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Hank's Pasta Bar, Italian from Hank's Oyster Bar on Montgomery Street in Alexandria

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From Italian to Italian...pretty normal progression.  Villa d'Este to Hank's Pasta Bar. (took me a while to remember that Villa d'Este was marginally Italian)

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From French to Italian...pretty normal progression.  Villa d'Este to Hank's Pasta Bar.

I cannot *believe* 15ria wasn't in the Dining Guide (it is now).

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Went last night to catch up with my old high school buddy Satellite Will and celebrate his engagement to a great gal. Nice of him to cross the river for me.

It's right next to TJ Stone's basically, in North Old Town. We got there around 630pm, and it was packed. There were 2 corner seats at the bar. It's a very nice space, they seemed to have gutted the old Italian place that used to be there. It's a really pretty space, there are nice pictures online. For the people that care about that sort of thing, it's loud in here. For those that seem to not like hearing about that, ignore the sentence.

There is a flaw in the design of the bar. At that corner nearest to the entrance, and the next corner deeper into the restaurant, there is a huge column that appears to be there for structural reasons. It's very big, and it blocks you from the bartender, and if you are at that corner on either side of it, you sort of have to pop your head to the side. The whole bar was packed completely, and as a space opened, someone would fill it. There was probably 18 seats or so, and 2 bartenders that were taking drink orders, making drinks for the restaurant, and also taking food orders from the bar patrons. They were really busy, but tried to be attentive. The happy hour specials are very good. Meatballs are $1, I didn't have any because of the veal/beef in it, but looked good. We got chicken liver crostinis (I think $1 or $2!), a wild mushroom crositini ($3), and proscuitto with stone ground mustard and some sort of jam ($3). Chicken liver crostinis were fan-freaking-tastic. Good texture, not as organy as I usually taste. Satellite Will liked the mushroom one even better. Prosciutto was prosciutto, and the amount given for $3 was pretty good. Draft beers are $4, include Victory IPA, a few other American crafts, and 2 Italian beers. $6 for house red. One of the cocktails that is typically $10 was $8 (something about Spaghetti). We went with the Victory beers. Not full pints, I think 10 oz.

Over apps, I found out I'll be going to Hawaii for his wedding, and perhaps Colombia for the bachelor party. Whatever happened to a drunken night of debauchery the night before the wedding, and a fun ceremony in one of the hometowns of the participants? Ah well.. should be fun, anyway. For dinner, we wanted the "For The Love of Pasta" special, which is family style where you pick 3, 4, or 5 pastas, and you get a pre-made antipasto board to start, and it runs $29-35 a person. But, though it doesn't say this on the menu, you need at least 4 people to take advantage of this. In any case, the servings are about 4 oz of pasta per person for that option. So, we got grilled octupus, the lamb ragu papardelle with winter vegetables, and the wild mushroom lasagna. The octopus was perfect, I don't think I've ever had it as good. Firm, but not chewy, just a bit of grill taste on the outside. With a sprinkle of lemon, it was delish. For $13, it was a small to medium sized portion. The ragu dish did not have winter vegetables that I could make out (unless they were blended in there into a paste or something), but the braised lamb was so damn tender, and the pasta itself was perfect, just soft enough. The lasagna was in a small circular ramekin sort of thing, and again, the noodles were awesome. The mushroom were tasty, similar to those in the crostini, there was ricotta, and I think topped with mozzarella. Oh, I got a glass of the montepulciano for dinner.

This place's happy hour is going to kill it. Absolutely kill it. It's tasty, fairly priced, and the drinks are solid. I don't think those prices will last. I liked the pastas a lot, too, and there a bunch more I want to try. $84 for the two of us with 3 drinks total, and we left full. Good job Leeds family!!

-S

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Simul:   Thanks.  I enjoy your reviews and liked this one.  Thanks for the links to the pics.  Looks casual and friendly.  There was a seating area with chairs w/out backs.  I assume that is near the bar area.  Otherwise I wouldn't want to dine at that or those tables.

If they aren't on top of this they should read your review of the bar and the column. I recall that address and building.  Its of an age and time when there were a lot of structural columns, so your guess is probably correct.  You'll see these in restaurants/bars.  Generally architects try and design around them, but sometimes overall layout creates something like you just described.  You'll find examples around the area.  But they are a bit unusual.  As operators they have to add a little "note" or a bit of training to the bar staff;   Pay extra attention to the people behind the column.  Those customers tend to get lost.  It can crush 5-(less than)10% of your sales on busy nights if you don't give them the extra attention they need.   The operators should read your note.  Its out of the norm but its not unusual.

