Must Haves: Red Hook Lobster Pound's Lobster Rolls (but you knew that already)

IMG_0981 Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Last year, I sat down and put together a list of favorite dishes for this Must Haves series.

There was the burger, the pork sandwich and the french fries covered in gravy. There was also a lobster roll. It's served at a great little restaurant in Dupont. Having grown up in Florida, I wasn't exposed to this New England staple until I moved to the area, so the one in Dupont was my first. I've had others since, but this one remained the favorite.

And then a new lobster roll rolled into town, literally.

If you know anything about the recent food truck trend, you know about its brightest star: the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck. These guys need more publicity like I need a hole in the head.

The Washington Post, the City Paper and The Washingtonian have all praised the four-wheeled seafood shack. So why am I focusing on it? I'm late to the game and the big boys have already filled you in on how wonderful the food is, in particular the $15 lobster roll.

The thing is, they're right. In fact, they might not be stressing the point enough: for $15, you can buy the best damn four bite sandwich in Washington, D.C. (unless lobster's not your thing, in which case they're selling fondue in Penn Quarter).

Every time I order one of Red Hook's lobster rolls, I'm disappointed in how small they are. We're talking about a $15 sandwich that's served on a hotdog bun that's probably not six inches long. But man, do they stuff that tiny bun. Try as I might (and I try), I can't wrap my mouth around the lobster roll. There's just too much lobster meat. It's a buttery cornucopia of lobster plenty. 

The rolls come in two styles: Maine and Connecticut. The lobster meat in the Maine-style roll is lightly dressed with mayo, celery and seasoning (I guess Maine invented mayonnaise). The Connecticut is nothing more than lobster and warm butter in a bun.

Both versions are outstanding, but the Connecticut is absolutely amazing. It's just you, butter and a pile of sweet lobster meat (which is how I'd like to be buried one day). Quite simply, it's the very embodiment of the lobster roll. It makes the long lines worth it and the price perfectly acceptable.

It is the best lobster roll in D.C.

IMG_0971 Now, there is one other reason I wanted to feature Red Hook Lobster Pound's lobster rolls. I have a feeling this food truck thing might be more fleeting than the great cupcake craze of 2010. I hope I'm wrong. I do. But I like sitting down when I eat and maybe having an adult beverage. And when you're eating off a food truck, those options aren't available.

Besides, D.C. can be a fickle town and once the novelty of the trucks wears off, I'm afraid their legions of supporters will head back to traditional sit-down restaurants and turn their attention to the next big thing (I hear it's pie).

If that happens, it'll be a shame. Good food is good food, regardless of whether you buy it in a restaurant or from a food truck. And when it comes to lobster rolls, the best you can buy may be rolling through a neighborhood near you.

Basket for stir frying? Nope, but a handy pan for grilling oysters and such

DSCN4884Because I'm into cooking and grilling, I get get a lot of gadgets as gifts. I've received digital thermometer grilling forks, a garlic press shaped like a parrot, cutlery sets, a couple juicers (maybe I'm vitamin deficient), etc.

This past Christmas, my brother and his family added to my collection by giving me a grilling basket ostensibly so I can "stir fry" on the grill. As much as I appreciate the gift, and I do, there's no way I'm going to stir fry in that thing.

The fact is, I can't. It's not built for it. Stir frying involves high heat and sauces, and should only be done in a wok. It's actually a rather nuanced form of cooking. The perforated grilling basket can't hold liquid and won't conduct heat as evenly as a wok. It's simply the wrong tool for the job. (That said, I have stuck a wok on the side burner of my gas grill to do a little stir frying. That works pretty well, especially if you have an electric stove in your house. The side burner can get the wok much hotter and the inevitable smoke that comes from stir frying drifts away in the breeze, rather than choking your kitchen.)

But as a tool to cook small and delicate items on the grill, the basket is an excellent tool. Ever since I watched Tony Bourdain visit a restaurant in Spain that uses wire basket pans to cook over hot coals, I've been thinking about applying this technique to my grilling. The grilling basket is a good start.

