Plaudits: Washingtonian 2013 Top 100
Neighborhood: West End
If there's one thing to know about Rasika, it's that it remains perpetually in the Washingtonian 100, and has the limited number of reservations you would thus expect. If there's another thing to know, it's that there's two Rasikas: the original in Penn Quarter, and the new one in West End.
Unfortunately for the first ten minutes of our reservation, our group of five was not on the same page about which one we were going to. Though still, for this Restaurant Week, we were just lucky to get a table at either of them. For this meal: Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD G, Baboon, and HR Intern.
downtown location is a thoroughly modern restaurant with traditional
Indian themes, then the West End version is what happens when you turn
that on its head entirely. Rasika West End's interior decor is almost
outrageously avant-garde, and leaves you wondering which aspect is the
most surprising. Is it the geometric ceiling that juts and curves like a
cavern constructed from dodecahedrons? Is it the color scheme that
draws from hot pink and orange and teal? Is it the way the design fits
into its building's unique space, with a bar that extends into a
Flatiron-Building-style point to a nook designed to look a library? Or
is it the decorative choices, like the full cover booths shaped like
onion domes or the giant hanging silver sculpture of a hand that looks
strongly like the shocker? Perhaps, it's the fact that despite all of
these points, the whole space does seem to blend together well.
overwhelming concern when you go to a second version of a restaurant
you love is how much it replicates the parts you liked, and how much it
can differentiate itself. Admittedly, Restaurant Week is the absolute
worst time to evaluate something on this metric, since the menu is often
scaled down to what can be turned around quickly. But Rasika has always
done a good job of providing a solid offering even for Restaurant Week,
and its West End twin was no different.
Invariably, when anyone
talks about Rasika, the two dishes that are brought up most frequently
are the palak chaat and the black cod. Both represent exactly what
Rasika does best: takes Indian flavors and concepts and update them with
modern touches, bringing forth brilliant mixes of salt, sweet, and
spice. The palak chaat's crispy spinach is a play of textures, balancing
its notes of crunch and spicy with the natural sugars of dates and
tamarinds and yogurt sauce. For the cod, it's the light hints of star
anise and honey that perk up a fleshy piece of fish.
quite a few other hits as well. Chunks of crispy cauliflower bezule are
accented sharply with piquant punches, from mustard seeds, curry leaves,
and green chilies; the chicken tikka makhani is a beautiful blend of
tomato, garlic, and ginger flavors, held together by a sauce that
everyone keeps dipping their naan into; and there is a surprising
appreciation for the vegetable thali trio: bowls of paneer mattar,
navrattan korma, and dal makhani that seep through basmati rice.
Even just the okay dishes are at least interesting. a kur kuri macchi, sea bass crusted in poha, is interestingly crunchy, while a bori lamb curry with cashews, peanuts, and mint provides a good kick of flavor.
West End just got named, along with its predecessor, as one of
Washingtonian's Top 100 Restaurants. It's an honor that is much
Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: Catch up on Best Picture nominees Silver Linings Playbook, or Life of Pi at the West End Cinema, just two blocks away.