When a friend heard that we would be visiting Washington D.C she said ” You must visit this new Indian restaurant in D.C. It’s called Rasika. The food is supposed to be fabulous, and the chef Vivek Sundaram has won several awards . It’s one of the best restaurants in D.C. ” We had wanted to try Burma located in the Chinatown area but it was closed on Sundays . Accordingly, we found ourselves driving to the Penn Quarter with our daughter and our niece to check out the fare at Rasika. Our experience there proved to be a mixed bag. Rasika is definitely a hip trendy place with nice vibes but the food quality is uneven: some hits but almost as many misses.
Rasika is run by a group that manages at least five other D.C restaurants including that long time favorite The Bombay Club, Ardeo, Bibiana, 701 and the Oak Room.The restaurant is divided into two by a dwarf wall topped by a bead curtain. To the left is a well appointed bar and a sitting area where you can down your drinks as you nibble on munchies. To the right is the dining area with the tables spaced rather closely together . Across the rear is the grill station where you can watch kababs being prepared and in the wall behind the grill station are large glass fronted bins containing an assortment of Indian spices.The other walls have different textures, are painted either in white or a variety of earth tones and sparingly decorated with Indian themed paintings. Overall , Rasika has a very inviting ambience which explains its popularity . Reservations are a must . We went there on a Monday evening and the place was packed and the decibel level very high. This is not the place to go for a quiet intimate meal with your significant other.On the other hand, if you know what to order, you will be able to taste some very unusual dishes . However, it can be a pricey outing.
Unfortunately, since it was the beginning of the work week, we stayed away from hard drinks. I say ‘unfortunately’ because I found out later that the bar makes some unusual cocktails. One you might want to try is Gin with green chilly and lime. My wife had a Kingfisher beer while my niece had a mocktail that reminded me of a mint julep since it was decorated with sprigs of mint. She liked it so much that my daughter ordered one too .
We began our meal by sharing two appetizers: Crispy tawa fish and red kidney bean tikkis. Both were excellent. The fish was a slice of dourade coated with pressed rice ( poha), shallow fried and served with cilantro mayo. The fish was perfectly cooked and the crisp pressed rice coating was a winner. Tikkis ( cutlets) are usually made with potatoes ; the kidney bean version at Rasika was definitely an improvement . The tikkis were served with what looked like ketchup but proved to be a tomato -rhubarb chutney. Delicious. Another appetizer that we did not try but which we hear is outstanding is the Spinach Chaat. You might want to give it a shot.
For entrees, we shared four dishes, three non-vegetarian ( Bison Roast, Goan Fish Curry and Maratha Chicken) and one vegetarian ( Baingan Bharta). The Baingan Bharta ( roastedeggplant, peeled , mashed and cooked with onions , tomatoes, ginger and garlic and spices) was the best of the lot. Our niece told us that on a previous visit she had had a bharta made with butternut squash rather than eggplant and that it was outstanding. Alas, the butternut squash option was not available on the day we dined at Rasika or we would have plumped for it.The Bison Roast , an expensive choice, was also very good, the perfectly cooked slices of meat bathed in a thick , slightly sweetish gravy of onions and tomatoes flavored with fennel seeds.We were not as fortunate with our other two choices. The Maratha Chicken was mediocre and the Goan Fish Curry was ruined by too much tamarind making it almost too sour to be edible. The kitchen seems to have a problem with sourness, since on my niece’s earlier visit she had a similar problem with the Green Masala Chicken. At the next table they had a lamb biryani which looked tantalizing.The meat and the spiced rice had been baked in a pot sealed with a dough covering. The dough sealed in the flavors as the biryani was cooking and could be eaten much like a naan . Great presentation that had us wondering whether we should have ordered it !
With the dishes we also had a Bread Basket ( a rather skimpy assortment of parathas) , a vegetable pulao and a bowl of plain white rice. Considering the prices, portions were no more than adequate.
The desserts are where Rasika really shines. We shared two of them , a Saffron Panna Cotta and a Date and Toffee Pudding with berries that was delectable in its buttery goodness.Another dessert that caught our eye was Apple Jalebi (beignet) with Orange Cardamom Icecream. We were also intrigued by the Chocolate Sam0sa though we lacked the guts to try it.
What did I think of the food at Rasika overall ? Well, I thought that there were some very good , innovative dishes but that the quality control left a lot to be desired . There is no excuse for a dish being that sour, particularly since the gravies in Indian restaurants are prepared ahead of time rather than cooked to order. It should be a simple matter to taste them once each evening before the dishes are assembled. Again, one of our appetizers was served with a mound of julienned carrots that were hard and flavorless. It would not have taken much effort to prepare them a little closer to serving time and to sprinkle them with a little salt and lemon juice. It’s little touches like this that raise the food from just OK to memorable.
Considering that the entrees are so uneven in quality, I have suggestion for couples or small groups who want to dine at Rasika. Stay away from the entrees and make a meal of the appetizers and desserts. For instance a couple will do well to share share five or six appetizers and three desserts. It may be slightly more expensive but they will be able to taste a cross section of the best items on the menu. It’s a better option than trying one of the tasting menus that Rasika also offers Four course ( Non-veg. $ 55, Veg $ 45) or six course ( Non Veg. $ 75, Veg. $ 60) .
Like the food, the service at Rasika is also a little uneven.The waiters come from a variety of countries ( our was originally from Eritrea) but they they all very friendly and welcoming and knowledgeable about Indian food.However, though Rasika is not understaffed and even though the waiters are hardworking, there are times when it’s impossible to catch your waiter’s eye as he flits around the tables. In our case there was an unconscionably long wait for dessert though I’m not sure whose fault it was , the kitchen or the wait staff.
Final thought: We had a good time at Rasika and would definitely go there again but I wouldn’t rate it among the Twenty Best Restaurants (2009)in the D.C area as the Washingtonian has done.
Rasika. 633 D StreetNW, Wasington DC 20004. (202) 637-1222.
For details of the menu, timings and prices , click on www.rasikarestaurant.com.