Admittedly, I got lucky with this gift. So much of the grilling accoutrement out there ranges between useless and complete crap. Top of the pile is the grilling fork. No tool is as ubiquitous or as useless as the grilling fork. If you're thinking about buying one, don't. If you own one, get rid of it, or find another use for it (I use mine to pierce potatoes). There's not a single vegetable or piece of meat that needs to be speared. And yet, everyone wants to stab their damn steak. Stop it. Piercing meat will do nothing more than drain it of its juice (read: flavor). Other useless items include fish-shaped grilling baskets, special basting brushes (cheap pastry brushes often work better), beer-can chicken stands (beer cans work fine), fish turners (use a spatula), and obscene hot dog stands.

As I mentioned in a post a while back, the one tool everyone needs for the grill is a good pair of tongs. Beyond that, a spatula, grill brush (for cleaning), grill cover, skewers and a thermometer are very handy, but you can live without them, depending on what you like to cook.

DSCN4912 You can also live without the stir fry basket, but at least it can be reimagined. The first thing that came to mind was oysters. Unless you cook them in the shell, which I've done, you can't cook oysters on the grill (the little buggers slip right through the grates). But with the basket, I can quickly grill the oysters directly over the heat, imparting a delicate smokey flavor to the bivalves.

The basket will also be useful for grilling certain cuts of delicate fish. Typically, I lay down a perforated sheet of oiled aluminum foil to make sure the filet doesn't stick to the grate or break up and fall though the slender bars. The grill basket can serve as a pan that would allow the fish to grill, while maintaining its structure.

As for vegetables, the basket will grill whole cherry and other small tomatoes quite nicely. In fact, any small piece of fruit of vegetable that you don't want to or can't skewer (pearl onions?) is ideal for the basket.

So as it turns out, the basket was a great gift with a number of uses. It's just that the one use it will never have is stir frying.

DSCN4949 To demonstrate the usefulness of the basket, I made a grilled oyster and tomato salad with shallots. Because I'm grilling oysters, the natural beer to pair with the dish is a stout. And in this case, the king of stouts: Guinness. I love craft beer and generally have nothing but bad things to say about the macro brewers, but Guinness stout is the stout by which all other stouts are (and should be) measured. Yes, it's owned by one of the largest beverage companies in the world (Diageo), but the folks back at the Guinness brewery make a phenomenal beer. The craft brewing community has produced a lot of interesting stout variations (imperial, chicory, chocolate, oatmeal, milk, and even oyster), but when it comes to a straight forward traditional stout, there is none better than Guinness.

And when you're pairing a beer with as delicate an ingredient as oysters, that's what you want. The other stout flavors, and the richness of imperial stouts, would overwhelm the flavor of the grilled oysters and salad. Besides, oysters and stout is one of the oldest food and beer pairings. There's a reason for that: it's good. The creamy, dry, faintly sour flavors of a Guinness stout are a wonderful counter to the sweet, briny (and when grilled), faintly smokey flavors of grilled oysters. It's a match made in Irish heaven.

DSCN4925 Grilled oyster and tomato salad
(makes two servings)

1/2 pint of fresh oysters
2 shallots
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of arugula
1 ounce of fresh lime juice (about a half of a lime)
3 tbs. creole or stone ground mustard
1.5 tbs. of honey
1 tbs. of red wine or cider vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

DSCN4902Wash and dry the arugula and tomatoes. Trim off the end of the arugula stems (unless it has already been done) and peel the skin off the shallots. In a bowl, coat the shallots and tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together the mustard, honey and vinegar. Taste and adjust as necessary.

For this recipe, you're going to cook directly over the heat. So once the grill is ready, place the basket on the grates over the burners, or coals, and put the shallots in. Grill the shallots for 10 minutes, turning occasionally, then add the tomatoes. Grill for another five minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to burst. Remove from the basket, roughly chop the shallots and set aside.

Take the container of oysters out of the refrigerator and drain off the liquor. Rise the oysters gently, shake dry and place in a bowl. Coat the oysters with olive oil, half the lime juice and a small pinch of salt and pepper.

DSCN4935 Pour the oysters into the basket and stand there. The oysters cook very fast, so this is no time to grab another beer. Close the lid and allow the oysters to cook for about a minute. Open the grill and start turning the oysters. You're looking for them to develop a little color, but not to firm up too much. Close the lid and cook for another minute or so. When the edges of the oysters begin to turn a golden brown start pulling them out of the basket.

