morning, so adopting the alias Smith & Jones seemed appealing. Maybe deep down, he longed to be like the rest of us, just another face in the crowd.

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