Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Old Town Alexandria is a popular tourist destination. There are peak times – summer and the holidays. But since the Civil War drama Mercy Street has been playing on PBS, the crowds seem even bigger. Residents are often stopped and asked for restaurant recommendations. And while we have many we enjoy, lately we find ourselves telling visitors about Hank’s Pasta Bar.
Old Town already boasts Hank’s Oyster Bar on King Street, as well as three other restaurants in D.C. – Hank’s Dupont, Hank’s on the Hill, and The Twisted Horn. We are longtime fans of Hank’s Oyster Bar which serves some of the best seafood in the area. And now an Italian restaurant with the unlikely name of “Hank’s” has become our go-to place on weekends.
New restaurants often enjoy a honeymoon period after opening, with the crowds either increasing or thinning out soon after. Hank’s Pasta Bar is in the first category. The restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite and is fast becoming a destination. Since neither of Hank’s restaurants in Old Town take reservations, on our first visit we found the wait time would be more than 30 minutes. While there is ample seating in the restaurant, as well as tables in the bar area and the outdoor patio, Hank’s popularity requires some patience from diners. Not wanting to wait, we grabbed a seat at the bar and now we wouldn’t sit anywhere else. The mixologists are expert and efficient, yet always have time to discuss what goes into one of their signature cocktails, recommend an excellent wine, or discuss the menu.
Sitting at the bar invites sharing. For starters, the antipasti boards are a good choice. Hank’s offers a nice variety of cured meats including prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, speck, and capicola. For small plates, we’ve enjoyed the grilled baby octopus, marinated white anchovies, and beet salad with red wine vinaigrette and goat cheese.
Pasta is the big draw and Hank’s prepares these dishes very, very well. In fact, we believe the chef’s linguini with clams to be among the best we’ve had. (And that takes in some very impressive places in New York and Italy.)
Bucatini ala carbonara, a dish that often disappoints, never does at Hank’s. We also enjoyed a special pasta one evening, tubular pasta served with vegetables. The lasagna, served in a ramakin, is stick-to-the ribs rich.
And that brings up a good point about pasta at Hank’s. The portions are very generous and while it’s tempting, and totally understandable, to devour the entire thing in one sitting, a better strategy is to share the pasta with your partner and then share a main course.
While the pastas get main billing, Hank’s main courses are wonderful. Seafood is always fresh and well prepared. No surprise given the link with Hank’s Oyster Bar. Grilled shellfish is often featured as a special and is not to be passed over. One evening the star was grilled prawns. On another occasion, a mixed seafood grill. And there’s always the fresh catch of the day.
Our favorite for meats is the braised veal breast, a dish not often found on menus. Hank’s version is tender and juicy and served with sauteed greens. Side dishes can be enjoyed either with a main course or as an appetizer. Chilled white beans with cheery tomatoes, celery, and shallots are best with some of Hank’s crusty bread.
For dessert, Hank’s key lime pie is a winner. (It’s also served at Hank’s Oyster Bar.) For a chocolate fix, try the chocolate budino, layered with dark chocolate and heavy cream. Rather than sweets, Hank’s also offers a nice selection of cheeses.
If you want to linger, the mixologist will happily run down after dinner drinks, including a limoncello liqueur which can be seen fermenting in bottles on shelves high up on the bar.
Hank’s will take reservations for parties of 6 to 12 people. So gather your friends and plan a visit. You’ll want to return.
A June 1 article in the Boston Globe caught my eye: parents are hiring other people to teach their children how to ride a bike. What was once considered a bonding experience for a parent and a child (think of that scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when the dad played by Dustin Hoffman teaches his son how to ride a two-wheeler), has now been assigned to a “professional.” The story offered reasons why parents are dodging this job: no time, little patience, and the fact that many parents don’t know how to ride a bike themselves.
Biking along the Potomac, with the Washington Monument (left) and the Jefferson Memorial (right) in the distance.
For some reason, the story made me sad, not only because many parents are missing the opportunity to teach their children how to ride a bike, but also that these adults themselves are missing out on such a fun sport. The previous week I had taken advantage of a beautiful sunny day in Alexandria to enjoy a roundtrip 12-mile ride into Washington. The bike path takes riders and runners through Old Town’s waterfront, past the Dangerfield Sailing Club, Reagan National Airport (watching planes land and take off is still a thrill), and alongside the Potomac River where the monuments can be seen across the water. Even in this urban oasis, the wildlife is abundant. Once a bald eagle swooped down in front of me before landing in a tree. I was so excited I nearly toppled off my bike. There have been other “moments.” Riding alongside participants in the Avon Breast Cancer walk, most outfitted in over-the-top pink outfits, I stopped to take a photo and hear their stories. Before Memorial Day, there were many military groups either running or riding bikes. Occasionally, low-flying helicopters serve as notice that security has been ramped up because POTUS is on the move.