To make the salad, add a tablespoon or so of the dressing to the bottom of a bowl. Toss in a handful of arugula and half the tomatoes, shallots and oysters. Add another handful of arugula and the rest of the ingredients. Using your hands, gently mix the ingredients together. Once everything is coated to your liking, plate the salad and enjoy. 

Hook Restaurant

You might have read my initial review of Hook back in July when the restaurant first opened. If you did, and listened to my advice and gave it a try, then you' understand why I say that it's quickly becoming my favorite seafood restaurant in DC. Just about every time I've been to Hook, the menu is a little different, which means you can come back time and time again and never get bored. One of the reasons for this is that they maintain a menu of sustainable fish and seasonal, locally-produced ingredients, which at other restaurants can translate to inconsistent dining experiences, but at Hook, it's just the opposite. Hook is very consistent.

I've been to Hook a couple times in the last month, and both times, my meals were very impressive. The fish always comes out out perfectly cooked. The server doesn't ask how you want the fish cooked, it just comes out the way it should be cooked depending on the cut of meat. A sablefish (or black cod) is left a little rare so to not cook away all the oil in the fish that gives it its aroma and flavor, yet it's not served with a typical Asian inspired soy marinade. Instead, the fish is served with a cranberry-red wine sauce, braised chanterelle mushrooms, and smoked lentils, a nice combination of flavors that I would never dream of.

Any wood-grilled fish is worth ordering. Last time, I had the mahi mahi, and the time before that, the wahoo. Both came with ingredients that complimented the flavors of the fish, but don't hide the flavor of the fish. In the case of the mahi mahi, it came with a delicate squash risotto and with the wahoo came a salty squash and shell bean ragout.

But I jumped to the entrees too quickly and failed to mention the appetizers. The first section on the menu is called "Crudo". Each crudo comes with three slices of a certain king of raw fish, each slice is topped with a different light topping, and cost about $8 or $9. Some have criticized the size of these starters calling them little postage stamps of fish, and I've had similar criticisms, but on my last visit, they had an oyster crudo. I thought the oyster crudo was a pretty good value considering they were Stellar Bay oysters.

There's usually at least one soup menu and I've ordered it every time because they've just sounded so damn good. Recently, I had both chestnut soup with raw oyster and apple and roasted beet soup with yogurt. Both soups weren't overly creamy, but had just the right silky thickness in the broth and the flavors were subtle. Other than soups on a recent trip, I also had a delicious steel head trout tartar with just the right amount of mayo mixed with blood orange, red onion, and macadamia nuts. But, the reality is that there are so many dishes that sound amazing on the menu, that it's extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to a single appetizer and entree.

For desserts, you really can't go wrong. Heather Chittum is easily the best dessert chef in DC in my opinion. I was first introduced to her creations 4 years ago at Circle Bistro. Her heavenly Madelines with lavender honey were love at first bite. Now at Hook, she's coming up with her own version of moon pies and gingerbread which require no elaborate description except to say that either of these desserts are a perfect way to end a meal.

3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

See web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: There is no valet parking. I repeat, there is no valet parking despite what you may read elsewhere. Parking is not simple in Georgetown. If you can't find a spot on the street, just park in the Georgetown Mall lot across the street.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very clean and kept up well. Of course the restaurant is still pretty new that that's expected.

Hook Restaurant

Ever since I found out that Barton Seaver was leaving Cafe Saint Ex to go to Hook in late February, I've been anxiously awaiting the restaurant's opening. One of the things I liked the most about Cafe Saint Ex were the seafood dishes, and the idea that Hook would be primarily a seafood restaurant was exciting.

There's obviously been a lot of buzz around the opening of Hook, because calling same day to get a reservation and Thursday was challenging. As usual my lack of planning ahead meant I couldn't to drop by Hook until the following Saturday after it opened. The place was bustling with people.

The space, previously occupied by Cilantro, has been completely remodeled to give it a sleek, modern look. The bar at Hook takes up almost half of the restaurant, which will make it a popular happy hour spot for the Georgetown crowd. Even though space is limited, the owners haven't spaced the tables too closely together, so you have a good amount of privacy when eating. Despite the modern look, the atmosphere is pretty casual at Hook, but people still seem to dress up a little (Dress is dress casual to business casual.) Amy noticed that high heeled stilettos were a common sight.

