The only question I have for Jamie Leeds after dining at her new Hank’s Pasta Bar in Alexandria is this: What took you so long, chef?
From the moment her shout-out to noodles debuted last month, the joint — an extension of Leeds’s three popular Hank’s Oyster Bars in the District and Alexandria — has been teeming with grateful neighbors and at least one food critic eager to steer readers to something fresh in Old Town.
The headliners come in more than a dozen shapes: ravioli enriched with duck; stamp-like plin stuffed with beets and goat cheese; rippled malfalde tossed with fennel sausage and brandy cream sauce. Made fresh each day, and from morning till night, the pastas are cooked long enough to retain a nice bite and not a moment longer. Most are finished with a swab-worthy sauce: a bright arugula pesto for the orecchiette, a peppery butter sauce, buoyed with tarragon, in the case of the see-through plin.
You may have cruised over for the pasta, but there’s plenty more to admire here, starting with lush chicken liver mousse slathered on crostini and running to silken panna cotta for dessert. (The fig tart, in contrast, seems to be sponsored by Domino Sugar.) Based on my tastes of rosemary-scented lamb chops and whole grilled dorade, the restaurant could just as well call itself Hank’s Meat & Fish Bar. Of the sides, potatoes cooked in duck fat with garlic make any meal richer.
Fun touch: While the owner’s seafood bars playfully welcome diners with Goldfish crackers, the pasta bar stays on message with ramekins of oyster crackers seasoned with Italian herbs.
Leeds’s partner in the project, Hank’s veteran Nicolas Flores, knows from Italian, having earlier cooked at Al Tiramisu and the late Al Crostini in Washington. It was at the latter restaurant that he hooked Leeds on linguini with clams, another worthy catch in their new digs (formerly Villa d’Este).
The attention paid to the food extends to the restaurant’s design. The most spirited space is the rear Joy Room, separated from the others by old barn doors and named for a cheery green-and-red sign advertising an Italian soda. What look like rows of Christmas bulbs illuminate the ceiling. A diner would have to work to have a bad time here.
The Hank in question refers to the owner’s late father, a devoted oyster and pasta enthusiast. His photograph graces a table for 10 and faces the kitchen, where his daughter has every right to beam back at him.
600 Montgomery St., Alexandria. 571-312-4117. hankspastabar.com. Entrees, $16 to $32.