Our critic shares the reasons some spots didn't make it into his Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
When the original Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle expanded into the building next door this past summer, the result netted a cool marble bar, a sunken lounge lit by votives, a private party room upstairs and (look up!) a small boat suspended from one ceiling. The hours are longer and the menu has grown. So why don’t I want to fish here more often? The kitchen hasn’t kept up with the enhancements. Hank’s small pretzels with tangy beer dip are good company for a cocktail, but too much of the rest of the menu suggests a steamboat galley that can’t match its cruiser yacht ambitions. The Caesar salad is end-of-the-day at Whole Foods, the lobster roll is ordinary, and the golden onion rings we ordered because they looked so good at a neighbor’s table are wan and raw and go mostly untouched. Happiness is a plate of neatly shucked oysters, which the agreeable servers describe well, and the deftly fried popcorn shrimp. The catchiest fish entree is Arctic char, set on a base of smashed potatoes and garnished with green salsa. And if you drop anchor on a Monday, you should meet up with the special of tender short ribs. (Green beans are a better plate mate than the bland mac and cheese.) Instead of bread, you get Goldfish crackers, and dessert is still limited to boring chunks of chocolate with the check. Fuel is probably a secondary reason for stopping by; a table on the patio outside provides a front-row seat to one of the best parades around.
Hank's Oyster Bar has been a Dupont Circle staple since 2005, but its August expansion provided plenty of new reasons to visit. The restaurant added two floors with two bars, space for private dining and a dark, cozy banquette-filled hideaway. The main bar has a breezy nautical feel -- two-story ceilings, distressed mirrors, modern art hanging on walls of cool pearly gray and multi-hued faux-marble finish. (The bar top itself is white marble, perched on azure counters.)
In addition to the $1 oysters and half-price raw bar offered from 11 p.m. to midnight daily, Hank's also offers one of Dupont's best regular happy hours from 5 to 7 p.m. on workdays. It's the kind of place where you could pop in with co-workers, a hot date or your college friend who you're dying to catch up with.
The list of $4 drinks includes three reds and three whites, a trio of draft beers -- including locals DC Brau Corruption and Port City Monumental IPA -- and all rail drinks. The sleeper is the house punch, which changes frequently: My friends and I found it piquant and citrusy, easy-to-drink without being too potent.
During the regular happy hour, the $4 drinks are paired with a menu of $4 bar snacks: a tin of meaty oysters served with saltines, a rich and smoky bowl trout dip, warm and fluffy soft pretzels dipped in a creamy, tangy beer cheese.
For cocktails, resident mixologist Megan Coyle has created flavorful gin concoctions to complement the seafood, including the Sundowner, with viscous Old Tom gin, coconut water and floral creme de violette; and the Old Tom and Almonds, a pleasing martini variation with house-made orgeat syrup. (The almondy orgeat is a key ingredient in the classic mai tai.)
Perched on a stool upstairs at the small "charc" bar, where a ship's wheel hangs on the wall, sipping the sunny Hawaii to Martinique -- a drink where passion fruit meets full-bodied rhum agricole rum -- I'm ready to forget that whole "month with r" rule and return to the summer that just passed.
-- Fritz Hahn (Oct. 6, 2011)