The wines selection seems well thought out and the prices will suit anyones budget ($26 to $140 a bottle). Most interesting is that the wines are sorted by how strong and complex the flavor is which makes it easy to pick out a wine. Of course, when you're dealing with seafood, it can't hurt to pick out a Muscadet (I had a nice Muscadet from Loire, France and loved it. It's a very good choice at $28 a bottle.)

You should start you meal at Hook with a crudo sampler (or two). Crudo are slices of raw fish (basically sushi Sashimi) that come served with some condiments like a grapefruit slice, ginger, an oil, or something similar. For the more adventurous fish eater, skip the oyster, tuna, and salmon, and go for the wahoo, weakfish, or mackerel which have more interesting preparation. If you're there with a companion, the sampler comes with three that can each be shared between two, so don't feel like you need to order a set for each person.

For appetizers, the grilled shrimp are a hit and give any grilled shrimp in the area a run for their money (yes, even Ray's). They come on top of salty stewed beans that taste like they have a ton of pork fat in them. We also had the "country ham tasting" which is a Virginia version of a Charcuterie plate, but in the stead of prosciutto and french bread, you get Virginia ham and biscuits. I really think this would be perfect if it came with some sausage gravy on the side instead of mustard.

Fish dominate the entrees at Hook like the rest of the menu, except for the mushroom risotto and pork belly dishes. I really enjoyed the bluefish which is one of your more dense, oily fishes, but is complemented nicely with a basil pesto. Serving sizes aren't huge, which can be one of the drawbacks depending on how you look at it. Personally, I was pretty full at the end of the night and you know how big of an appetite I have.

Desserts are done by Heather Chittum, formerly of Circle Bistro, Dish, Notti Bianche, and...oh right, Citronelle. My favorite dessert ever from Circle Bistro has returned on the menu at Hook which are the Madeleines. They're soft and lemony and a light way to finish off the meal.

Oh, and I happened to bump into Sebastian Zutant at the bar, former sommelier of Komi, Rasika and the future sommelier of Proof. When I asked about the status of Proof, he said that it wont be open until very late May. He seemed to be having a good time like Amy and I, although it could have been the wine.

Hook Restaurant
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Black's Bar and Kitchen

I wish I could pay the oyster shuckers at Black's Bar and Kitchen to be my own personal oyster shuckers. They have this way of shucking the oyster perfectly every time. I've had three dozen oysters there, and so far, not a single one has done anything but slide off the shell into my mouth without the least bit of prying.

The oysters at Black's Bar and Kitchen are definitely the way to go, especially the kusshis, which have become my favorite oysters since trying them at Black's for the first time. They're thick and meaty, but amazingly tender and go down easy because they're small. My favorite wine to drink with them is the Muscadet which conveniently is the cheapest wine by the glass, but complements the salty flavor of the oysters well because it's not too sweet and citrusy. Sometimes, I wish I'd just ordered three or four dozen of them and called it a night.

I've only ever sat at the spacious bar at Black's Bar and Kitchen where the atmosphere is fun and the bartenders quick to keep your glass full. Why would you sit anywhere else than the bar at a place like Black's? They have two bartenders at the bar, so the service is very quick. I was lucky to be served by Mike each time I was there (I hope he won't mind me mentioning him here, but I always feel compelled to talk about someone specific when I receive exceptional service from them.) You'll recognize him because he's the big jovial guy on the left side that treats everyone like his best buddy.

Black's Bar and Kitchen is the sister restaurant to Blacksalt, which has always been one of my favorite seafood places. Where Blacksalt has a tendency to pair their seafood with a heavily flavored sauce, Black's Bar and Kitchen takes a subtler approach to their dishes, leaving the quality of the ingredients to speak for themselves, but unfortunately, that's not always enough.

The seafood dishes that I've tried came off a little bland although, for those that like a good, honest seared tuna, Black's is a good choice. When you get past the slightly bitter flavor of the cocoa and black pepper crusting, the cut of tuna is superb and perfectly cooked -- almost cool in the middle and just the way it should be. The crispy whole fish, on the other hand, left me disappointed. There wasn't much meat on the bones of the fish and the citrus flavored sauce it was served with didn't do the trick for me. I think when I return, I'll just order the a la carte seafood like the organic salmon with a simple lemon herb sauce.

