City Paper is not for tourists
A periodic feature in which we check up on an established restaurant.
The Restaurant: Hank’s Oyster Bar
The Meal: premium oysters, “bacon and eggs,” and lobster risotto.
The Diagnosis: Jamie Leeds‘s strength as a chef has been her willingness to get the hell out of the way of a good ingredient. Her nearly two-year-old seafood outlet near Dupont Circle has arguably the best lobster roll in the area, a fat, crunchy bun brimming with chunks of fresh, juicy flesh and just enough dressing to bind the meat. So imagine my surprise on a recent visit when I sampled Leeds’ lobster risotto ($18), only to find that the sweet meat was buried under grass. Well, not literally, but her risotto came sprinkled with sliced snow peas, which not only gave the entire entree a herbaceous taste but also provided a hard, al-dente crunch to a dish better served with only a hint of rice resistance. The entree was so out of balance that I did something I rarely do: I sent it back barely eaten. (To the manager’s credit, she did not charge me for it.)
Just as fussy, but far better on the palate, was Leeds’ spring-time small plate called “bacon and eggs” ($12). It’s a clever combination of shad roe and bacon; a lobe of roe is gently seared and served atop an “onion fondue”—-really more of a sweet beurre blanc—-with bits of smoky bacon sprinkled all around. The fatty bacon and sauce provided the perfect counterpoint to the succulent little fish eggs.
No visit to Hank’s should pass without some bivalves ($2 each). I ordered four oysters—-two St. Simones and two Little Skookums—-and slurped them the way I always do: without a drop of mignonette or horseradish sauce. The tiny Skookums packed a sweet, briny punch, while the larger Simones were creamy and salty with a pleasant aftertaste of, well, the beach. But they both included fragments of shell, which I had to fish from my mouth like some hillbilly searching for a broken tooth. When the manager asked about the oysters, I pointed out the problem and she immediately spoke with the shucker, who apparently had just started on the raw bar.
Hank’s, it seems, has learned well how to address problems: Make the customers feel like they have real authority.