Theres an old saying in the seafood restaurant world about the months that are good for oysters. As the folk tale goes, oysters should not be eaten in a month that doesnt end in R due to the warm waters over the summer and shipped without modern refrigeration methods.
Jeff Strine, a manager at recently-opened Hanks Oyster Bar on King Street, responds to this seafaring tale, responding with a smile, and an explanation that keeps Hanks oyster cooler going year round. Its something you grew up with, Strine says of the tale. It was for safety.
The year round oysters are just part of the menu at Hanks that consistently keeps a loyal following coming back since they opened in September. Were trying to create an experience here, Strine said. This experience starts with their dish of Goldfish crackers, a nice touch thats not seldom seen in area restaurants, to their signature appetizer, Fried Ipswich Clams ($18), and ends with chunks of dark chocolate presented with the check at the end of the meal.
In between, theres an extensive wine list with 14 white wines, 10 red wines, two roses and three sparkling wines ($7-10 a glass, $28-$79 a bottle), plus six varieties of bottled beer and four on tap. The oysters and clams are available from the Ice Bar at $3 a pop, and the Seafood Caniche, ($9), also from the Ice Bar, is a blanched seafood plate thats marinated for 24 hours.
The fish selections are in the $19 range and entrees range from $14-$22. Through the month of March, oysters are a buck apiece during happy hour.
The Ipswich Clams are a soft shell clam, lightly fried, named after a town in Massachussetts. A slight dusting of Old Bay flavors the fries, the caesar salad has a hint of ground anchovies and the scallops entre is lightly browned in a light onion puree sprinkled with caviar.
Everything is extremely fresh, says Kate, a member of the weekend wait staff who informs my wife and I that there are no freezers at Hanks. This keeps the delivery trucks in constant rotation, she says.
There are no desserts either, just tasty chocolate chunks served with your dinner bill. However, one can opt for the chocolate martini or other dessert drink delicacies.
Besides the Goldfish crackers and a faux fish etching on the front door, there are scant signs that Hanks is a seafood restaurant. The walls arent adorned with nets, boats or fishing rods; a common clich for seafood restaurant dcor.
Instead, the narrow bistro has seven tables in the front room, with one circular table near the front window looking out on King Street. There is a centrally located ice bar with six bar stools, and a back room with six more tables that is also available for private parties or business lunches.
Although just opened in September, Saturday nights are swarming with seafoodies. Sorry, they dont take reservations. However, diners can call ahead to get an idea of the crowd on a given night.
Hanks was the creation of area restaurateurs Jamie Leeds and Sandy Lewis, who opened the first Hanks in Dupont Circle in 2005. Their first restaurant has become an institution there, earning it nominations for Best New Restaurant in 2006 and Best Neighborhood Restaurant in 2007 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
The Old Town location attempts to build the same neighborhood feel that made the DC location so special, Strine said.
Hank is actually Leeds father who passed on his appetite for fish and oysters to his daughter. Two small photos hang on the wall, of Hank hauling in the big one from the back of a boat in some tropical locale. She got that same love from him, Strine said.