Hanks Oyster Bar

Oct 16, 2007

The title for “Best Oyster Fun in DC” goes to Hank’s Oyster Bar, which opened in 2005 in DC and became a huge hit. A second, more casual branch opened in Oldtown Alexandria last month, for lunch as well as dinner. Partners Sandy Lewis and Jamie Leeds have created a warm and intimate setting, and there I had an extraordinary assortment of oysters on October 4. The ten:

 

Dragon Creeks (Nomini Creek, Maryland)

Olde Salts (Chincoteague, Virginia)

Island Creeks (Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts)

Totten Virginicas (Totten Inlet, Washington)

Kumamotos (Humboldt Bay, California)

Eld Inlets (Eld Inlet, Washington)

Penn Cove Selects (Penn Cove, Washington)

Olympias (Puget Sound, Washington)

European Flats (Samish Bay, Washington)

Moonstone Belons (Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island)

 

Admittedly, this was for a special occasion, but Hank’s reliably has a half-dozen ultra-fresh oysters on hand. Many of the ones I tasted on the 4th had been harvested out of Pacific waters on the 3rd. Since freshness is the single most important quality in an oyster, it’s no surprise that every one of these was excellent.

 

The Dragon Creeks were new to me, mild and creamy. The Olde Salts and Island Creeks had an intense brine and great firmness. The Totten Virginicas were, as always, virtually perfect, combining virginica chewiness with Totten Inlet sweetness. The Kumamotos were also supersweet, and had that distinctive rake pattern on their bottom shells that seems to go with the Humboldt Bay Kumos. Perhaps it has something to do with the longline technique used there. The Penn Coves were smaller than other Penn Coves I’ve sampled, but nicely cucumbery and gorgeous with jewel-like green and blue shell patterns.

 

The Olys took the cake. Though tiny, they are simply the tastiest oyster on the planet. At first they hit you like a Bloody Mary, all tang and celery salt, then the flavor transforms to mushroom—Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, to be exact. Try it, you’ll see. My companion noticed a horseradish note—not the bite of horseradish, but the tangy freshness of it.

 

The European Flats, grown by Taylor Shellfish in Samish Bay, had that amazing crunchiness that Flats tend to have, and the flavor wasn’t overwhelming at all. I highly recommend these, as they would appeal to any oyster connoisseur looking for a full-flavored bivalve. The Moonstone Belons, harvested by Robert “Skid” Rheault from the bottom of his leases in Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island, were simply immense. They looked prehistoric, and must have been hanging out in the mud down there for six years or more. Seriously, they were the size of a softball and had an ancient, coppery patina to their bricklike shells. The flavor was also intensely coppery. Not for the faint of heart, but when you tangle with a Moonstone Belon, you know you’re alive. The oyster is very rare, and not normally sold, but if you order regular Moonstones, you might be able to beg a few Belons as well. If you do, eat them asap, because they don’t last long out of the drink.

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