Once the aphrodisiac from the oysters wears off, you might want to refill with either the mint julep or chocolate trio, both of which have a month's worth of chocolate servings. The first is a warm, oozy chocolate lava cake with refreshing homemade mint ice cream that I liked very much. The latter, a combination of three rich chocolate desserts: two small chocolate ice cream sandwiches, a thin fallen chocolate souffle, and chocolate panna cotta. All three are very rich, but the chocolate ice cream sandwiches are the best, especially when eaten with the sparkling red dessert wine (the exact name escapes me) that's available on the menu by the glass and just happened to be on the house that night because "we looked like we were having a good time". Thank you Mike!

As I mentioned before, the Muscadet is probably the best deal for wines on the menu, but other than that, the wines on the menu are generally pretty expensive. Black's offers a good deal of wines by the glass and two different options for pours -- a 3 oz. or 6.5 oz pour. the 6.5 oz pours which is basically a normal glass that you can get anywhere else can go up to $15. I'd avoid glasses and just order a bottle.  I'll spare you the rant about the Montgomery County liquor board and just say in Black's defense that it's a lot easier for a restaurant in DC or Virginia to have a quality, low-priced wine list.

Black's Bar and Kitchen
7750 Woodmont Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 652-5525

Hours: See web site
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Reservations: Taken and recommended. Bar and cafe are first come first serve
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 diapers. There are actually a good deal of families that go to Black's and I've even seen people with their children in the cafe/bar, which is non-smoking.

Cafe Saint-Ex

You don't usually expect to find good food at a bar. A bar is where you typically find great munchies like nachos, cheese sticks, mini-burgers, and maybe...maybe if you're lucky, you'll find some Asian-inspired potstickers.

Café Saint-Ex isn't your typical bar though. 

The first time I went to Café Saint-Ex, I mistook it for your everyday bar. It was when I first moved to DC, long before I started this site, and I think at the time I was looking for a place "to party", or something like that. I believe it was after a 9:30 Club show. My friends and I waited at the bar nursing some beers while we waited to get in downstairs, but ended up leaving when that took too long.

Little did I know, five years later, I'd be returning for a completely different reason. This time, it was before a 9:30 Club show (Carbon Leaf to be exact), and we were there for dinner...instead of a party. Amy and I were having a night out on the town without Noah, our first in about three weeks! We were looking forward to a relaxing, casual dinner and that's exactly what we got.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we returned two nights later for dinner, but this time we took Noah with us. When we were there the first time  we noticed that there were some other people there with children, so we wouldn't feel out of place with him. Also, the louder atmosphere made it ideal if he decided to throw a tantrum or scream out loud, which only happens occasionally, but you never know when that shortened afternoon nap will catch up with him.

As far as food is concerned, Café Saint-Ex is definitely doing things right, and after reading Chef Barton Seaver's Bio on the Café-Saint-Ex web site, it's not surprising. You can get an extremely good meal there for a very reasonable price. For appetizers, the wood-grilled calamari (or actually anything wood-grilled) is tender and makes you wish everyone was making calamari like that. If you're expecting those typical rubbery rings of calamari that you get everywhere else, however, you'll be sorely disappointed. This calamari is served whole. The beet salad rivals that of any that I've had at other restaurants, with a goat cheese that doesn't overwhelm the beets, but also isn't so bland that you can barely taste it. And a horseradish vinagrette punches up the entire dish.

As I said before, anything wood-grilled or maybe anything that's cooked close in proximity to where the wood-grilling happens is very good. Most of the fish is cooked this way and I'd recommend you try it. I don't think the smoky and spicy flavor will be to everyone's taste, but you've got to try it once to see. So far I've tried the salmon and flounder and both were a big hit with Amy and myself.

For desserts, the smooth and creamy goat cheesecake comes looking like a giant scoop of ice cream on top of a crumbled graham cracker crust. OH MY GOD was it good. This rivaled Ann Amernick's cheesecake I tasted at Palena not long ago. Seriously people, if there is one reason alone to go to Café Saint-Ex, it's this cheesecake. I hope they don't take it off the menu anytime soon.

