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Posted at 06:14 PM ET, 03/26/2012

Rasika West End: What to expect from Ashok Bajaj’s latest D.C. restaurant

Rasika West End’s interior looks almost nothing like its Penn Quarter sibling, but the menu offers familiar anchors. As our server admitted, “Of course, we just couldn’t have opened without the palak chaat.” (Alex Baldinger - The Washington Post)
Rasika West End officially opens on Friday, but limited seatings are available during the restaurant’s soft opening through Wednesday. In fact, the restaurant opened its doors last Friday for an especially small initial seating; call it a soft opening to the soft opening.

I was lucky to be among the first diners to try Ashok Bajaj’s newest restaurant, and fans of the original location (now known as Rasika Penn Quarter) are going to be pleased. If you managed to grab a seat this week, here is a look at what you might encounter:

A different-tasting bar — Show up early and grab a drink. Sommelier Alexander Carlin (formerly of Michael Mina’s Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore’s Four Seasons Hotel) is overseeing a white wine-driven list he describes as both esoteric and value-driven. “High quality with a little bit of a bargain,” he told my colleague Alex Baldinger last week. Mixologist Julia Ebell from the Gibson is overseeing the cocktail program, with flavors borrowed from the kitchen’s spice rack, like cardamom and saffron. “Gin is a natural pairing with those spices, as well as bourbon ... and the citrusy, acid-driven cocktails of the darker liquors,” Carlin said. “Acid is so important because it will cut through the sauces of our food and that creates a wonderful, wonderful pairings.”

Sterling service — Always a signature of a Bajaj restaurant, the West End crew managed to run a flawless evening, even while a good segment of the waitstaff were still being trained.

Lots of questions — While the restaurant looks and tastes like it has already found its feet, the staff is still clearly looking for any room to improve. After each major step (leaving the bar, looking at the wine list, perusing the menu, etc.) we were asked for input on how the process went and what could be improved.

A more spacious interiorAlex Baldinger’s pictures didn’t lie. This is a really attractive space, and much more open and airy than the Penn Quarter location. A column sculpted to resemble a banyan tree and the series of enclosed booths are real highlights. And those high-backed booths are really comfortable: I expect those to become highly sought -after dining perches.

(Kathryn Norwood/For The Washington Post)
A slightly different menu focus — Don’t worry: the palak chaat — chef Vikram Sunderam’s signature spinach dish, pictured — is on the menu and already in fighting trim (I did my investigative duty and made sure). But the menu has a few new niches to explore. The asparagus uttapam, a rice and lentil pancake studded with asparagus and topped with a pool of tomato chutney, was a nice savory counterpoint to the tamarind and date-topped chaat. The “Barbeque” section of the restaurant’s menu is also greatly expanded at West End, with more tikka and kebab options than the original.

Go for lunch — Our bartender told us that most of the early reservations have vanished, but if you didn’t manage to snag one, never fear. The restaurant has already begun lunch service, and the comfortable bar and ample natural lighting make it a prime spot for a leisurely midday meal.

By  |  06:14 PM ET, 03/26/2012

Categories:  Restaurants

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