Like Mama Used to Make – Hank’s Pasta Bar

A nice little neighborhood Italian spot, Hank’s Pasta bar offers some solid cocktails and friendly service.

Ambiance: ***1/12

Decor: ***1/2

Service: ****

Cocktails: ***1/2

Overall Rating: 3.75

As a frequent stroller of Old Town, it was with a guilty conscious that I entered Hank’s Pasta Bar. The carb-heavy cousin to Hank’s seafood empire, the Pasta Bar has been flinging noodles since February in the increasingly hot Northern Old Town area. But where was I? Lured by the bright lights of DC, I’ve been shirking my duties as the Old Town-cocktail advocate – for shame. Determined to right the wrong, I entered Hank’s and found its interior simple and easy on the eyes, borrowing a bit from your trusty neighborhood Italian restaurant, a little Southern charm in the form of a spacious lounge, and a dash of streamlined modern restaurant design.

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I’ve done the cocktail tour at Hank’s Oyster Bar in DC and was impressed with the creativity of their drink list, including one that included cheerios. Yeah, for real. The Pasta Bar’s cocktails are more sedate, oriented towards the dinner crowd. The 7-drink registry includes some solid entries including two standouts, as well as one or two that missed the mark. My favorite cocktail of the evening was the “Riomaggiore” with pisco, coconut, grapefruit, and lime. Stunningly even, the pisco flows smoothly with a dulled grapefruit bite – two dangerous flavors perfectly paired here. Then the lime and coconut come in and make for an interesting, semi-nutty, semi-citrus cap, cool all the way through. Excellent.

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I’m nothing if not methodical, so I started at the top with the “Everything You See I Owe to Spaghetti” with vodka, pear, lemon, and basil. This was just fine, easy, heavy fruit and lemon kick and the basil adds a nice cut at the end. Straightforward and pleasant, nice for the summer. Then the “Summer of Ceres” with rye, sweet corn syrup, smoked paprika and red bell peppers. Woo wee, hot stuff. Ok so this drink had a lot of potential – the rye and corn were a distinct and unique flavor, but then I got to the paprika salt, which just overpowers everything else. As a salt fan, even I had a hard time stomaching this one, so I’d recommend being a bit more judicious on the application. Hard to judge the final product with that dominant, off-taste.

Then the “Giardino” with rum, green chartreuse, lemon, and burnet leaves. Very much enjoyed the chartreuse here, with the rum (I could have swore I actually got gin, though, so not sure I had the true Giardino) it has a clean, punchy grass and spirit taste and a relaxing lemon back end. Moving on to the “Say ‘Kumquat Cardamom’ Five Times Fast” with brandy, kumquat, cardamom, and lemon. This will make you pucker but in a good way – ultra-sweet up front, you temporarily lose your bearings in the sugary brandy and the granules on the rim, but the rest of the cocktail evens out as the cardamom and kumquat take over, for a sedate, savory, and somewhat boring finish. OK drink, although my favorite kumquat cocktail will always be the Twisted Horn’s “Kumquat Says What.”

Then the surprising standout, the “Siamo Alla Fruta” with tequila, nectarine, ginger, and lemon. I say surprising because I’m not a fan of nectarine, but this one broke the mold. A very unique and bracing taste, that triad of ginger, tequila, and nectarine hit so hard up front, while the lemon comes in on the back for a stringent and….pleasant ending. These ingredients weren’t a natural favorite of mine, but I found the combined sensations so interesting, I’d really recommend it. The finale was the “Carino Rosa” with bubbles, plum, thyme, and lemon. This was average, but I thought the bubbles (which I’m guessing was prosecco) and the plum were so dominant that you don’t pick up on any of the other flavors. Which isn’t necessarily bad; after all, who can complain  about a fruity and poppy cocktail on a hot summer day? So long Hank’s, ’til next time.

 

 

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