I've enjoyed the Oyster bars.  I trust this will operate similarly and be fun and inviting.  The dishes sound excellent.  Thanks for the heads up on portion sizes.  I'll go with a group.

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I preface this review with the note that it is the restaurant's opening week and despite this experience we will be back--probably in a few months after things have had time to settle and the kitchen finds its feet.

Had dinner here tonight.  Went at opening so that we wouldn't have to wait with our 1 year old-- we were not the only ones with the same idea and the restaurant was immediately swamped at opening with lots of families with small kids.  Staff was gracious but ill-prepared for opening rush.  All the tables were open in the back but it took 30 minutes to get people seated.

We wanted to get the three pasta sampler but did not bc it comes with a first course of charcuterie and my wife does not eat meat--no subs available.

We ordered three crostini--mushroom, tomato and liver.  Liver and tomato were good, mushroom was lackluster.  For mains we got polenta for my son, wife got the linguine with clam sauce, and I got the lamb ragu.

--Polenta was great, son loved it.

--The lamb ragu was interesting----not what I expected.  It is a blond( not tomato based) ragu without any assertive flavor--most people who order lamb like the flavor of lamb--this could have been any meat, had no lamb flavor.  The pasta with the lamb ragu was excellent--house made, tender, not too thick--but was let down by the sauce.

--The linguine with clam sauce looked great--but after a few bites I asked my wife how it was and her reply was that the one we make at home was better.  I tasted it and you could taste garlic and olive oil and little else.  It was not well balanced.

The portions are small, so I would definitely recommend ordering apps.

They were still slammed when we left.

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Top 10 NEW restaurants.  Does that make a difference?   ( I haven't eaten there so I can't say)

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I had dinner at the bar on thursday night. The bartenders were very cordial. Several pastas looked inviting and I asked politely if I could do a couple half portions. The bartender graciously informed that this possible. Excellent! I chose the goat cheese and beet plin, and the pappardelle and lamb ragu. Both pastas excellent. The savory goat cheese and sweet beets worked perfectly with the adorable little plin. So delicate. My first bite of the lamb ragu felt a little strong the rosemary, but as I continued, it seemed to work with the thick ribons of pasta.

A great addition to Old Town, and in my opinion one of the better openings thus far this year. Did I mention two half orders of pasta and a glass of wine for $26. What a bargain.

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I ate here at the bar for dinner on Tuesday night before a meeting.  I didn't see any happy hour food specials, but I got a glass of the house red on happy hour for $6.  It was a little bit fruit forward for me, but a pretty good glass for house wine in comparison to what they normally have.  I noticed the bar has a really nice selection of liquors, their gin options alone are pretty diverse, I was very impressed with the bar.  They serve you bread with your meal.  I don't know how to describe it exactly.  It's like a REALLY light spongy focaccia bread.  It's not my favorite bread, I like my bread to have more texture, but the two generous slices held me until my pasta came and then gave me some bread to mop up sauce with.  My husband would probably like the bread, he loves bread that is soft and lacking texture.  I am pretty sure they make it in house, it's very unique and not something you could likely buy par frozen or anything, and would have to be kept very fresh to keep that texture.  It was interesting, and I really love making bread so it gave me pause to think about it in a more in depth way.

I had the paccheri with chicken cacciatore and sausage because that night it was fairly crisp out and eating something hearty felt good.    The pasta was very good, just the right toothsome-ness for me, and the sauce was great a little spicy, but not too spicy, and very hearty with really tender chicken and lots of sausage.  I definitely will go back to try other things on the menu.

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Brunched here, and I found most everything to be mediocre.  I had some italian sausages, grilled with peppers but still fairly dry, and served on a plain bun (no butter, mustard, anything).  The pastas I tasted from other people's plates were fine and very standard.  My son ordered eggs, bacon, and potatoes - it was a huge plate, but a bit sterile.  I felt we were visiting a Bob Evans or other chain-type restaurant, not a local chef-driven spot.  

What's the local wisdom for brunch nowadays?  I am used to many (neighborhood) places still putting out really nice plates for brunch, does the A Team here just work evenings?  I could have gone to Al Volo in Union Market at the same time and paid less for much more depth of flavor.  

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