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Sep 21, 2010 11:49 AM

Rasika Review (In-depth)

Hey Chowhounders,

There was a thread posted by someone in the community asking for a good, moderately-priced restaurant in DC for a one-day trip. I said I'd post up a review of my recommendation, Rasika, to help out with the decision, so here it is.

Photos/Course-by-course at:

Rasika is easily my favorite Indian restaurant in Washington, DC, and one of my favorites in the nation. This isn’t your traditional Indian, though. Rasika verges on the more modern side. Gone is the traditional simplicity of the Indian world. Replacing it is a very chic environment, complete with a nice, comfy lounge, a rather large wine cellar, and a main dining room that just screams of class. The dining area is especially impressive—just a huge space and relatively few tables, polished wood, a small counter area around an open kitchen, and even a curtain of crystal beads to block sight of all the commoners sitting in the lounge area. Or at least that’s how Rasika feels, with its somewhat presumptuous air of European refinement. On the positive side, though, it is gorgeous, very comfortable, and much, much nicer than what you’ll find in almost any Indian restaurant. Not surprisingly, it’s also a popular hangout with the professionals in town, so you get lots of suits in there, something I’ve never seen in an Indian restaurant before.

And that type of class continues with the service and even the food. The service quality depends on whom you ask, but I thought it was fantastic. Our waiter was attentive, prompt, gave very helpful recommendations, and even hooked us up with an extra appetizer—their best—just so that the whole table could try it out. And when my friend decided he couldn’t drink his cocktail because it was so horrible, the waiter took it back with no charge, either. On the other hand, another friend thought the service was horrible, since the waiter accidentally stepped on his foot for a minute without noticing. So take the service for what you will, but I personally will vouch for the waiter as rather respectful and welcoming.

Topping off the great food and atmosphere, the food was fantastic. Even though most dishes are very traditional, there are still some unique and inventive choices on the menu, both in how the traditional dishes are re-imagined and in what types of dishes are offered. For example, you don’t typically see such choices as a black cod (the signature) or a chicken green masala on the menu. Just as importantly, it doesn’t feel like needless innovation. Instead, the flavors just burst in your mouth, as each dish tends to utilize very few, very strong ingredients but still retains a surprising complexity, combining a taste of spice with the sweet, the crunchy, the minty, etc.

I have only two complaints. First—and this is rather small—is that the traditional drinks accompanying Indian food, like fruit juices, are downplayed (i.e. almost non-existent) in favor of wines. While I myself didn’t have any wine, I just don’t see the point of accompanying Indian food with $100+ bottle of wine. Second, and much more importantly, is the price. This is still just $30-$50, but in terms of prices for Indian food, that’s still on the pricier end. $16 isn’t bad for a curry entrée, but you can get it at most traditional places for about $10 or less. Still, you pay for the ambience, service, and quality, and I do have to say that I’d gladly dish out the extra money for a fantastic, memorable Indian experience.

All in all, I, and every single one of my friends with me, had a fantastic time at Rasika. It scores high in almost all regards.

Some of the dishes I'd recommend:

1) Palak Chaat (crispy spinach, sweet yogurt, tamarind, date chutney): This is a house specialty, and for good reason—it was the best dish I had and quite possibly the best use of spinach I’ve ever seen. It seems deceptively simple, with just four ingredients, but everything just melds so perfectly. The crispiness gives it a nice crunch, but since it’s spinach, it doesn’t feel greasy but rather very light. The yogurt adds an interesting sweetness but also a nice, light, milky coolness to it that gives it a nice contrasting texture. And to top it all off, there’s a fantastic spiciness that kicks in near the end, counterbalancing the sweetness. Combining the sweet, spicy, and crunchy perfectly, this is a near flawless dish. 4.9/5.0

2) Chicken Green Masala (Chicken, mint, coriander, ground spices): This one really just came out of nowhere as one of the most inventive and best tasting foods of the evening. While I prefer the traditional flavors of the chicken makhani, this one is probably the technically more interesting and complex dish. The chicken is absolutely tender, even more so than in the Makhani, and it’s incredibly succulent. Plus, it suits the minty sauce very well, which gives it a nice kick and zestiness. And the sauce itself just makes your taste buds go all over the place. It’s about as spicy as an Indian dish can be, but the mint and coriander act as a perfect counterbalance, giving it a nice cooling freshness that really adds lots of flavor and a great contrast. And it’s a dish you probably won’t find anywhere else, at least not in this form. 4.3/5.0 (higher score if you like spicy or minty foods).

3) Black Cod (Fresh Dill, Honey, Star Anise, Red Wine Vinegar): The specialty of the house, and for good reason. This is a beautifully cooked fish—very tender and succulent, practically falling apart in the mouth. What really stands about Rasika’s dish, though, is how the restaurant takes such a simple fish and turns it into something so flavorful. Not only do you get some of the zest of the dill, but there’s a very nice hint of sweetness from the honey and star anise combo, perpetuating every bite. It’s very light, but still delicious, and I just wish there had been some more. 4.5/5.0.

