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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rasika West End

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2013 Top 100
Neighborhood: West End

The Setup


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.

The Vibe


If the 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.

The Food

The 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.

There are 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.

The Verdict


Rasika West End just got named, along with its predecessor, as one of Washingtonian's Top 100 Restaurants. It's an honor that is much deserved.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
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.

Rasika West End on Urbanspoon 

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