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DC Dining: Rasika

Wine Tip: Order from the short menu for ease of selection and for a few budget options.

When I learned that one of the top restaurants in DC right now is an Indian restaurant, it took me maybe forty-five seconds to make a reservation.  Of course, that reservation was for 9:15 on a Wednesday night, because that was the only time we could get one.  And for good reason–this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

And yes, I realize I say that a lot.  But that’s because I make it my job to search out amazing meals.  Occasionally they flop.  In this case, I chose well.

This is a Goldilocks restaurant–not to big, not to small.  The tables are cozy enough for a romantic evening, but the place is casual enough to bring a large group for a fun night out (just, um, maybe leave extremely small children at home–I didn’t see any there at that late hour, and I was glad.)  There’s a great wine list.  The waitstaff is helpful and not snooty at all–something I’ve occasionally come across in popular restaurants that really turns me off–and the menu is extensive.  There are a variety of tasting menu options, as well as an exhaustive a la carte menu.  Be prepared to be overwhelmed–in the very best of ways.

While I typically jump at any sort of tasting menu, it was after 9 pm and that just seemed excessive.  So we ordered off of the regular menu with much difficulty–I literally could have closed my eyes and pointed and my finger would have landed on something that sounded incredible.  We each ordered one appetizer, one entree, and shared the bread basket with chutneys.  I think that ordering this way turned out to be less expensive than the tasting menu, but I’m honestly not sure.  Either way–it would have been very hard for me to resist choosing my own dishes from such an exciting and expansive menu.

The black cod--Rasika's 'signature' dish.

The first dish we shared was the scallop appetizer.  To be honest, when it came out I wasn’t very impressed with the three scallops sitting in a shallow pool of broth.  That was, of course, until I tasted the broth.  I could have eaten it on its own–and I did, after the sweet, perfectly cooked scallops were gone.  It was a sour soup with a very pronounced lemongrass flavor. For a broth to outshine seared scallops is rare–but it happened here.  Not because the scallops were not fantastic, but because the broth was out of this world.

For appetizer number two, I chose the lamb roll.  I think it was a form of dosa, as it was less like a spring roll and more like an indian crepe. In my notes I described it as ‘all of the flavors of an Indian buffet wrapped up in a warm, crepe-y blanket’.  Yes, I used the term warm, crepe-y blanket.  Because that’s what it was.  The roll was served with a side of pickled cucumbers and peppers, and adding the peppers was a bit of a painful choice–and I like things spicy.  My husband did not add peppers and said the dish was plenty spicy enough on its own, but still claimed it was one of the best things he’d tasted in a long time.

I have seen reviews complain about having to pay for the bread basket and for the chutney sampler–something about ‘that sort of thing is always included in a meal’.  And I can kind of see where those people are coming from, given the unremarkable quality of the bread itself.  The basket contained three different types of bread–some sort of green naan, an onion kulcha, and traditional plain naan.  The first was a bit greasy and dense, the second basic at best, and the third–well, I’ll never complain about warm, fresh naan, but this was neither warm nor fresh.  It was definitely the low point of the meal, but I can forgive Rasika for that, because the mango chutney almost made up for the crummy bread.  Spicy, sweet, smoky, and salty–I could eat that mango chutney with a spoon.  And I should have–it would have saved me some calories over the only-just-passable bread.

But the best was yet to come.  Our entrees, chosen after much deliberation and consultation with the extremely patient server, were exquisite.  My husband ordered the bison, which according to him was ‘mrrggffllggmm’, as that was the only sound he was able to make whilst enjoying it.  He was smiling, too, so I’ll take that to mean that he enjoyed it.  I chose the black cod, as I was told that it is Rasika’s ‘signature dish’, paired with a side order of roasted eggplant and potatoes.  The fish was amazing–cooked perfectly and coated with paneer cheese.  Yes, that sounds strange–fish crusted with cheese–but believe me, it’s amazing.  There was also a coconut quality to the dish, though I couldn’t determine if it was coming from the cheesy crust or from the sauce upon which it sat.  The vegetable side dish was also perfection–the potatoes stood out from the smoky, creamy eggplant in a way that made me believe that each element of the dish was cooked separately, seasoned separately, and then combined, much like a properly-made ratatouille.

Sadly, after all of that–and a bottle of wine–dessert was simply not going to happen.  But that’s ok, because I will return to Rasika on future trips to DC.  And next time I’ll skip the bread and order dessert!

Rasika is located at 633 D St. NW in Washington, DC; Archives is the closest metro station.  Be sure to make reservations well in advance–or be ok with a mid-week, late night meal.  

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