From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com
When it gets as hot as it’s been this summer, there aren’t many things as satisfying to consume than freshly shucked oysters paired with an ice-cold Martini. I recently headed to Hank’s Oyster Bar, a Q Street mainstay since 2005, to explore how well these Mad Men-era favorites go together in the 90-degree heat.
Vodka or Gin?
The first order of business is to choose a Martini: vodka or gin, flavored or unflavored. If you want to let the delicate flavor of the oysters shine, it is best to go with a strong and clean classic, so choose gin or vodka “up very cold and very dry” as my Dad used to say.
I prefer the blank canvas of a smooth vodka, but the herbal floral notes of gin often draw out and highlight the unique flavors of certain types of oysters. You cannot go wrong pairing briny with briny; a dirty Martini will always partner well with the lovely saltiness of an oyster.
Just about any Martini offered at Hank’s will pair well with an oyster (not surprising that their mixologists know their customer base). Two choices that will not fail to complement any oyster: The Vesper, consisting of two parts Plymouth Gin, one part Grey Goose Vodka, and a splash of Lillet with a lemon twist; and the Dry and Dirty: Cold River potato vodka with a splash of olive juice.
I decide to go off the path just a bit and choose one of their original Martinis, the “Cold Smoke,” which includes Ketel One vodka, a “float” of ice-cold Ardbeg scotch (a peaty Islay scotch I adore) with a flamed lemon rind.
Sample All the Oysters
The combination proves to be a perfect complement to the half-dozen oysters I order from Hank’s blackboard menu, which changes daily. The light touch of the smokiness from the scotch warms up the cold, strong vodka, but does not overwhelm or compete with the flavors of the oysters.
My recommendation is to sample at least one of every oyster available. The oysters will come out on a tray, along with a card listing their names. As you work your way around the tray, start with a sip of the Martini, then dislodge the oyster with your fork, pick up the shell and slurp down the oyster from the wide end to suck in the juices. Follow with another sip of the Martini, and wait for the flavors to mingle in your mouth. The Martini will add a wonderful zesty charge to the taste of the oysters, almost like an additional dipping sauce.
As you sample the oysters, you may want to consult your smartphone for some additional information on where the oysters come from and their flavor profiles. The Dragon Creek oysters on my plate turned out to have an interesting story: produced at Nomini Creek on the Eastern Shore, these oysters are hand-delivered to restaurants by the grower, Bruce Wood, who also recovers used shells and returns them to his waters, where new oyster reefs can begin to replace those that were over-harvested centuries ago. Check out the Oyster Finder for a handy guide.
Incidentally, my favorite oyster on this particular night was the Malpeques from Prince Edward Island — sweet and briny, almost like an ocean pickle.
While the weather is perfect for oysters and Martinis right now, don’t forget that oysters are best eaten in months that end with an “R” due to their spawning cycles in warmer months… and fall is just around the corner. Enjoy.
- Where Am I Going: Hanks Oyster Bar, 1624 Q Street NW
- When Am I Going: Weekday happy hour specials from 5 to 7 pm. Dinner service begins at 5:30 pm.
- Paycheck Pain: Oysters on the half shell $2/each; Martinis priced at $11. Half-price oysters every night from 11 pm to midnight.
- Say What? A lively atmosphere, but it’s not too loud for a conversation.
- What am I eating and drinking: Oysters and Martinis! But Hank’s offers a variety of seafood and meat dishes for those who want a broader selection.