This restaurant is in Tom Sietsema’s Hall of Fame.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No journey fascinates me more than India. In a nutshell, that explains my unabashed affection for the cooking at these crosstown siblings from veteran restaurateur Ashok Bajaj. While the restaurant scene has gained from more Indian competitors of late, no chef has surpassed Vikram Sunderam’s finesse or flavors. Rasika in Penn Quarter is the senior of the two, dressed in sheer curtains and featuring a chef’s counter backed by a wall of spices. New to the lineup: floppy-crisp dosa filled with shredded goat, diced beets with fresh coconut and curry leaves, and turmeric-kissed scallops brightened with a light lemon sauce. Rasika West End, where diners eat under a faux tree and Sunday brunch gets served, is the hipper of the two. Pulling me in this season are a soft duck pâté with foie gras, peppery shrimp curry, and paneer stuffed with crushed nuts and served with a thick cloak of yogurt and spices. (But eggy French toast with minced chicken? I’ll pass.) The breads at both rank among the best around; the same can be said of the service.
Rasika: 633 D St. NW. 202-637-1222. rasikarestaurant.com/pennquarter.
Open: Dinner daily, lunch weekdays.
Prices: Dinner mains $14-$36.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.
Nobody glorifies the cooking of India like Rasika
“Eleven-thirty or 2 p.m.?” I hear a host offer available time slots on the phone — in August. Regulars know to book well in advance for a shot at the cooking of Vikram Sunderam, a James Beard Award winner for his magical way with my favorite cuisine. From the tawa, or griddle, come plump scallops on pools of tamarind-tinted, chile-warmed sauce, and from the tandoor, or clay oven, emerge lamb chops flavorful from a marinade of yogurt, ginger, garlic — an Indian spice cabinet, really. The best new dish on the menu, idiyappam, a staple in Kerala, is meatless: see-through nests of rice flour noodles and minced vegetables rendered glorious with a pour-over of coconut sauce sparked with curry leaves. Every bit as indulgent as the food in the jewel-toned dining room is the service. “Would you come to my house?” a tourist next to me jests (I think) to her solicitous waiter. There’s hope if you want
in on the pleasure but haven’t reserved a spot: The lounge is
first come, first served.
The following review appeared as No. 9 on Tom’s Top 10 restauramts in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide
Hard as I try, I can’t find an Indian restaurant in the country better than this one. A national treasure, Vikram Sunderam is a chef who never rests on his laurels and constantly refreshes his menu. Calling to me these days are roasted cumin-spiked corn cakes set on a brilliant red onion puree; Dover sole slathered in cilantro, mint and coconut and cooked in a banana leaf on the tawa (griddle); and ruddy chunks of lamb cloaked in a sauce that’s warm with cloves and hot with chilies. But even the chef’s oldies — crispy baby spinach (palak chaat), mango tart — remain goodies. Flattering the food are a gem-colored dining room and attention that bridges Secret Service watchfulness with Miss Manners’s decorum. The rare four-star establishment open for lunch as well as dinner, and offering a pre-theater menu for $35, Rasika will be even more accessible come next fall. That’s when Sunderam plans to share some of his secrets, in the form of a cookbook. I, for one, can’t wait to repeat some of Rasika’s magic tricks at home.