When staffers and customers told Ashok Bajaj he should open for brunch at Rasika West End with the same menu he offered there weekdays for lunch, the prolific restaurateur dismissed the idea. “It would be boring for me” to do the same thing, he says. “I want to keep the restaurant fresh and exciting.” So Bajaj thought about the foods that people from his native India eat on weekends and tasked his staff with re-creating them.
Chef Vikram Sunderam and company drew up an initial list of 40 or so dishes, half of which made their way onto the brunch menu, offered Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Rasika West End.
The selections show off the street food snack called besan ka chilla, a savory pancake based on gram flour and minced vegetables. Pressed rice (poha) is sparked with mustard seeds and green chilies; lump crab in the squat tower of rice is a jazzy twist on what is typically a vegetarian dish in India.
Among the “Sunday Curries,” reminiscent of the meals the chef says his mother made on the most leisurely day of the week back in Mumbai, is rockfish lightly cooked in a pale golden sauce of coconut milk, ginger, curry leaves and green chilies. Meanwhile, minced lamb is turned into a schnitzel and finished with a vivid tomato chutney with the texture of catsup and the sting of vinegar.
Sweet pancakes in an Indian restaurant? Bajaj says Indians who have had them abroad develop a taste for them. No one will confuse Sunderam’s version with IHOP’s: He flavors the tender pancakes with cardamom, coconut and the sweetener called jaggery. Sold!
Bajaj says he chose the youngest of his Indian dining rooms for the new service because he wanted to “maintain the dignity” of his four-star Rasika in Penn Quarter. (Read: to give his hardworking staff there a break.) He also wanted to address a need for brunch among his neighbors, including several hotels, in the West End. Unlike at his oldest restaurant, Bombay Club downtown, the Indian brunch at Rasika West End is not displayed on a buffet.
Do they do bottomless cocktails in India? Does it matter? Rasika West End bows to American tastes with its free-flowing mimosas and bloody marys. Both sell for an agreeable $15.
1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-466-2500. www.rasikarestaurant.com/westend. Brunch dishes, $12 to $25.