Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hank's Oyster Bar

At Hank’s Oyster Bar patrons enjoy coastal favorites and New England beach fare classics like lobster rolls, daily fish specials and meat ‘n’ two. Lightly fried items such as the popcorn shrimp and calamari and Ipswich clams balance Hank’s ice bar options which consist of a selection of raw oysters, tartar and ceviche. The newest location in Capitol Hill joins the previous two in Dupont Circle and Old Town Alexandria. Closest Metro is Eastern Market/Capitol South.

August 2012:  Run by Chef Jamie Leeds, one of Washington’s most highly recognized chefs, Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill is one of the most highly anticipated openings this year.  Tom Sietsema writes: "But only the new place can claim the liquid handiwork of popular Washington mixologist Gina Chersevani. From behind a long marble bar, she’s shaking gin-driven Squeezed Melons, dispensing her own sodas (strawberry-cinnamon, blueberry-cardamom) and carving ice - to order - from a big block kept cold by a built-in chiller set into the counter. Chersevani’s 20-stool watering hole even has its own name, Eddy Bar, a reference to swirling waters." As with her other cocktail menus, it’s heavy on seasonal ingredients and creative twists. Keith tried the Pirate Riot, a tiki-ish mix of aged rum, pineapple, white pepper and, for a bit of fizz, Green Flash’s Rayon Vert beer.  I wanted something lemony and light and ordered the Hanky Panky "Hill Style" made with citrus sage soda and vodka.  Both drinks were tasty and surprisingly not overly powerful in alcohol flavor.
This semi-cursed location (previous occupants were the Italian Locanda and the Modern Vietnamese Ba Bay) has a slightly cramped interior with plain white walls across from a brightly lit bar.  Being a Friday evening, I expected the Happy Hour crowd to be there, which they were creating a super noisy atmosphere, so much that we had to literally shout across the table to one another, thus I gave a lower ambience score.  Our server even came over to apologize a few times for the random people standing up and practically leaning next to our table.  She had to maneuver around them just to clear our plates - it was truthfully a bit annoying for both herself and us.

The chalkboard listed the fresh oysters of the day, which our server also explained.  The three Virginian types caught Keith's eye, so he ordered two of each to make a half-dozen platter.  With a very typical presentation, there is nothing spectacular about these oysters besides their freshness.  Keith really enjoyed the meatiness of the Old Salt variety. We also ordered two "small plates" to share: Fried Ipswich Clams, which were creamy on the inside with a nice lightly fried batter on the outside, and the Griddled Baby Octopus that was perfectly warm and had a delightful Mediterranean flavor from the lemons and olives.  I really enjoyed both these small plates, and would have been satisfied having only these with my Hanky Panky drink.  But Keith wanted to try the Lobster Roll as well.  Our menu did not specify anything coming with it, so we ordered a side dish of the grilled portobello mushrooms with goat cheese.  However, the large sandwich did come with a side of Old Bay French Fries, which were crispy and had good flavor. Normally, I do not care for Old Bay seasoning (Marylanders are shocked, I am sure) but it was not too obtrusive on these fries.  The sandwich itself was full of quality chunk lobster meat and I appreciated the authentic split potato roll that was toasted and lightly buttered.  The mushrooms were grilled that brought out their natural smoky flavor, with an added spicy kick of red pepper flakes in the goat cheese.

As the crowd inside was getting larger and louder, I was getting full so instead of lingering any longer, we decided to call it a night.  We nibbled on the gratis dark chocolate chunks that are offered at meal’s end, a tradition carried over from the other restaurant locations, and paid our bill.  Regardless of the loud and crowded ambience, the food and drinks were spot on.  Many of the daily seafood entrees looked interesting such as the rockfish and John Dory.  If you are just looking for oysters and clams to have with a few cocktails though, Hank's Oyster Bar is quality place to go to on the Hill.  Next time, we will ask to be seated outdoors where we can at least breathe and enjoy our own conversation.

October 2012:  Keith and I returned to support the "Take A Bite" event for Pink Jams! I was happy to see the place fairly packed with diners on this Tuesday evening.  We sat at the same table as our first visit and I ordered the fancy sounding Rosé Champagne Cobbler.  Made with muddled fresh fruit, Lillet Rose, champagne, and mint the drink was tasty, but had a bit too much crushed ice to liquid ratio.  To start Kieth ordered a few more raw oysters and I wanted to try the fried option.  The fried oysters were gigantic, with a warm and creamy inside and the portion size was perfect for sharing.  These were the best I've had.  For my main, I went with one of the daily specials - Local Sea Scallops served with cauliflower fondue, sea beans & Shiitake mushrooms.  I noticed the lady sitting at the table next to me ordered the same thing and I swear she had five scallops, whereas I only had four.  It was a bit obvious on my plate since there was a space between each pair. Regardless, the scallops themselves were cooked lovely and light.  The velvety smooth cauliflower puree toned down the distinct Shiitake mushrooms.  Overall, the dish was refined and full of flavors.  Keith ordered the Marinated Braised Short Ribs and chose the sautéed Bok Choy with sweet chili sauce as his one side.  The short ribs were piping hot from the oven with both a tender slow-cooked-melt-off-the-bone texture and a slight caramelized crust.  Keith thought it was fantastic!  The Bok Choy were incredibly fresh and plentiful on the plate.  The spicy sweet and sour sauce was addictive at first, but became cloyingly sweet towards the end.  In the end, we had another great meal at Hank's and I was happy part of payment went towards such a charitable cause as breast cancer awareness.  New pictures posted below the dashed lines.

Total Rating: 3.7
Food: 4, Price: 3.5, Service: 3, Ambience: 2.5, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:
Fried Ipswich Clams

Griddled Baby Octopus
with preserved lemon and olive relish

Lobster Roll
with Old Bay fries

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
with Goat Cheese
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Fried Oysters

Local Sea Scallops
with cauliflower fondue, sea beans & Shiitake mushrooms

Plus Keith ate:
Oysters on the Half Shell
(2 each of Pungotrague from VA, Tom's Cove from VA, and Old Salt from VA)
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Marinated Braised Short Ribs
with sautéed Bok Choy with sweet chili sauce

Hank's Oyster Bar  on Urbanspoon

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