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There are so many new restaurants opening in DC that it is hard to keep up with them all. That said, I had been anticipating Rasika's opening since I first heard whispers that Vikram Sunderam would be leaving his post at Bombay Brasserie. BB was my favorite restaurant when I was living in London (albeit 10 years ago) and I couldn't wait to see how well the food translated across the pond.

 

Anyway, a small group of us tried Rasika last night and were very impressed. The menu is long and difficult to get through, but the servers are well versed in ingredients, preparation and portion control.

 

We shared:

- Trio of Chicken Tikka (chili, basil and cheese)

- Dahi Batata Puri (stuffed w/ potatoes, yogurt and tamarind date chutney)

- Palak Chaat (crispy spinach, yogurt and tamarind date chutney)

- Black Cod (w/ dill, honey, star anise and red wine vinegar)

- Lamb Shank Roganjosh (w/ caramelized onions and garam masala)

- Dum Ka Duck (w/ saffron, chili and cashew nuts)

- Cucumber Raita

- Bread Basket

 

This was a complete tour de force of how mind blowing Indian spices can be. From the delicate cod perfumed with anise and dill to the tangy duck with saffron, chili and mango and on to the heady depth of the garam masala lamb shank, each dish was unique, balanced and cooked to perfection.

 

The wine list is also ambitious. They have searched far and wide to find wines - including an unusually large variety of wines by the glass - that pair with Indian spices. I had a glass of Gruner Veltliner with our starters and then paired a Spanish Grenache with the Roganjosh and duck.

 

Chalk up another win for restaurateur Ashok Bajaj!

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Just to add to the "literature" on Rasika on Mounthfuls, I posted this on donrockwell.com last month about my meal there.

 

I was intrigued by the idea of Rasika, shooting for something more haute than the Indian we've been offered here before. But I was also a little worried. My initial impression was that its menu was going to be more fusion-y and I almost always feel that whatever cuisines are being "fused" end up being watered down and neither shines through. The bold flavors and the wide range of Indian cuisine is especially vulnerable to this bastardization.

 

But Rasika surprised me. Not the service - I figured that Sebastian would be able to put his stylish imprint on the whole service and he has succeeded qucikly and seems to be having fun with the new challenges of creating a wine list for a different type of cooking. And the room was predicatably attractive, with warm colors and wood sufaces, just like you've come to expect from a new place in the Penn Quarter area.

 

But last Friday, the food on both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus wasn't the mismatch of French and Indian techniques and ingredients that I had expected. It was very distinctly Indian. Maybe a little more refined than you might expect, but not enough so to diminish the flavors that make me crave Indian food.

 

The Spinach Chaat showed a light hand with flash fried lacy baby spinach leaves and sweet and tangy yogurt and tamarind chutney. The lamb shank rogan josh was, per Sebastian's suggestion, a worthy successor to the suckling pig at Komi. A big portion of tender, slightly fatty lamb shank bathed in a deeply flavored garam masala sauce. Tawa fish was a little plain, but was still a piece of nice fish with a bit of fire, both from the tawa grill and the spices cating it. And the apple jalebi, a thick slice of apple, tempura fried and crisp despite its honey sauce coating was a last minute winner as my favorite dessert of 2005.

 

I've been a fan of Indique's mix of casual style and good cooking since it opened and the feel of authenticity and spice from Minerva's curries are a rus family carry-out favorite. And I'm still scared to go to Indebleu.

 

But I think Rasika is cooking some of the most interesting Indian I've had and it is a welcome addition.

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Don't be affraid to try Indebleu. I wanted to hate it too when it opened, but they have some very cool things going on in the kitchen. They also have some just plain different things on the menu (not necessarily good). Order carefully and you will be rewarded.

 

Try:

 

- duck confit samosas w/ apple chutney (this works very well)

 

- the veal tenderloin w/ cardamom sweat bread sauce (again, French tequnique w/ Indian spices)

 

- cumin scented scallop w/ chicory, pancetta and basil (just a hint of Indian influence)

 

- gnocchi w/ chanterelles and walnuts in a champagne fenugreek sauce (heavy, creamy sauce but the fenugreek here is a welcome twist)

 

Avoid:

 

- lilliputian tower of lobster and crab with mango (remember when Jean Georges introduced this 15 years ago?)

 

- foie gras sandwich w/ rose marmelade and garam massala (too wierd)

 

- wild mushroom dosa w/ blue cheese and truffle oil (mushroom dosa gets lost in the blue cheese and truffles)

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