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Barton Seaver Brings Seafood Sustainability to Georgetown

Eating with a mission has been growing in popularity over the past few years in the Washington area, and chef Barton Seaver’s Georgetown-based Hook, the newest entry in the field, is a welcome addition.

Although surprisingly young, Seaver brings to his first solo venture solid academic training, various local stints, as well as assignments in New York and Chicago. A Washington native, Seaver grew up spending summers on the Chesapeake Bay, where he developed a love of local seafood and an understanding of the importance of preserving both it and the way of life that allows it to be produced sustainably, which is reflected in Hook’s menu.

Simplicity emerges as a theme from the moment you enter the restaurant. Hook’s décor is spare and comfortable with shining light hardwoods, beige and white furniture, and white walls that form a backdrop for a series of rotating color photographs of marine life provided by EarthEcho International.

The menu too is simple. Limited almost exclusively to seafood, it features a fair, though not extensive, number of choices. The menu begins with crudos. As you taste these tiny bites of raw seafood you begin to appreciate Seaver’s creativity. Chopped black bass is marinated lightly with aromatic mint and blackberry, giving it a menthol, almost medicinal edge. Mahi-mahi tartar is prepared with just enough lemon and tiny capers to give a tart bite to this delicate fish. A single oyster on the half shell is bathed in a Muscat gelee.

Working with simple but unique combinations—peach and basil; tomato and pickled jalapeno relish; chocolate-chili oil and lime; cava, brioche and crème fraiche—Seaver plays with the characteristics of the fish and the accents to produce interesting harmonies of taste and texture.

In addition to the crudos, which is served almost as an amuse bouclé, the menu offers a number of hot and cold appetizers. Here Seaver diverges from the all-seafood theme to introduce some excellent dishes incorporating other local ingredients. The menu features grilled nectarines and country ham with marinated green yellow and red tomatoes and toasted bread. Sugars from the nectarine almost caramelize and bring out the latent sweetness in the ham. The cucumber salad done with raspberry, goat cheese and lemon was delicious—a well-balanced combination of sweet, salt and sour. Smoky grilled baby calamari is served up with a basil-walnut pesto and a warm potato salad.

There are plenty of fine restaurants to get excellent fish in Washington, but what sets Hook apart is just what it does with the fish. With the entrees, Seaver works with fish in the same way that many chefs work with meat, never underestimating the versatility of his ingredients. As a result, he has developed some of the most interesting dishes around.

On a recent visit, he created a Southern–inspired corn-crusted black bass served with bacon-braised collards. Perched atop the collards, the perfectly cooked filet was surprisingly not overwhelmed by the greens. The black bass was coated on the skin side only and cooked on a hot stone so that the skin crisped nicely while the rest of the fish stayed moist. Seaver handles the fish itself deftly, using a variety of methods for cooking that preserve the texture, moisture and flavor. Wahoo, a very easy fish to overcook, was grilled medium rare and served over a generous helping of fresh creamed corn accented with smoky potato chips and oven-dried tomatoes.

Hook gives Seaver an opportunity to educate his guests about the importance of environmentally friendly eating. Wait staff offer a lesson in ichthyology as they run down the list of familiar, and less so, species available for the day, while the check comes with a pocket list of ocean-friendly seafood produced by the Blue Ocean Institute. One of the aims of the sustainable fish movement is to re-educate palates to be open to more environmentally friendly types of fish, many of which have not always been considered prime eating varieties, such as barracuda.

Seaver recruited another like-minded chef to handle desserts at Hook. Coming from an impressive series of assignments at Equinox, Dish, Notti Bianchi, Circle Bistro and Citronelle, pastry chef Heather Chittum has developed a dessert menu that echoes the themes of seasonality and sustainability, capitalizing on locally grown ingredients in dishes such as a fresh peach and blackberry crostata.

Under Chittum’s watchful eye, the Hook pastry kitchen turns out alternately elegant and whimsical creations. A rich lingonberry linzertort is set off with a sophisticated salty-sweet taleggio cheese ice cream that challenges assumptions about what ice cream should be. For the love of Nutella—a combination of chocolate hazelnut mousse cake, Nutella ice cream and a Nutella bon bon—is a childhood fantasy come true. And because Seaver uses butter and cream sparingly in his preparations, you can still find room for a dish this dense after a full meal. For purity of flavor, perhaps one of the most satisfying desserts is the brown butter almond cake served with varying sorbets and fresh fruits.

Seaver has given himself a challenge. By committing to the sustainable resource movement, he has eliminated some of the more popular fish species that some diners might expect. And by committing to buying produce locally and seasonally, he has further restricted what he has to work with. But one visit to Hook proves he has risen to the challenge admirably. Working with what is available, Seaver continues to develop new and interesting dishes (you don’t even notice the absence of grouper or Chilean sea bass). Although this makes it a challenge to get a favorite dish on a return visit, it is always interesting to see what new things he has come up with.

Hook 3241 M St., NW. (202) 625-4488 www.hookdc.com

Lunch: Wed. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Brunch: Sat. & Sun. 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sun. to Tue. 5 - 10 p.m.; Wed. & Thu. until 11 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. until midnight Prices: Appetizers: - 11; Main courses: - 25; Desserts: Dress: Casual Reservations: Recommended

About the Author

Rachel Hunt and Stephen Qualiana are the restaurant reviewers for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999