I should mention that the price fixe option that Café Saint-Ex offers is a very good deal. Before 7, three courses are only $28 per person, and after 7, they are $32. Our bills have consistently been below $100 with a bottle of wine. The wine list at Café Saint-Ex is very European with the occasional appearance of a New Zealand of California wine. Prices for bottles range from $24 to $75 with a majority of them falling in the lower end of that price range.

The host/hostesses are friendly as are the servers, who don't seem to have enough time to be overly congenial, but are quick to help you with the menu and point out the price fixe option to save you some money.

Café Saint-Ex
847 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC  20009
(202) 265-7839
Web Site

Corkage: I didn't check. Call the restaurant to see.
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street:  Street Parking. I found it pretty easy to find a parking spot on the streets in the area.
Closest Metro: U Street.
Reservations: Not Taken. First come, first serve. Dinner rush starts at about 7. If you get there before that, you probably wont have to wait long.
Baby friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The atmosphere is loud, which makes it great for children, and the waitstaff and hosts seem to really love babies.

Hank's Oyster Bar

It's a Wednesday night and I'm sitting at the bar at Hank's Oyster Bar listening to The Dire Straits' Walk of Life. With my right hand, I'm feeding Noah his bottle and with my left, I'm eating fresh Kumamoto oysters. Life doesn't get much better than this.

We'd yet to be seated at our table, and I couldn't help but notice that the table behind me was having some problems with something cold that'd been delivered to their table. The only reason I noticed though, was because the floor manager, who'd treated us very nicely when we first came in the door, was apologizing for the mishap and was bringing over some complimentary appetizers to make up for the problems. Service isn't sacrificed at Hank's.

Hank's Oyster Bar gets very crowded. If you come after 7 on any night of the week, your in for at least a 30 minute wait. But that 30 minute wait can easily turn into 15 minutes or less with Hank's Oyster Bar's  "call ahead" policy. Call before you leave, and the host/hostess will put your name on the list, quickly turning that long wait into only a slight inconvenience.

I wonder how many people actually know about this policy -- I should've probably kept my mouth shut. Oh well...

With the name Hank's Oyster Bar, you'd expect the oysters to be good...and they are! I'd suggest a glass of the Muscadet or Viognier with them (there are many wines that go well with oysters), but the oysters are only one of many treats to get at Hank's. Take for instance, the not-too-heavily-creamy New England clam chowder, which on my first trip contained more potatoes than clams, but on my second trip had an abundance of clams. Or perhaps, you'd prefer the homemade mac and cheesy, which is fresh-baked to order, and don't forget the salty Old Bay seasoned fries.

On top of the regular menu, there are four fish specials available. Both times we went to Hank's, there was a sablefish on the menu, a chili-crusted fish (Rockfish or Mahi Mahi) or a white tuna. Chef Jamie Leeds rotates in specials depending on what fish she can get fresh that week and how well they are selling, but she tries have something new on the specials menu every day.

My first night there, I tried the sablefish which is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, ginger and other seasoning for 24 hours. I thought the marinade gave a good contrasting flavor to the slightly fishy flavor of the sablefish. The second entree I had, which was anything but typical when you think of how fish is usually prepared, was a roasted monkfish with a mild marinara sauce and pancetta. The dense monkfish was lightly breaded, almost like you'd see the chicken in chicken parmesan prepared, but it wasn't dry or rubbery like I've had it elsewhere.

After both wonderful meals at Hank's, I was ready for some dessert, but there's no dessert menu, so I was glad I didn't save room. For those of you with a sweet tooth like me, you'll be happy to know that they bring out a little bit of bittersweet chocolate with your check which hits the spot quite well and is probably better for you than that creme brulee or bread pudding.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if Jamie Leads had a silent deal with Johnny Monis around the corner, because both times I was tempted to stop at Komi on the way home and grab some homemade donuts. Of course, you can always order some more oysters for dessert, which is probably what Jamie Leeds would prefer and I'm almost positive you won't regret.

Hank's Oyster Bar
1624 Q St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 462 HANK (4265)

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday 5:30 - 10:00pm
Wed, Thurs 5:30 - 11:00pm
Fri and Sat 5:30 - 11:00pm
Sat and Sunday Brunch 11:00 am - 3:00pm

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: This restaurant is in Dupont Circle. If you're lucky like I was, you can find someone pulling out the moment you're driving by on the same block as Hank's. If you're unlucky, you find a spot five blocks away.
Not Allowed.
Closest Metro:
Dupont Circle
Not taken, but take advantage of the call ahead policy. 
Baby-Friendly Rating: 2 out of 4 diapers. The restaurant is nice and loud, so if your baby starts crying, no one will hear them. However, if it's crowded, you'll have a long wait and you'll be outside in the cold with your baby because there's not a lot of room to wait inside.


