Every city known for great food has a handful of restaurants that are considered “must-gos” — one cannot be labelled a foodie without trying these restaurants. In Washington, D.C., there are several such places, one of which is Rasika.
Located in Penn Quarter, Rasika is famous for its gourmet Indian cuisine. It’s so popular that online reservations, which require a customer’s credit card information, need to be made two weeks in advance. Its sister restaurant, Rasika West End, situated next to Dupont Circle, is less crowded, but weekend reservations still need to be secured a week in advance.
My party of two arrived at Rasika West End around 5:30 p.m. on a weekday evening, by which time the restaurant had already seated a considerable number of diners. We were ushered to a table next to the stairs leading up to the inner library. The interior decorating was spectacular — be it the library seats or the window seats, every corner of the restaurant appeared creatively, yet also elegantly, designed.
Although I’m an amateur in the world of Indian cuisine, I know enough to be aware that the experience isn‘t complete without trying the Indian breads. The waiter highly recommended the roti ($3). However, I ordered a bread basket with three different naans ($3): plain, garlic and onion and sage, which I substituted for a third type of bread, paratha ($3-$4). The basket arrived full of a healthy portion, with two enormous halves of each bread. Of the three, my personal favorite was the garlic naan, closely followed by the plain one. Both had a simple taste that went well with the curry I ordered, but the former’s twist definitely made it special.
Now that I know a little more about Indian cuisine, though, I regret not having followed my waiter’s suggestion. It is roti, rather than naan, that is made daily in Indian homes. The paratha is also worth trying, since it is very distinctive from the other breads.
The other important component of Indian cuisine is unquestionably its curry. The chicken tikka masala ($17) lived up to both its reputation and my high expectations. It was presented in a small square bowl, but proved to be a very satisfactory portion, especially when we dipped our naan into the delicious sauce after finishing off the chicken. The dish was cooked to perfection — the savory flavor of the curry had seeped into the chicken, which had an incredibly tender texture. The curry itself was thick and decadent, but it was so well seasoned that I tore one piece of naan after another to dip into the sauce, without a thought to all of the extra carbs I knew I was ravenously consuming.
Rasika is most famous for its black cod ($28), which, curiously, is not actually an Indian specialty. The dish came with two chunks of golden cod and a large amount of couscous. Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the cod — while seasoned well, the meat was so fishy-tasting that no amount of seasoning could cover that unpleasant note. In other words, although the texture was soft and tender, the fish itself was not very fresh. The side of couscous, however, was good — heavenly either by itself or mixed with the masala.
The star of the whole meal was the renowned palak chaat ($11). It was seasoned crispy spinach with yogurt sauce topping: yes, simple as that. It’s quite remarkable how these simple ingredients, when combined, produced a flavor so heavenly that it left me craving more. I once thought that one comment on Yelp (“It was so good that I would come just to order one palak chaat and a glass of wine”) was an exaggeration — but it wasn’t. It spoke the truth and so much more.
We finished our meal with the date and toffee pudding ($10), which was topped with whipped cream. I failed to taste the date flavor, but enjoyed the sweet taste of the toffee. The drinks we ordered were equally wonderful. I’m not at all a mango person, but I nonetheless preferred the mango mocktail that my partner ordered to my passion fruit punch.
Satisfying as the whole meal had been, I now realize that it was indeed Indian gourmet. I cannot vouch for Rasika’s authenticity, but I can vouch for its memorability and high quality without a second of hesitation.