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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Rasika Penn Quarter / 633 D St. NW

 

Last spring, all of DC’s foodies swooned when Rasika West End opened, with its charming décor and very chic contemporary Indian menu with recipes based on tradition. (For our April 2012 review, visit http://tinyurl.com/apl7lvo.) But none of us who adore Indian food should forget that the original Rasika in Penn Quarter is as viable and popular as ever. The key reason, of course: the food!!

For that, all praises need go to master chef Vikram Sunderam, who this past year came away as the recipient of the coveted RAMMY award for Chef of the Year, given out annually by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. To win this honor, the chef must, of course, be at the top of his or her game — and best his or her competitors — and attract a following which loves the food. That fits Sunderam, who is as delightful in person as he is skilled in the kitchen, and that leads to a meal at the original Rasika.

Maybe not as glamorous as its sister restaurant, Rasika Penn Quarter carries its own elegance with its muted gold, cinnamon, and pumpkin tones and upscale décor. But where it really captures the spirit and the heart is with the menu, a multi-page tome that leads patrons through assorted appetizers (grilled, broiled, or griddled), and more to the veg and non-veg entrées, sides and breads. If you had four stomachs and eight hours, you could probably devour most of what’s on offer.

But starting sensibly, select one of the house favorites, a spectacular pairing of crispy, finely shredded spinach tossed with sweet yogurt, tamarind, and date chutney. Called palak chaat, this unusual dish shines because of its unexpected crispy texture and mellow-sweet taste. If you google® the name, you will find that most references to this appetizer cite Rasika as the source of the very best crisped spinach offering.

If you favor both mangoes and shrimp, you might want to select the barbecues mango shrimp appetizer served with a sparkling coriander-mint chutney. With only 4 pieces to an order, you might want at least two orders if you are dining with friends. These will disappear fast, that’s for sure.

But other appetizers might make more sense for parties of more than two: how about the eggplant served with spiced potato, rice pancake with shrimp, or cauliflower with mustard seeds and green chilies? Another must is the unusual pan-seared rajma anjeeri tikki, a kidney bean patty sweetened with chutney, filled with goat cheese, and crusted with a vermicelli coating.

Facing the daunting list of entrées, pick something familiar (the chicken tikka masala is outstanding and apparently another of the restaurant’s favorite); a seafood dish such as the black cod, perfectly seasoned with red wine vinegar, dill and honey; and a lamb dish. The lamb leg steak, dum ka gosht, was a bit chewy, so for something more robust, you might try the lamb nihari.

As for sides, add on the gently spiced butternut squash bharta and the slightly more complex vangi batata rassa, a mixture of eggplant and potato in a dark and slightly spicy sauce. And don’t forget the bread: try the goat cheese kulcha for something quite apart from the ordinary roti class.

For dessert, you will find a listing of traditional sounding goodies — each with a Sunderam twist; but quite possibly the best of the lot is the date and toffee pudding (the house favorite, says the waiter), which sounds (and is) more British than Indian. But somehow the kitchen suffuses the pudding with a gooey richness that is as much from the Subcontinent as it is from London.

Rasika / Mon.-Thu., 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30-10:30pm; Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30-11pm;  Sat., 5-11pm;  Sun., closed. Dinner entrée price range: $17-$36. 633 D St. NW; 202- 637-1222; www.rasikarestaurant.com.

 

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.