Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rasika West End

The newest of Ashok Bajaj’s restaurant empire, Rasika West End, is a sophisticated modern bar and restaurant serving exotic cocktails along with an extensive wine list to complement the traditional and modern Indian cuisine. The stunning interior complements the modern dining room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking M Street, and provides an open and airy space and lovely backdrop for the talented Executive Chef Vikram Sunderam, recent RAMMY award winner for Best Chef of the Year.  Closest Metro is Foggy Bottom.

Rasika West End showcases both modern and authentic Indian fare, prepared on the Tawa (griddle), Sigri (open barbeque), as well as Tandoori and regional dishes. A contemporary décor sporting jewel tones, striking Indian art, and the combination of dark and light woods sets off this dynamic space. The major focal point is the eye-catching ceiling, created to resemble a Banyan tree a nod to its important role in Indian culture. The menu should be familiar to frequenters of the Penn Quarter locale. Chef Sunderam’s restaurant week menus are always very promising and at such an excellent value, which includes some his best dishes. Both Lunch and Dinner 3-course RW menus were available this Summer go-round.

Keith and I went for an early dinner on Thursday evening and the restaurant was already quite full with diners.  We were seated at a small table in the main/middle section of the dining room right next to the base of the "tree".  It was very airy inside with the tall ceilings and bright from the large windows.  Our server was top notch in service with excellent etiquette and poise.  We ordered a bottle of viognier wine before looking over the RW options.  Yes, the much-praised palak chaat (a crispy spinach, yogurt, tamarind and date salad) is offered here too. With no convincing needed by the server, I ordered it for my appetizer.  The spinach was fried until almost brittle, with a texture so light and airy, it was nearly weightless.  The sweet tamarind sauce balanced perfectly with the tangy yogurt sauce - I was very pleased with this dish and happily shared my generous portion with Keith (isn't he lucky?).  I must point out that all the dishes are served in the middle and meant for sharing, which was a very nice touch.  It was not commonly known, as seen by other tables of four or more people who each ordered the palak chaat and then felt silly to have 4 plates of the same dish shared in the middle.  So big groups - be warned - order a variety as you'll get to try a little bit of each.  Keith ordered the prettily plated, yet spicy dish of Crab Pepper Masala.  Lump crab meat spiced with Thai peppers was layered in between thin pieces of baked filo dough.  My mouth was on fire from this dish - and I was rescued again by the cooling yogurt and tamarind sauce of my palak chaat. 

Next, our main dishes arrived served with a basket of Naan and its cousin Mint Paratha, and a bowl of Basmati Rice.  I chose the Malai Fish Curry, which was a nice big hunk of beautiful Halibut in a mild sauce of onion, bay leaf, and coconut milk.  The white fish was so tender, yet meaty and the sauce reminded me of Thai flavors with the sweet coconut.  Keith chose another traditional dish called Andhra Lamb Curry that was not as spicy despite the sauce of curry leaves, red chilies, and black pepper.  At first, the bowl did not look that appetizing, but as soon as he spooned into it, he saw the big chunks of lamb meat and was happy to ladle it all over a pile of rice.  We asked for an additional side of cucumber yogurt sauce to round out our meal.  The portion of the main was a little smaller than you'd normally receive, but was plenty for me since I ate most of the Naan bread dipped in the remainder sauce.  Our server was happy to bring over extra rice for Keith though. 

Finally, for dessert I ordered a specialty Indian dessert that we had at Indique restaurant before (you may recognize the picture in my main banner logo.)  Gulab Jamun is a sponge-like cake that is made from honey and milk curds and paired here with an ice cream infused with an intense ginger-like spice called cardamom.  The cake part was a little chewy, but I adored the ice cream.  The cardamom was a nice finish to cleanse the palate.  Keith ordered the Coconut and Lemongrass Panna Cotta, which was very thick in consistency and had light tropical flavors.  The dots of tart raspberry sauce on the plate helped mellow out the sweetness of the custard.  Overall, we had a lovely meal and while the food was exceptional, there are both tame and bold flavors in the dishes to appeal to a mixed crowd.  The ambience was modern and airy with careful attention to detail by the staff.  If you haven’t been, Rasika is no doubt one of the best restaurants in DC.

Total Rating: 4.53
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 5, Ambience: 5, Accessibility: 5
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:
 Palak Chaat
crispy baby spinach, sweet yogurt, tamarind, date chutney

 Malai Fish Curry
Halibut, onion, bay leaf, coconut milk

Gulab Jamun with Ice Cream
spongy cake with cardamom ice cream

Plus Keith ate:
Crab Pepper Masala
lump crab meat, curry leaves, black pepper, filo

Andhra Lamb Curry
curry leaves, red chilies, black pepper

Coconut and Lemongrass Panna Cotta

  Rasika West End on Urbanspoon

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