There was a thread posted by someone in the community asking for a good, moderately-priced restaurant in DC for a one-day trip. I said I'd post up a review of my recommendation, Rasika, to help out with the decision, so here it is.
Photos/Course-by-course at: http://www.thefoodbuster.com/rasika/
Rasika is easily my favorite Indian restaurant in Washington, DC, and one of my favorites in the nation. This isn’t your traditional Indian, though. Rasika verges on the more modern side. Gone is the traditional simplicity of the Indian world. Replacing it is a very chic environment, complete with a nice, comfy lounge, a rather large wine cellar, and a main dining room that just screams of class. The dining area is especially impressive—just a huge space and relatively few tables, polished wood, a small counter area around an open kitchen, and even a curtain of crystal beads to block sight of all the commoners sitting in the lounge area. Or at least that’s how Rasika feels, with its somewhat presumptuous air of European refinement. On the positive side, though, it is gorgeous, very comfortable, and much, much nicer than what you’ll find in almost any Indian restaurant. Not surprisingly, it’s also a popular hangout with the professionals in town, so you get lots of suits in there, something I’ve never seen in an Indian restaurant before.
And that type of class continues with the service and even the food. The service quality depends on whom you ask, but I thought it was fantastic. Our waiter was attentive, prompt, gave very helpful recommendations, and even hooked us up with an extra appetizer—their best—just so that the whole table could try it out. And when my friend decided he couldn’t drink his cocktail because it was so horrible, the waiter took it back with no charge, either. On the other hand, another friend thought the service was horrible, since the waiter accidentally stepped on his foot for a minute without noticing. So take the service for what you will, but I personally will vouch for the waiter as rather respectful and welcoming.
Topping off the great food and atmosphere, the food was fantastic. Even though most dishes are very traditional, there are still some unique and inventive choices on the menu, both in how the traditional dishes are re-imagined and in what types of dishes are offered. For example, you don’t typically see such choices as a black cod (the signature) or a chicken green masala on the menu. Just as importantly, it doesn’t feel like needless innovation. Instead, the flavors just burst in your mouth, as each dish tends to utilize very few, very strong ingredients but still retains a surprising complexity, combining a taste of spice with the sweet, the crunchy, the minty, etc.
I have only two complaints. First—and this is rather small—is that the traditional drinks accompanying Indian food, like fruit juices, are downplayed (i.e. almost non-existent) in favor of wines. While I myself didn’t have any wine, I just don’t see the point of accompanying Indian food with $100+ bottle of wine. Second, and much more importantly, is the price. This is still just $30-$50, but in terms of prices for Indian food, that’s still on the pricier end. $16 isn’t bad for a curry entrée, but you can get it at most traditional places for about $10 or less. Still, you pay for the ambience, service, and quality, and I do have to say that I’d gladly dish out the extra money for a fantastic, memorable Indian experience.
All in all, I, and every single one of my friends with me, had a fantastic time at Rasika. It scores high in almost all regards.
Some of the dishes I'd recommend:
1) Palak Chaat (crispy spinach, sweet yogurt, tamarind, date chutney): This is a house specialty, and for good reason—it was the best dish I had and quite possibly the best use of spinach I’ve ever seen. It seems deceptively simple, with just four ingredients, but everything just melds so perfectly. The crispiness gives it a nice crunch, but since it’s spinach, it doesn’t feel greasy but rather very light. The yogurt adds an interesting sweetness but also a nice, light, milky coolness to it that gives it a nice contrasting texture. And to top it all off, there’s a fantastic spiciness that kicks in near the end, counterbalancing the sweetness. Combining the sweet, spicy, and crunchy perfectly, this is a near flawless dish. 4.9/5.0
2) Chicken Green Masala (Chicken, mint, coriander, ground spices): This one really just came out of nowhere as one of the most inventive and best tasting foods of the evening. While I prefer the traditional flavors of the chicken makhani, this one is probably the technically more interesting and complex dish. The chicken is absolutely tender, even more so than in the Makhani, and it’s incredibly succulent. Plus, it suits the minty sauce very well, which gives it a nice kick and zestiness. And the sauce itself just makes your taste buds go all over the place. It’s about as spicy as an Indian dish can be, but the mint and coriander act as a perfect counterbalance, giving it a nice cooling freshness that really adds lots of flavor and a great contrast. And it’s a dish you probably won’t find anywhere else, at least not in this form. 4.3/5.0 (higher score if you like spicy or minty foods).
3) Black Cod (Fresh Dill, Honey, Star Anise, Red Wine Vinegar): The specialty of the house, and for good reason. This is a beautifully cooked fish—very tender and succulent, practically falling apart in the mouth. What really stands about Rasika’s dish, though, is how the restaurant takes such a simple fish and turns it into something so flavorful. Not only do you get some of the zest of the dill, but there’s a very nice hint of sweetness from the honey and star anise combo, perpetuating every bite. It’s very light, but still delicious, and I just wish there had been some more. 4.5/5.0.
4) Tawa Baingan (Eggplant, Spiced Potato, Olive Oil, Peanut Sauce): This is an incredible assortment of flavors, giving you spicy, nutty, and smoky all in a delicate mash that is slightly gritty but never muddy. The eggplant is a real knockout, as it’s been charred on the top to give it a nice crispness and smokiness, adding to both the texture and the flavor. The potato mixes nicely too, coming off as rather light, largely because the spice turns attention away from the starchiness. And that lightness continues with the seasoning, a nice mix of olive oil and peanuts, which never overpowers the dish in any way. 4.6/5.0+. Extremely complex and surprisingly balanced.
The rest of the dishes tend to be recommendable, but not nearly as good. Especially disappointing is the dessert variety (as it is at most Indian restaurants), and I'd avoid those desserts in favor of the savory dishes.
Taste: 4.3/5.0. Make it a 4.5 if you avoid dessert.
Overall Score: 4.4/5.0
633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
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