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What's your biggest recent chow surprise?

We all have places we love, places we tolerate, places we will never set foot in, and places we go to only because somebody else chooses the venue. Every once in a while, though, one comes across a chowhound surprise.

Sometimes it's good - a new find, or a surprising improvement in a place we thought we knew. Or maybe you try a certain dish at a familiar place and begin kicking yourself after the first bite for not ever having ordered it before.

On the flip side, sometimes we go to an old standby, or a well-regarded place, and find ourselves decidedly underwhelmed. So maybe you give them another try, because any place can have an off night, and guess what? The sad truth is that the old fave or the "big name" place may be in decline.

So, my fellow 'hounds, in the inbterest of turning our peers on to pleasant surprises and putting up early warning of trouble looming, what's your biggest recent chowhound surprise, for good or ill?

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  1. We had a terrible experience our first time at Hank's oyster bar and we wrote a note to the restaurant. They invited us back on their dime and we said politely thanks but no thanks- we'll give it another shot though (we hate taking freebies). We've been back 3 times now and each time the quality of the food and quality of the experience surpasses the last. It's my new go to for seafood. Funny how one bad experience can really mess with your view of a place but then they can work so hard and come way over it and show themsleves to be so talented.

    13 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      I had the same experience with Hank's. I was underwhelmed the 1st time, but went back recently for a friend's birthday dinner and it was terrific. The best fried oysters I've had in years and the fish I had (sablefish) was delicious. I'm going back to Hank's for more tonight.

        1. re: jpschust

          Can I take you free meal to Hank's then? :) It's one of my favorite spots in DC, especially when I want a taste of my childhood food (I'm from Boston and their lobster roll def. stands up to my test!!!)

          1. re: Elyssa

            Hi, Elyssa, I had the lobster roll there when it first opened and I was disappointed. It had a generous portion of lobster but it was tasteless. I've never had a New England lobster roll so I had nothing to compare Hanks' lobster roll to but you say their lobster roll stands up to your test. What should I have put on my lobster roll to give it flavor? Salt? Salt and pepper? Something else? How do people in New England put on their lobster rolls if anything? Thanks. plot

            1. re: plot

              The seasoning of this dish, as I understand it, has improved markedly and I think it's worth going back and trying it again.

              1. re: jpschust

                I agree with JP. I think the seasoning is right on.

                The only problem I ever had at Hanks is when I first went my bf ordered mac and cheese and it was covered in oil. But we took another shot a few weeks ago and this time the mac and cheese was perfect. Instead of fries I also got the sugar snap peas that ending up being a nice, refreshing spring treat.

                1. re: jpschust

                  Thanks, that's exactly what I'll do, jpschust. Since you say in your post that you understand the seasoning has "improved markely", I assume you either heard it wasn't seasoned right before or maybe you experienced it yourself and found it bland.

                2. re: plot

                  You really shouldn't have to put anything on it. I like a nice sturdy roll, slightly toasted with only a hint of butter. And I like it to have lots of chunks of lobster...more lobster then mayo (or whatever the mayo mixture would be). I find Hank's has a good lobster to mayo/dressing ratio. Personally I love the taste of lobster so I rarely if ever put anything on it except some butter or a little bit of herbs.

                  If it had a bland taste to it I would ask for some Old Bay Seasoning to sprinkle on...thats tasty (and what they put on their fries I believe.)

                  1. re: Elyssa

                    Thanks alot. I may try one tonight!

              2. re: jpschust

                I will have to give Hank's another try this year. I probably went too early on after they opened...I really didn't like the place and found their oyster service to be sub-par relative to Old Ebbitt and Sea Catch despite higher prices, but I may have been the victim of overly high expectations.

                1. re: Lowbar

                  I think if you go thinking of it for what it is- a very high end local spot with great seafood done simply then you will enjoy it. I think their oysters taste much better to me than OEG personally

                  1. re: jpschust

                    That's pretty much what I went expecting. Here were my gripes: Two servers knew very little about the oysters they had to offer other than one or two word descriptors, could not really offer recommendations based on my stated preferences, and though fresh and cleanly shucked, they were not presented very carefully (i.e., tilted and haphazardly placed oysters allowing the liquor to run out). I chalked that up to the place being new (at the time) and the people needing more experience, though I thought a place trying to pass itself off as an Oyster Bar would hire some skill or train their folks. I did not like my date's lobster roll...but there is no chance I would ever like a lobster roll, as I don't like mayonaisey meat salads like that. Since I no longer live in the neighborhood, I don't really have occasion to go there, and the first visit wasn't really enough to inspire special-trip returns. If I still lived and/or worked right there, I would probably have become a regular for the happy hr specials.

                    Like I said, I will have to make a point of giving it another chance as apparently there may have been some growing pains early on.

                    I have never had any problems with the oyster service at the OEG oyster bar...I just wish I didn't have to deal with the crowds, inconvenience (for me), and mostly lame other foods of OEG to get it. They get a good variety of excellent oysters and don't screw them up. The prices are steep in my opinion but good during the oyster happy hours.

              3. the risotto fritter with romesco sauce at EatBar.
                I am practically drooling at the thought of it.

                1. I had the most delicious hangar steak I've ever had at Bistro du Coin about 2 weeks ago. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly. I went back and had it again a week later and it was just OK. You never know, I guess.

                  1. Shrimp and Grits at Vidalia...mmmm. Oh, and the Peanut Butter Cup dessert was pretty fab too...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Big Ben

                      How about everything at Vidalia :)