4) Tawa Baingan (Eggplant, Spiced Potato, Olive Oil, Peanut Sauce): This is an incredible assortment of flavors, giving you spicy, nutty, and smoky all in a delicate mash that is slightly gritty but never muddy. The eggplant is a real knockout, as it’s been charred on the top to give it a nice crispness and smokiness, adding to both the texture and the flavor. The potato mixes nicely too, coming off as rather light, largely because the spice turns attention away from the starchiness. And that lightness continues with the seasoning, a nice mix of olive oil and peanuts, which never overpowers the dish in any way. 4.6/5.0+. Extremely complex and surprisingly balanced.

The rest of the dishes tend to be recommendable, but not nearly as good. Especially disappointing is the dessert variety (as it is at most Indian restaurants), and I'd avoid those desserts in favor of the savory dishes.


Ambience: 4.3/5.0
Service: 4.5/5.0.
Taste: 4.3/5.0. Make it a 4.5 if you avoid dessert.
Value: 4.0/5.0.
Overall Score: 4.4/5.0

Rasika Restaurant
633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

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  1. Thanks for this review, Food Buster. I love Rasika as well. I could never go there without ordering the Palak Chaat - one of my top favorite dishes anywhere in DC. About the black cod though, everyone I've talked to who has eaten it besides me loved it as you did. I am in a minority (a minority of one, perhaps) of people who isn't so excited about it. I thought it was a nicely cooked piece of fish, but for me it was bland and lacked interest -- and it was too expensive for what it was. I haven't tried the chicken or the eggplant that you mentioned, but they are both on my list for next time.

    Rasika Restaurant
    633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

    1 Reply
    1. re: woodleyparkhound

      Ya, I can understand what you're saying. As a dish, it's extremely simple, with few frills. I personally don't get too excited for it, but as far as fish is concerned, I do think they do a pretty good job of cooking it and integrating in a subtle sweetness.

      Still, it's really a matter of taste, I suppose. I would agree, too, that the more Indian dishes are far more impressive and interesting.

    2. I think it might be difficult to highlight a drink like a lassi, which can be the same no matter where you go. The lassi at Rasika is good, but to me it tastes like the other's I've had.

      I've only eaten vegetarian there so find the prices VERY reasonable for the quality (for example, for the same price, Heritage in Dupont uses FROZEN VEGETABLES...and you can taste it!). However, I have seen the meat dishes at my table with other diners and they were a little small for the price but still were of the highest quality like you said.

      Rasika Restaurant
      633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jeserf

        Value is always a concern for a place like this. It's really hard to justify dropping so much for Indian food, but sometimes I guess you do pay for quality. The black cod, though, definitely could use a portion boost.

        1. re: The Food Buster

          I've said it on chow before - my fiance and I always leave there for under $75 inclusive...but we do not drink alcohol (a big saver!) and he rarely gets fish. Our normal bill there is $60 for a LOT of food. if you love it there, that's a way to include it more often if you are willing to try just veggies!

      2. DC is lucky to have that place, I'd be happy to ONLY eat the palak chaat.

        2 Replies
          1. re: The Food Buster

            heh, almost did that once, 3 of us split the veg tasting menu and several more sides of that (highly addictive) spinach in addition.

            I have the house to myself this weekend, may have to see if I can approximate it.

        1. I'm really late commenting on our meal here so am really glad to piggyback onto this thread.

          We walked in at lunch time without a reservation but they were able to serve us in the bar which was fine with us. As TFB said, Rasika is very handsome, modern, chic. I'll get the only complaint out of the way right now. I asked our server, who was very, very nice btw, if they had a house white. He recommended a Chardonnay that he thought I'd like. My husband, who was actually looking at the wine list :), ordered a French Chenin Blanc. At the end of the meal, I discovered that the Chardonnay was $15 a glass which the server didn't mention. I thought he should have. Okay, that's the only complaint. As everyone says, I could eat the Palak Chaat every day, multiple plates of it. Who'd have thought that spinach could cause such raves? We were doing a house exchange and our host recommended the restaurant and the dish and I sure am glad she did. Bob was skeptical but he loved it also. We also shared the Seekah Kebab which was lovely with a mint chutney. Another dish that we loved (heck, we loved it all) was the Coorgi Sweetbread, almost little barbecued pieces with balsamic vinegar, black peppercorns and quinoa. We also shared an order of Naan. We had three glasses of wine (including 2 at $15 each!) and it was still only $70. When it's a choice we almost always choose small plates and this was perfect. Getting all the different flavors and textures made this one of the best of some very good meals we had while in DC.

          BTW, Rasika is part of a family of restaurants which includes 701 where we had our best meal, a prix fixe three course Thanksgiving dinner. If we're lucky enough to get back, I want to work my way through all the places.

          Rasika Restaurant
          633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004