I have been riding a bike since, well, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t ride a bike. And yes, my mom and dad got involved in teaching me. I know my first bike was a small one, definitely pink, maybe 16 or 18 inches high. As I became taller, so did my bike. Growing up in the fifties, bikes were our major mode of transportation. We rode them everywhere, often miles and miles from our homes. We rode in the parks, on city streets, even on highways. It was also great exercise, one reason why childhood obesity was never an issue. I had plastic streamers flowing from my handlebars. I also used clothes pins (remember those?) to attach playing cards on the spokes to create that tick-tick-tick sound that made my bike sound like a motorcycle (albeit a very low-powered one). We didn’t wear helmets, a safety precaution that was far in the future. I can’t remember ever sustaining any more than a scraped elbow or knee from a fall. What I do remember is how much fun we had riding our bikes.
Hello summer! Lasker Rink being transformed into a swimming pool.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling The Happiness Project, has said that one key to happiness is to think back to what made us happy when we were ten years-old. So no surprise that I get that happy feeling every time I hop back on a bike. A week after that Boston Globe article appeared, I was in New York, riding the six-mile loop in Central Park. It was a beautiful day and the park was teeming with people and there’s no better way to take in the action than by biking through the park.
Being greeted by the “Cat” atop Central Park’s hill.
On the park’s northern end, I watched parents with strollers walking around the Harlem Meer and saw workers transforming Lasker Rink into a swimming pool. On the park’s west side, I glimpsed tourists and others struggling with oars on the boat pond. On the east side, after agonizing up “Cat Hill,” I was able to see the latest exhibit atop the roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Spying Cornelia Parker’s “Transitional Object” on the Met’s roof.
Unlike the bike path that goes from Alexandria into Washington, Central Park’s roads are jam packed. Along the way it’s necessary to dodge everyone else on the loop – other bike riders, roller-bladers, pedicabs, horse carriages, runners, and walkers. I have seen many accidents and have been grateful that helmets are now a necessary safety element. But despite the risks, I wouldn’t give up my ride.
The Boston Globe article cited a 2015 survey by YouGov which found that only 5 percent of people 55 and older can’t ride a bike, while 13 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds can’t ride. My advice: it’s never to late to learn what truly is an activity you can enjoy all your life. Millennials may want to think about taking some lessons themselves now so they can eventually teach their children to ride. I’m available and my rates are very low.
The traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule`a docked at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria on Sunday, greeted by local hula dancers, traditional musicians, regional indigenous tribesmen, and curious passersby like myself. Erected canopies toppled in the same wind that set the U.S. and Hawaiian flags on the boat to snapping. A tent selling New Zealand-style lunch pies did a brisk trade. Audience members wove through each other, changing vantage points, greeting friends, and murmuring “mahalo” as they ducked past their peers. Hokule`a is on the Malama Honua world tour.
Hokule`a, the boat, is named for Hokule`a, the “Star of Gladness,” known as Arcturus in English astronomy. Hokule`a sailed the main routes of the Polynesian triangle, bounded by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in six major voyages between 1975 and 2000. The crew charted those courses with traditional navigation techniques and the trips inspired increased interest in and dedication to traditional Hawaiian culture. Hokule`a’s current epic journey subtly encourages other indigenous cultures to value their own histories. Before the public welcoming ceremony in Old Town, Hokule`a docked at the tribal lands of local Native Americans, honoring the first peoples of the canoe’s latest port.
Nainoa Thompson is the current chief wayfinder of Hokule`a. Back in 1976, he managed to convince Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia, to teach him traditional Polynesian navigating techniques despite their differing ancestry.
In its most basic translation, Malama Honua means “to care for our Island Earth,” but the deeper meaning encompasses broader notions of sustainable environmental stewardship. These ideas include ways of monitoring all natural resources as if they were truly limited, like they are for one living on an island (or out of a canoe).
I left Sunday’s festivities with a smile, a new appreciation for Hawaiian culture, and a renewed commitment to compost. That last especially seems a reductive interpretation of Malama Honua… but surely, every little bit counts.
Hokule`a is in Washington, D.C. for a week! Head out to the Washington Canoe Club (3700 Water Street, NW, C&O Canal National Historic Park, across the canal from Georgetown University) on May 20th from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., May 21st from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m., or May 23 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for tours of the Hokule`a and conversation with crewmembers.
This Thursday, May 19th, attend the “Navigating by the Stars” lecture at the National Air & Space Museum at 10:30 a.m. Hokule`a navigates the oceans by interpreting the stars and signs from waves, birds, and other elements of nature.
The National Museum of the American Indian is holding events throughout the end of May celebrating Hokule`a and the Malama Honua journey. Check out their calendar here.
Chief navigator Nainoa Thompson is giving a lecture on Monday, May 23rd at 11 a.m. in Bethesda at the National Institutes of Health, hosted by the National Library of Medicine. Members of the public are advised to arrive at 10am to allow for time to get through security. “Thompson will discuss the rich history of deep sea voyaging, exploration, and oceanic wayfinding, the indigenous system of orientation and navigation at sea, and the efforts to use these experiences to revitalize Native Hawaiian culture and health. He will explain the symbiotic relationships between land, sea, sky, and people, and their cultural, ecological, and personal health.”
The next stop is New York City. The official welcoming ceremony is Sunday, June 5th at 9 a.m. at North Cove Marina. Check out the Holuwai website for more information on NYC events.