Last Friday, on my way home from work, I stopped at a well-known wine store on MacArthur Ave. to stock up for my usual weekend drinking binge. When I left the store (with three bottles of wine in hand), I looked around Palisades, thinking to myself what a nice little neighborhood it is. As I was looking around, I noticed right there, a mere two stores down from the wine store, was BlackSalt.

Holy shit! I didn't know BlackSalt was that close to me! I did need to find a good seafood restaurant to go to and from what I've heard about BlackSalt, it could be that place.

So guess where I was last weekend...

We decided to go on a Sunday. The only reservation that was available was at 5 PM, which was pretty early, but since we were going to have Noah with us, I figured it was for the best. To be safe, I called ahead to check that it was okay that we brought him with us.

"Hello, we've never been to BlackSalt before. Is it the kind of place that's too nice to bring a baby to?"

The hostess on the other end of the line replied with, "Oh no! People bring babies here all the time. You'll be fine!"

Sounds like my kind of place. If this were true, then I might be going here quite often. There's plenty of parking so no need for a cab, and Noah is welcome so no need for a babysitter. SCORE!

We arrived at BlackSalt about five minutes before 5 PM. The place was pretty empty. I found out that there is a section up front called "the café" that doesn't take reservations and you can just walk in. The problem is, shortly after 5, the people started coming in droves. This place must be everyone's Sunday night habit.

As you'd expect with being the first table, we were seated almost immediately. Our waiter came over and greeted us and explained the menu to us. I was impressed with how many specials BlackSalt had -- two or three options on the specials menu alone for each course. BlackSalt can be the perfect neighborhood restaurant because you can return over and over and the menu would always have plenty of new options.

There is also a wide selection of oysters and mussels which vary in cost, depending by how hard it is for them to get them. We skipped the small plates section of the menu although I really wanted to order the braised baby octopus.

The six Kumamoto oysters we ordered were $2.50 each -- these were for Amy. She's the one who has the real love for oysters although I have to say that these oysters (which were pretty big for the Kumamoto variety) were probably some of the best I've ever tasted - buttery, briny, and tender. What more can you ask for in an oyster?

I also had the special soup, which was a Portuguese (or Manhattan) Clam Chowder, except this was Portuguese Clam Chowder on steroids. The broth was a chunky red sauce with root vegetables, and plenty spicy thanks to the merguez sausage. Then as an added bonus, the chef puts a few fried clams on top.

Our dinner got even better when our entrees came out, although they did take a while to come. Our waiter apologized several times for the wait and offered us more bread (which I have to say is great by the way), but Amy and I didn't mind. Noah was sound asleep and we were having some good conversations over our wine, a very nice Pinot Noir.

I was happy with the artful presentation of the entrees, which I'm not really used to seeing at seafood restaurants. Amy's Maryland rockfish was really incredible; the rockfish was perfectly cooked with a cauliflower puree and brussel sprouts and other wintery vegetables which gave the dish a real down-home feel. My mahi mahi was also cooked perfectly, but I didn't like mine nearly as much as Amy's. The sauce it came with really overpowered the mild flavor of the dish, but I still managed to eat all of it.

Dessert was a complete surprise. We both ordered our own, which I think is still a bad habit from when Amy was pregnant and wouldn't share anything with me. My bread pudding was quite possibly the best bread pudding I've ever had! It was just the way I like it, firm in texture (not mushy like wet bread that's been sitting in a pool of water) and full of cinnamon and caramel flavor. I devoured it, which I was sad to do because it was a work of art. I'd go back for the bread pudding alone.

Amy is a crème brulee fiend. I don't think she can keep herself from ordering it when it's on the menu, and at BlackSalt, she made no exception. Their crème brulee three-ways was very enjoyable for her to eat and came in three different dishes with three different flavors.

