Dining and Dating District Style: Rasika West End
Seductive. Sleek. Charming. Words that I wish I could use to describe myself; however, it was my initial thoughts upon walking into Rasika’s new West End location (1177 22nd St., NW). Rasika is derived from Sanskrit meaning “flavors” which is quite appropriate on many levels. Entering Rasika, guests are immediately greeted with a sensory overload. The aroma of exotic spices greeted my nostrils. It was strong, but not overwhelming. In fact, the aroma was light, pleasant, and inspired curiosity about my meal ahead. The decor is modern, sleek, and vibrant. Plush fabrics, striking Indian art, and rich jewel tones sets off this open and airy space. This dining review serves as the third installment in the new series Dining and Dating District Style, which focuses on dating from the viewpoint of the plate.
A quick disclaimer before I dive further into this review, I went to Rasika during the midst of DC Restaurant Week. While I recognize that it alters my experience slightly from going on a typical evening; however, I believe that it was not radically different. It may have slightly impacted my final grade of Rasika (as you will note at the end of this post. No skipping ahead).
Ambiance: Rasika features a very modern interior. Angular surfaces span the ceiling, jutting shelves serve the bar, and vibrant colors illuminate sections of the bar. The focal point of the restaurant is the natural wood ceiling, which is a modern interpretation of a Banyan tree, the national tree of India. Everything about the restaurant is lustrous and energetic (as it should be, having been designed by James Beard Foundation’s award- winning restaurant designer Martin Vahtra of Projects Design Associates of New York). The crowd seems to match, with lots of mid twenty-somethings spread around the dining room. One item to note is that this crowd definitely lends itself to being a bit louder. While I was able to hear my date the entire time, it was definitely a bit harder when the date began.
Food: If you’ve never had Indian food before, you should try it at Rasika. Even if you’ve had Indian food before, you should go to Rasika. If you’ve been to Rasika before, you should go again. The moderately priced menu is divided into nosh, griddle, barbecue, chaat, entree and vegetarian sections, which should be familiar to frequenters of the Penn Quarter locale. Executive chef Vikram Sunderam oversees the menu in both locations. One of his signature dishes, the Palak Chaat, crispy spinach with sweet yogurt tamarind and date chutney, is available on the regular menu in both locations. It’s certainly a dish that even the most ardent meat fan could love. Each bite managed to be succulent and flavorful and crispy.
The Lamb Dhansak was an incredibly amazing dish. The lamb was so tender I exclaimed “wow” before I was done with my first bite. The Dhansak (which features aspects of Persian and Indian cuisine), is a fantastic curry, being both sweet and hot and overflowing with flavor. My favorite dish of the night goes to the Coconut and Lemongrass Panna Cotta. I wish this dessert would make its way onto their regular dessert offering. Unlike many versions which end up being overwhelming sweet and rich, this dish had a more delicate and smooth flavor, which went well with the shaved coconut and raspberry syrup that was drizzled around the dish.
Drinks: If you are looking to down drinks that you likely can’t find anywhere else, Rasika has you covered. Their drink menu is a bit more exotic than many restaurants in DC, focusing on a wide variety of base liquors and flavors. My personal recommendation is to order the Mohini. The drink, featuring Assam Tea Infused Vodka, Cocchi Americano, Benedictine, Clear Creek Kirschwassar, and bitters, is a modern and exotic cocktail that any classic cocktail fan could like. However, eat before you down more than one of these high octane cocktails. Take it from experience; your date doesn’t like it when you slur their name.
Neighborhood: As the name implies, this restaurant is off in the recently blooming West End section of town. This allows for some nice walking around some beautiful city streets after your date, heading to the Kennedy Center for a show, but not much else outside of that (not unless you are looking to walk the George Washington University campus). The restaurant is conveniently located just a few blocks from the Foggy Bottom or Dupont Circle metros.
Recommendation: This was a tough decision for me. As I alluded to earlier in this review, I dined during DC Restaurant Week and I think it slightly impacted my experience. Additionally, my impression was impacted by the late arrival of a group of diners that were sporting flip flops and cargo shorts (Oh, you say there is a University nearby? No way!). That said, I think this is a restaurant best suited for a second date. While alluring in a very modern way and at times intimate (if you can get one of the booths along the wall it can bump up to a 3rd), it feels just outside of the romantic vibe that I believe is a better fit for a third date. If you go and you feel otherwise, I would love to hear about it. Either way, Rasika’s West End location is an impressive dining experience that you should not miss out on.
The third post of a new series by “The Golden Boy” of Dining in DC , Sean O’Brien
Sean O’Brien is Dining in DC’s only (and therefore strongest and most intelligent) male contributor. Before he became a Daywalker, Sean was a bartender and bar manager for longer than his parents care to admit. A Marylander born and raised, Sean has spent the better part of his twenties exploring and tasting DC from every corner. He is also the author of failed legislation mandating that every week involve crabs, bacon, Saison-style beer, bourbon or Old Bay.
When he is not working or eating, Sean is likely to be found biking or hiking around DC. Follow him on Twitter at @sotweets, but be prepared for sarcasm and comments about people who say “YOLO” (You only live once) or “totes.”
*Dining in DC was not financially compensated for this post. Contributor did not receive a complimentary meal. The opinions are completely based upon experience.*