Editors' pick

Rasika Penn Quarter

Indian
$$$$ ($25-$34)
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Editorial Review

Pretty much everything on the menu at Rasika makes a strong case for falling in lust with one of the richest and most varied cuisines on the planet. Scallops, crisp from the tawa, or griddle, benefit from a swim in ginger syrup and lemon juice as well as a sprinkling of tanned garlic bits. Lobster moilee arranges succulent tail meat in a pale yellow sauce of coconut milk, fresh curry leaves and cilantro. Like drama? Lamb shank rises from a fragrant red moat of saffron, rose petals and more; its bone, wrapped in minced spiced lamb, glints with gold leaf. Even common vegetables taste altogether fresh and exciting when they’re mixed with shaved coconut, cashews, green chilies and ginger (see the broccoli) or shaped into patties (of green peas) that pick up savor with mint chutney and ooze liquid mozzarella when sliced. At no other Indian restaurant of my acquaintance are the rices as fragrant, the breads as delicious, the desserts as compelling. I’ve probably had the signature palak chaat 20 times. The salad isn’t much more than baby spinach dipped in a spiced chickpea batter, fried to a wisp and tossed with sweet yogurt and date chutney, but I never tire of starting a meal with the dish. The mango tart reminds me that Rasika translates as “tasteful” in Sanskrit.

Remember when Indian food meant samosas and curries washed back with a Kingfisher? Bombay native Vikram Sunderam changed the game when he and veteran restaurateur Ashok Bajaj unveiled this spice-colored dining room in Penn Quarter nine years ago. Rasika’s cocktails rival those of the city’s best bars, and its service is the type you might not notice because every need is attended to so unobtrusively. The team effort was rewarded last spring when Sunderam won the coveted Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic award from the James Beard Foundation.

People tend to think of four-star restaurants as expensive and hard to access. A lot of them are. Rasika erases assumptions, charging an average of $21 for main courses and accepting reservations for lunch as well as dinner. Cost and convenience aren’t the only reasons I make time for Rasika, even when it’s not about work. I’m also there for the most fabulous Indian cooking in the country.

2013 Fall Dining Guide

2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013

Sage advice for restaurants as well as writers, courtesy of Jeff Bezos: Don't be boring. Rasika in Penn Quarter could easily rest on its considerable laurels, but instead improves on what it does by every year adding fresh reasons to drop in. So while I'm tempted to stick with what I know and love -- crisp baby spinach tossed with sweet yogurt and date chutney, silken black cod kissed with honey and dill -- my most recent visit focused on chef Vikram Sunderam's latest efforts.

On the table: a floppy rice pancake (uttapam) freckled with mustard seeds and curry leaves and veined with mushrooms; spicy cubed lamb bundled in tender flatbread (an urbane take on the street food called kati roll); and golden whole trout. The last dish, marinated in yogurt, kaffir lime leaves and chili flakes, emerges from the clay oven smoky, zesty, fit for a maharajah. Everything from this kitchen is great by itself but brighter or hotter when eaten with the vivid chutneys, not to mention Indian breads, the city's best.

The interior is loud but also alluring in soft shades of orange, gold and green; the servers balance charm with polish.

Unlike so much of the Indian competition, this one treats drinks and desserts as seriously as anything else. Seek out the sommelier for something choice, then, and check out the chocolate bonet, an Italian custard whose saffron sauce waves to India.

2012 Fall Dining Guide

2012 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012

When visiting food critics solicit suggestions for where to eat, no matter what hot spot has just ignited in Washington, Rasika tops my list. “There's nothing like this in" New York/Chicago/San Francisco/Houston, my fellow mouths-for-hire all say after tasting the handiwork of chef Vikram Sunderam. His fan of mussels, rich with coconut milk and sharp with ginger, makes me question Belgian bivalve supremacy, and his smoky paneer shashlik is the best marriage of cottage cheese and bell pepper I've ever had anywhere -- India included. Randomly pick a dish -- black cod marinated in honey and dill, potato-like colocassia root baked into a cake with goat cheese and sauced with pomegranate molasses -- and it's likely to become your fresh favorite here. While Rasika's cooking is the principal draw, service in the orange-and-gold dining room is spot-on, and whatever lands in your glass is apt to have you seeing stars, too. This fan could rave on, but you get the point: The best Indian restaurant in the country is in our back yard.