From Kim Vu. He also has his own food blog, DC Wrapped Dates. Follow him at@dcwrappeddates or email him at kim[AT]borderstan.com.
I love Borderstan, but lately I’ve found myself enjoying meals just outside its borders. And as a former GW student, no neighborhood brings back fonder memories than Foggy Bottom and the West End.
So when I found out that Rasika, it of the perpetual critical acclaim and the fast-going reservations, was opening a new restaurant just blocks from where I used to live, I was pretty psyched. Unfortunately, the same reservation problem kept me from going until this past Restaurant Week, when a group of friends scored a dinner reservation.
West End Decor
If the downtown location is a thoroughly modern restaurant with traditional Indian themes, then the West End version (1190 New Hampshire Avenue NW) is what happens when you turn that on its head entirely. Rasika West End’s interior decor is almost outrageously avant-garde, and leaves you wondering which aspect is the most surprising.
Is it the geometric ceiling that juts and curves like a cavern constructed from dodecahedrons? Is it the color scheme that draws from hot pink and orange and teal? Is it the way the design fits into its building’s unique space, with a bar that extends into a Flatiron-Building-style point to a nook designed to look a library? Or is it the decorative choices, like the full cover booths shaped like onion domes or the giant hanging silver sculpture of a hand that looks strongly like the shocker? Perhaps, it’s the fact that despite all of these points, the whole space does seem to blend together well.
The overwhelming concern when you go to a second version of a restaurant you love is how much it replicates the parts you liked, and how much it can differentiate itself. Admittedly, Restaurant Week is the absolute worst time to evaluate something on this metric, since the menu is often scaled down to what can be turned around quickly. But Rasika has always done a good job of providing a solid offering even for Restaurant Week, and its West End twin was no different.
Palak Chaat and Black Cod
Invariably, when anyone talks about Rasika, the two dishes that are brought up most frequently are the palak chaat and the black cod. Both represent exactly what Rasika does best: takes Indian flavors and concepts and updates them with modern touches, bringing forth brilliant mixes of salt, sweet and spice.
The palak chaat’s crispy spinach is a play of textures, balancing its notes of crunch and spicy with the natural sugars of dates and tamarinds and yogurt sauce. For the cod, it’s the light hints of star anise and honey that perk up a fleshy piece of fish.
There are quite a few other hits as well. Chunks of crispy cauliflower bezule are accented sharply with piquant punches from mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies; the chicken tikka makhani is a beautiful blend of tomato, garlic and ginger flavors, held together by a sauce that everyone keeps dipping their naan into; and there is a surprising appreciation for the vegetable thali trio: bowls of paneer mattar, navrattan korma and dal makhani that seep through basmati rice.
Rasika West End just got named, along with its predecessor, as one of Washingtonian‘s Top 100 Restaurants. It’s an honor that is much deserved.
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