Jamie Cooks
[from June 2005 issue]

Surviving a hailstorm of problems, chef Jamie Leeds has opened her new Hank's Oyster Bar restaurant in the old Trios Pizza & Subs place just east of the 17th and Q Streets, across from Java House--and Dupont Circle is coming out to celebrate. And why not? Leeds distinguished herself at the Washington Terrace Hotel’s 15 ria with numerous outstanding dishes, and particularly with a memorable braised short ribs that I still think about. Also, she made some killer desserts, one of which was, as I recall, a chocolate concoction that bore more calories than I could care to count. But life changes, and for a while, Leeds wasn't cooking for the public, much to our collective chagrin. All that has changed with the very recent opening of this primarily seafood restaurant. And the good news is this: On Thursday nights (at least, until the menu changes), Leeds has had the foresight to offer a version of her short ribs, with two sides, as an evening special. Cheers to that! That's on Leeds' mind these days? As the menu suggests, the kitchen--a very busy place, I can confirm, since I sat right next to it--turns out a limited yet varied selection of seafood dishes, keeping fresh oysters front and center, and following on with shrimp, lobster, squid and crab in various guises. Daily fish specials run to grilled, seared, or pan-roasted or shellfish such as soft shell crabs, though the night I aet there one of the specials was a bouillabaisse. If the waiter had told me that, I would have forsaken my beloved short ribs for Leeds' version of this Mediterranean specialty.

Despite my ribs' fantasy, I did find time and room for the popcorn shrimp and calamari appetizer, a devilishly good version of an old-time fried seafood platter, only everything was tender but with a crusty exterior, served in a small paper cone, and accompanied by a chipotle remoulade, one of the best dunking dips in town. Of course, the ultra-fresh wedges of sourdough bread profit from a pass through the dip as well, adding calories to calories. Eyeing others choices, it looked as if the fresh oysters and seafood dishes made a big hit. Judging from my neighbors--tables are squeezed together, so you are apt to overhear all sorts of conversations--the right idea is to order seafood from the ice bar or the small plates sections of the menu and treat the meal like a tapas spread. That's the obvious decision with a large group, but then you are left wondering about the large plates and the nightly specials. Actually, Leeds offers only five large plates, one of which is a vegetable plate that will certainly be about more than just steamed greens. You can bet she has dressed it up to appeal to just about everyone beyond the vegetarian crowd. Among these plates, she piques our appetites with a seafood spaghetti topped with salad, a lobster roll with French fries, fish and chips, and something called Hank's burger, but whether this comes solo or with cheese, bacon, trimmings or whatever else is not explained. Then there are the "Meat & Two," the very special specials offered only one night a week, and starting with spaghetti and meatballs, and then on to a smothered pork chop; the divine molasses-braised short ribs, which are so slow-cooked that the meat actually drips off the bone--hence, these are boneless short ribs; then a grilled flat-iron steak; a sirloin crusted with blue cheese; and finally, a citrus-roasted chicken. All this, and oysters, too. Although she had not yet inaugurated her dessert menu when I ate there--a restaurant still in its very early days, knowing her skills, Jamie Leeds will come up with a few whoppers, and call it a day.

A word of warning to the uninitiated: Don't think about making reservations a few days or even a few hours ahead. The best you can hope for is to call half an hour before you plan to arrive, and ask to be put on the list. With any luck, your wait won't be excessive. But it also didn't seem that there was a high rate of turnover; people like to linger over coffee, even without dessert.

Welcome back, Jamie Leeds. May you always serve your short ribs.

Hank's Oyster Bar, 1624 Q St., NW; tel.,462-4265. Hours: Dinner, Wed.-Mon., 5:30-11pm; Brunch, Sat. & Sun, closed on Tue. Entrée prices: $12-$19. target=_top>http://www.hanksdc.com.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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