When asked about my favorite restaurant in DC, I never hesitate to say Rasika. But when I realize I haven’t dined there in over a year, it’s time to rectify the situation. The good news is that the incredibly popular Rasika now has a sibling, Rasika West End. So, in the course of a two week period, I have the very good fortune to dine at both locations.
First up is Rasika West End. It’s a typical younger sibling….not quite as experienced and not as sophisticated. But it’s definitely more hip and maybe even a little more interesting in terms of the vibe. You can’t help but smile at the 20-foot-long, 700-pound sculpture of a hand, which is installed as a gesture of welcome.
Rasika West End has inherited some of the best traits of its more mature relative. I’m dining with three girlfriends, and we are elated to find our favorite palak chaat- the crispy spinach with sweet yogurt tamarind and date chutney- on the West End menu.
Two of my friends aren’t feeling well, and so they skip cocktails in favor of food. Not everyone would shlep from the suburbs to a restaurant downtown when they aren’t feeling their best. They admit that had our plans been for a different restaurant, the outcome would have been different. Rasika has that affect on people.
We approach our meal by focusing on small plates and shared entrees. The more we can taste at this new location, the better. Gobhi Mattar, a blend of cauliflower with green peas, cumin, and ginger is a nice follow up to the palak chaat, with some equally strong and satisfying flavors.
We adore Tawa Baingan, an eggplant dish with spiced potato and peanut sauce. It may not be pretty, but the smoky flavor is great.
I am eager to try dori kebab, smoked lamb sausage with rose and saffron. An early review by Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post mentions it, and I find the description intriguing. It’s not much to look at (and isn’t pictured) but the smoky ground lamb with a floral finish is worth trying.
One of our favorite dishes of the night leave us feeling all tingly– alleppey shrimp curry with coconut, raw mango, fenugreek seeds, and curry leaves.
We aren’t as enamored of honey chili tuna with chili flakes and mango salsa. It sounds like it has more flavor than it does. The evening deteriorates at the end a bit, when our server seems to forget us and we have a much-too-long wait for tea. But this is something that I expect will be ironed out as Rasika West End matures.
Two weeks later my husband and I dine at the original Rasika in Penn Quarter with friends who hold the restaurant in the same high esteem that we do. Chef S. and his wife aren’t frequent dining companions, but they are among my favorite. For one thing Chef S. has a knowledge of food that far exceeds mine, and his excitement about food fuels my own.
I’ve worked myself up into a frenzy about dining at Rasika, so initially I’m not sure what to order. In the meantime, wife of Chef S. suggests that we have two orders of palak chaat to start. This simple suggestion thrills me. I don’t have to linger over a few small bites of my favorite dish, longing for more. This is going to be one of those dinners where over-ordering doesn’t come into play. There is no such thing.
Along with our palak chaat, we enjoy cauliflower bezule with mustard seeds, green chilies, curry leaves, and lemon juice. This zesty dish delights us. Chef S. says it’s so tasty “it’s like eating candy.”
We have truffle naan and chutney with our starters. I love how the truffle flavor is subtle at first and then becomes more prominent. We follow up with chili naan to accompany our meal.
We are doing our own thing when it comes to entrees. I have decided to skip any pretense of being adventurous and order tandoori lamb chops. I have shared this dish on previous visits, and am happy to have it all to myself this time. Should I be ashamed to say I ate most of my entree with no trouble, despite how much I have already devoured? I will own my gluttony. The dish is too delicious to resist.
My husband has another Rasika signature dish, black cod with fresh dill, honey, star anise, and red wine vinegar. He likens the dish to a “pillow-y cloud of goodness.” I am not sure what this means, but he is delighted with the fish and that’s all that matters.
Chef S. has Fish Rechad, which is red snapper with Peri-Peri masala and shrimp balchao. He describes the fish as very fresh and flaky with a spicy Indian version of piri piri. The basmati helps cut the heat.