Monday's New York Times doled out some heavy praise for D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, of Rasika, the Oval Room, the Bombay Club and others. Brett Anderson, the piece's author (and former Washington City Paper food writer) credited Bajaj with making the District's Indian cuisine elegant, a task that seemed beyond a mere mortal's ability in the late 1980s, when landlords rejected his proposals because "Indian restaurants smell."
Anderson also noted another phenomenon that D.C. patrons have pondered for years: Bajaj's "Multiplicity"-like omnipresence at each of his eight establishments:
Mr. Bajaj, who has a throwback devotion to dark business suits, carries a cultivated air of mystery, which includes his skill at appearing to be in more than one of his restaurants at a time. He tries to visit each one at least once a day;Ardeo & Bardeo, his wine bar in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, is the only property he can’t reach quickly on foot.
“I’m never sure whether or not he has two twin brothers,” said Tony Podesta, a well-known lobbyist and an investor in two local restaurants. “He knows who’s eating in all of his restaurants all of the time.”
Does he teleport? Is he an octuplet? Where does he hide the other clones? And is there one whose only job is to drop off and pick up his suits from the cleaners? Should the government study him to learn about efficiency and the modern worker? "No, not yet," Bajaj said, laughing. "I have tried to visit all of them every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't."
He considers himself an "extended hand" of his chefs and managers on each of his visits -- "If they get in a bind or have a rush, I help them," he said. It should be noted that Bajaj tried to deflect all of the non-silly, non-cloning questions to give credit to his staff: "It's not all about me," he said, crediting his managers, chefs and the other professionals that keep his restaurants running. "I just own [the restaurants]. They're the ones responsible for their success."
With most of his properties in the same neighborhood, he walks, but he doesn't stick to an appointed schedule or order for visitations. Sometimes, that means he gets held up at one restaurant and doesn't make his complete rounds, and that's okay, he says. "When I open a new place -- like when I opened Nopa, I spent a lot of time at Nopa to make sure that the food is coming out right," he said. "A new restaurant takes a lot of time."
So if you haven't seen him as much at, say, 701 or Bibiana in recent months, that's the reason. But chances are, you have seen him at those restaurants and all of the others, every single time you've been there, because he is magic.
"I like visiting my restaurants," Bajaj said. "You create something, you want to visit it."