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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review: Rasika West End = Raves for Rasika (West End)

    By this time, a few weeks after its soft opening, Rasika West End has likely become the very hottest restaurant in all of food-mad DC. Like its sister restaurant, Rasika, in Penn Quarter, this glitzy-sparkly Rasika features delectable contemporary Indian dishes, a culinary artist’s take on northern and southern Indian recipes with very elegant tweaks: Imagine mango purée converted into creamy ice cream pops or mango panna cotta (a fruity take on the very popular Italian panna cotta custard).

    Add to that the allure of the new Rasika’s décor: ultra modern, with the dining space divided by clever “walls” and by the front windows, mockups of a mogul’s carriage that provide somewhat private seating. Subtle overhead lighting heightens the allure, as the tiny lights look somewhat like stars sparkling in a dark Indian night. A “library” alcove with a loaded bookshelf and several tables also semi-privatizes other seating. A swirling bar up front makes cocktail hour congenially sophisticated. By day, of course, sunlight washes through the rooms, brightening the very contemporary look that the restaurant has achieved with both menu and décor.

    With all the media attention, the public must wonder: How good is this food, after all? With the kitchen overseen by executive chef Vikram Sunderam, who is also in charge of the original Rasika’s menu, the cuisine is energized by unique combinations of flavors, textures, and colors. Just like introducing mango purée to a panna cotta, Sunderam also takes classical dishes and infuses them with some very unusual tweaks.

    Take, for example, the Scottish salmon flavored with pink and black pepper accompanied by green pea chutney, or tuna with overtones of honey and chili flakes. While these in no way resemble an Indian restaurant’s standard fare — lamb curry or lamb vindaloo, for example — not every dish will seem unfamiliar: Sunderam does include a chicken tikka masala, Bengali fish curry, and a goat biryani among the entrée offerings. But just when you think . . . ”Hmm, I recognize these,” he adds a pork chop vindaloo and duck moilee with ginger and green chilies.

    As always, an Indian restaurant does offer its share of vegetarian eats, and Rasika West End is no exception. A spicy okra dish with mustard seeds and curry leaves is outstanding as are the smoked lentils. Breads, too, rate several stars: Among the selections is naan, but rather than a typical naan, a chili olive naan and an onion and sage naan. These bread tweaks only underscore how clever Sunderam is with pairing traditional Indian with Western ingredients.

    Then you end the meal with the unique desserts: Yes, you will find rice pudding and gulab jamun, two of the very typical Indian sweets closing out an Indian meal. But, no patron here should ever bypass the creamy mango ice pops or the mango panna cotta, two of the city’s most desirable sweet treats!!!

    No wonder Vikram Sunderam is nominated for best chef in Washington by the James Beard Foundation!!

    Rasika West End (1177 22nd St., NW) 466-2500. Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm. Dinner: Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10:30pm; Fri. & Sat. 5-11pm. Dinner entrée price range: $17-$26.

     

    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.