Our check was nothing to shrug off. The final bill was over $200 with tip, but I imagine you could get out of there for cheaper than that if you ordered glasses of wine instead of a bottle at $45 and didn't order quite as much food as we did. With entrees in the range of the mid-$20s to the high $30s, appetizers in the range of $10 to $15 and $10 desserts, it'll be hard to get out of Blacksalt without a serious dent in your wallet, but it'll probably be worth it. There's way too much good food on BlackSalt's menu to get out of there for less than $100. But for those of you with kids, you can subtract a cab ride and babysitter fees which can easily add $80 to your night.

Oh, and I think I found my seafood restaurant.

4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW
Washington, DC
(202) 342-9101

Lunch: Tuesday - Sunday 11:30 - 2:00
Dinner: Tuesday - Thursday 5:30 - 9:30, Friday 5:30 - 9:30, Saturday 5:00 - 11:00, Sunday 5:00 - 9:00

Dress Code: Business Casual (I saw people in jeans though)
Parking: Plenty of street parking
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: none
Reservations: Call or use
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers. We weren't the only ones there with a baby. In fact, there were two other families there with newborns.

Jerry's Seafood - Not to be confused with Jerry's Subs

Today for lunch, I went to Jerry's Seafood with a co-worker named Ken and a contractor that was visiting us from India. Ken wanted to treat the contractor to a real local-style meal other than Micky-Ds or Unos (which is about as good as it gets when you work in Largo). So what else was there to try but Maryland crab! I had bever been to Jerry's and had only heard people talk about how incredible the crab cakes were there. The general message from everyone was that Jerry's was a little pricey, but well worth it.

Ken drove, cause I had no freakin clue how to get there. When we arrived, we looked around at the strip mall. We saw a drive-up liquor store, chinese takeout, and...wait for it...wait for it...a Taste Freeze? I didn't think any of them were around anymore. The place looked like a dive. No, wait, I mean a strip club. I litterally expected to start hearing thumping music as we approached. However, when we opened the front door, we saw a large, loud dining room full of people. EVERYONE had a crab cake in front of them.

We actually ended up being seated in the "overflow" room. In order to get there, we had to walk back outside the restaurant and next door. They had obviously just opened this section of the restaurant because you could still smell the fresh paint.

Now when people talk about an expensive lunch I think of around $15. When the waitress brought us the menus, I did a double take. The cheapest crab cake on the menu was $25. Who the hell do these guys think they are? Citronelle? We all pretty much looked at each other at the same time and went, "You OK with this?" We even threw around the idea of getting the contractor to expense it on his account. Eh, that would have been unethical. Anyway, ethics aside, we decided to stay despite the fact that it was the most any of us would ever spend on lunch.

As far as the crab cakes are concerned, there are three kinds available for lunch (I imagine the dinner menu is completely different, and even more expensive) - The Crab Bomb, The Baby Bomb, and the regular crab cake. The Crab Bomb is 10 oz. of lump crab meat mixed with mayo and Old Bay Seasoning. The Baby Bomb is the same, but only 6 oz. The regular crab cake is 4 oz. with a slightly lesser quality crab meat. I guess it is not 100% lump crab meat. You know, they must mix some of the crab guts in or something.  Crab cakes aren't the only thing on the menu. They had some regular fish as well, but we didn't care much about that.

We all ordered the Baby Bomb. About 30 minutes later, our food came out. It seemed like a really long time to wait, but the wait ended up to be worth it. This was by far THE BOMB. I've never had a crab cake as good as the one I had today. They broil the crab cakes there and will fry them on request. The crab was ideal. It was very tender and juicy and there was no sign of shell anywhere in it. I don't know about you, but there is nothing worse than having to pick shell out of your mouth when eating a crab cake. I could go on all night, praising this crab cake, but you all might start to think I've lost my mind a little.

At the end of it all, the bill came to a little over $80 for the three of us. I'm still trying to figure out if it was worth it. However, I'd say that Jerry's Seafood is a "Got To At Least Try It Once" restaurant. Oh, and our contractor friend from India seemed to enjoy himself.

Jerry's Seafood
9364 Lanhan-Severn Rd
Seabrook, MD 20706
(301) 577-0333

Dress Code: Casual
Mon-Fri: 11-2:30
Tue-Thu: 5-8
Fri: 5-9:30
Sat: 11:30-9:30
Sun: 1-5