>> Wednesday, September 19, 2012
This is the seventh and final post in the new series about my recent trip to Washington DC right on Julia Child's 100th birthday (Series overview: Happy Birthday Julia Child): Other posts in this series include Wolfgang Puck's The Source, Ben's Chili Bowl - an Inside Perspective, Exploring Little Ethiopia, Jaleo, The Federalist, and Peregrine Espresso. I hope you enjoyed the series!
I hardly ever eat Indian.
It's the one cuisine that Bryan refuses to eat. Even though he's not the biggest fan of Korean or Southeast Asian food (ever notice the death of posts for those types of restaurants on this blog?), at least he willing to occasionally try those two cuisines.
But Indian? Forget it. He tried it once in college, absolutely could not stand it, and has refused to set foot inside an Indian restaurant ever since.
So if I want Indian, I basically have to fend for myself.
Of course, this also means that my knowledge of Indian food is woefully elementary. I hardly am aware of the "basic" Indian dishes, (e.g., tikki malasa, samosas, and saag paneer), let alone some of the more exotic stuff.
Which is why I was all the more excited when I found out that we would be visiting one of the hottest Indian restaurants in Washington D.C.
Palak Chaat Crispy baby spinach / sweet yogurt / tamarind / date chutney
Rasika West End just opened in March of 2012. It's the sister restaurant of Rasika, Ashok Bajaj's wildly successful and very popular first Indian restaurant, which he opened in 2005. Bajaj has been nominated three times for the James Beard Award for "Best Restauranteur" due to the incredible success of Rasika, which focuses on modern upscale Indian cuisine.
Reservations are always hard to get at Rasika, so Rasika West End is a great alternative. Although the meus are not exactly the same, there is some overlap of the most popular dishes, such as their signature dish Palak Chaat, shown above, which, by the way, is absolutely incredible.
This dish is like no Indian dish I'd ever had before and I loved it. Baby spinach is coated in chick pea flour and flash fried into crispy, delicate leaves, which are served tossed with yogurt, tamarind sauce, and date chutney. The mix of flavors is vivid and intense. I would come back just to order this one dish.
Cauliflower Bezule Mustard seeds / curry leaves / green chilies / lemon juice
A portion of the menu is different from the original Rasika menu. This menu offers a lot more vegetarian options plus a brand new section called "Nosh Farmana" (translation: to eat or to drink) which includes dishes such as the Cauliflower Bezule shown above. Furthermore, the new, trendy modern decor (from James Beard winner restaurant designer Martin Vahtra), is a great place to relax with a cocktail (of which they have many) or a wine from their international wine list.
Fish Chutneywala Sea bass / cilantro / mint / coconut
Having only tried Indian food a handful of times (mostly at cheap Indian buffets around Boston), I was floored by the variety of flavors and textures available here. One of my favorites was the Fish Chutneywala, which I really thought even Bryan would enjoy. Sea bass is cooked inside of a huge leaf and slathered with a rich pesto full of cilantro (Bryan's favorite) and mint. It really reminded me of the cilantro dipping salsa that comes with the bread at The Helmand in Boston (which Bryan really likes).
I wish I knew more about Indian food so I could talk more in detail about these dishes. Unfortunately, this was my first time ever sampling a lot of these flavors. In general, I loved the restaurant. Virtually all of the dishes were multi-dimensional and full of complex (and very good!) flavors. For me, most of it was quite foreign, and therefore delightfully surprising and totally fun.
Because I'm less familiar with Indian food in general, I had a harder time keeping track of the names of all these dishes, for forgive me if I don't label everything correctly. I think I'm reasonably accurate, but I'm much less "sure" about this set compared to if all these dishes were Chinese!
Paneer of some sort?
Malai Fish Curry was made with halibut in a creamy and fragrant sauce made of coconut milk, onions, bay leaf, and lots of curry.
The Mixed Grill was a great way to sample three of their meat entrees, such as the Kali Mirch Salmon, Scottish salmon with pink & black pepper and green pea chutney; Coorgi Murgh Tikka, chicken flavored with balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and cumin; and Seekh Kebab, minced meat mixed with spices.
I cannot for the life of me remember what this was - maybe sweet potato? Or carrots?
Sweet Potato and Sago Tikki was flavored with cumin, green chilies, curry leaves, and served with pineapple chutney.
The Roti Pe Boti with grilled lamb, onion, tomato and tawa paratha (a soft tandoori bread) was one of my favorites. It totally reminded me of the Singaporean version of this dish, which I always order.
Here are both types of bread - Naan (Indian flat bread) on the bottom and Mint Paratha (the soft layered bread) on top. These were both fantastic!
A lovely plate full of a little bit of each one of the dishes on the table!
Although the meal was fantastic, we thought that the desserts were only OK. I did appreciate the fun use of certain types of "modern" food techniques (such as spherification) to achieve some of the unusual textures in a subset of the desserts.
However, by-and-large, I still stand by my original opinion about Indian desserts: I just don't like them that much. I think it's largely personal preference. In general I dislike cardamon, cloves, and similar flavors. I'm also not a huge fan of rose water.
In spite of all that, the desserts were beautifully plated and hit that spot (you know, that sweet craving you get at the end of a meal?).
Coconut and Lemongrass Panna Cotta
Cardamom ice cream with honey soaked cake
Rice Kheer - saffron and green cardamon
Mango and Jasmine Sorbet
Rose Compote Ice Cream
Like I mentioned earlier, this restaurant had really good food. Washington Post gave it 4 stars, the highest score you can get. Definitely try their signature Palak Chaat, which is pretty incredible. Seriously, though, you can't go wrong with the rest of the menu. Try an assortment of different little dishes with friends, and get lots of naan. It's the most fun way to eat, and you get to try more dishes that way.
Personally, I think it's fine to skip dessert and just save more stomach space for the awesome food. However, if you really have a sweet tooth, my favorites were the cardamom ice cream with honey soaked cake or the coconut and lemongrass panna cotta.
Washington D.C. is super fortunately to have such "cutting edge" Indian food. It's a far cry from the Indian buffets I've tried in Boston, and definitely something I enjoyed a lot more.
Heck, I seriously even think I could convince Bryan to like Indian food if he tried this.
Rasika West End
1177 22nd St NW
Washington, DC 20037
This trip was part of a media tour of Washington DC paid for by Destination DC, a non-profit organization that supports the DC travel and tourism sector.