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.