I recently went to Rasoi for dinner for the first time (a visit long overdue) and thought I'd post my impressions. First, I was going with mixed expectations, since I'd heard some negative feedback from other foodie friends of mine who, like me, value authenticity and taste. They (including several friends from India proper) were telling me the food wasn't very authentic at all, wasn't spicy, and lacked some refinement.
On the other hand, I'm actually a big fan of sister restaurant Kabob and Curry on Thayer. I've always considered K&C to be kind of Indian-lite, but still one of my dark-horse favorites in Providence. Sure, it's generic Indian-American, a nice cuisine introduction for folks graduating up from the Indian-themed American food at nearby "India." But K&C has a warm atmosphere and some of the most obsessive and courteous service in the city. All of the menu items, while lacking authentic heat and punch, are unquestionably oozing with taste, quality, and care. It's always felt like Indian-American done by people with huge pride in their craft.
So, unsurprisingly, I felt that, overall, Rasoi follows this same traditions but elevates it a notch in all respects.
Hard to believe this is the old Barney's space. The interior is sleek and stylish. There was a good vibe in the room with most tables occupied, but the buzz didn't overwhelm conversation. The live Indian music (apparently there every Monday, with Jazz every Tuesday) was at an appropriate volume as well... Only the flat screen TV hovering over the bar area (why is this a standard?) and the banal suburban strip plaza surroundings were jarring...
In a word - obsessive. Our waiter was wonderful, friendly, and helpful. Glasses of water were always filled and everything was prompt and courteous. The manager was also working the room when we were there and couldn't have been outwardly more concerned that we were having a great experience, even down to the volume of the music that the performers were playing. Like K&C, this is an absolute strength of Rasoi. In a town where, in general, service is pretty good if not outstanding (only at Pan E Vino have I had outright unimpressive servers), Rasoi stands out...
If you're looking for absolute authenticity or Indian-American standards, this isn't the place to look. There are far better places, like Bombay Club or K&C itself, to fill these respective desires. This menu actually struck me as one of the more creative in down. Items like rosemary nan, crepes with coconut chutney, and lotus root with cheese and sauces I found extremely tempting and unlikely to be seen anywhere else in the metro.
With the (temporary?) demise of the late-Neath's, I find this creativity to be a huge breath of fresh air in our city so ladden with steakhouses, New American, and Italian options...
The key element. How was it? In a word, mixed... Some items were outstanding, others a bit of a letdown... Here's the roster:
- Masala Uttapam: rice and Lentil pancakes served with lentils and coconut chutney:
Very mixed. The two small pancakes themselves were fine (a bit dry and maybe slightly overcooked?) but they had a nice mild kick to them. The accompanying coconut chutney (my first time having this) was, in my opinion, nearly tasteless. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be? I'm not sure... The lentils, on the other hand, were very tasty, almost having a flavor like that of a brown sauce. Overall, I also thought (for 2 small pancakes) the dish was a bit overpriced at $5.
- Honey and Ginger Nan:
Let me first say that the honey and ginger flavor combo was one I thought couldn't go wrong, and I was correct. A great flavor combo. However, I imagined the nan would be *stuffed* with this mixture... It wasn't. It was poured/glazed over. As you'd expect any honey dish to be, the nan stuck to us (and thus, we stuck to everything else around us) like glue... Not very elegant. We both had to go wash our hands at least twice during the dinner to compensate.
The nan itself was kind of thin and firm, more like pita bread. It just didn't have enough soft, thick, carbohydrate goodness to compete with the powerhouse honey/ginger punch.
- Kofta with Pitted Plums: minced lamb dumplings with dried plums in a Kashmiri sauce
Perhaps my new favorite dish in all of Providence. Basically having a sweet and tangy taste like Indian-flavored Swedish meatballs, this was an absolute hit. The lamb outsides of the dumplings were cooked with the perfect amount of firmness that contrasted beautifully with the texture and taste of the soft plum center. The Kashmiri sauce was similarly so good that it was virtually drinkable, and both my sister and I used the excess sauce to pour over our Basmati rice sides...
- Chicken Chettinad:Chicken in a peppery sauce from Tamil Nadu
Not as special as the above, but still very good. The peppery sauce is more of a pepper hint than an explosion. The chicken pieces were large and tasty. High quality, solid dish for safer eaters.
My lentil of the day ("mixed lentils") was very tasty, but a bit watery. It was easier and more gratifying to eat with a spoon than a fork, which I don't know if that's the idea...
A powerfully tasty surprise. My sister's side was covered with a sweet glaze, leading my sister to label it "General Tso's Cauliflower" which is actually a pretty good description. Thankfully, the glaze was light and not at all gooey. I'd order this side alone in a repeat visit. It was that good... If you're expecting steamed, unadorned caulifower, be aware that this isn't it, however...
I ordered a Rose Lassi (smoothie). This very yogurty drink was super thick, super smooth, and very satifying, with a strong rose taste. While I think most would be happier with the mango lassi (rose is something of an acquired taste... If people liked the taste of wildflowers that much, we'd have rose M&M's...), this is a very worthy drink too.
Overall, I was very pleased and satisfied with my dinner. The lamb dumplings are now one of my favorite dishes in town and there are extremely worthy sides and drinks. The atmosphere is vibrant and slick. I'd take a friend from NY or Boston here without hesitation.
Most importantly, it's *creative*, with flavors and ideas that are really standout for Providence. They deserve a lot of credit for this bravery. If you (like me) are tiring of Providence menus that feel like they have nothing on them but New York strip, salmon with a vertical arrangement of beets, and gnocchi with a caprese salad, then you should absolutely celebrate that we now of something like Rasoi as a dining option. I can look at the menu right now and spot 3 or 4 items quickly with flavor or ingredient combinations I haven't had before, and that's a feeling I usually need to go to NY or Philly to get.
If there's one downside, it is that some of the food lacks refinement. I don't know who thought of using honey on a finger food, why my lentils were so watery, or if coconut chutney is supposed to be absent much flavor.
I'll gladly risk such miscues in exchange for the likelihood of tasting new and novel flavors or for the chance to find a new favorite dish in town...