Yes, Restaurant Week is technically over. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop pumping the event for all the possible traffic I can get. Also, Rasika is extending its RW promotion until the 24th, so you still have six days to get in the door. Good luck making reservations, of course.
Unlike most of my RW pit stops, I actually got in to Rasika for dinner. Yes, it was an early dinner (5:30), but you do what you have to. Honestly, it might not have been that “cool,” but unlike the people eating at 7:30 or 8:00, we had no service problems, everyone was really nice and the place wasn’t completely insane. Two non-food notes: first, servers at Rasika seem to stand very far away from the table and then shout at you. An odd choice, though maybe my BO is not as concealed by my Old Spice as I once thought? Also, for a nice restaurant, Rasika isn’t very smart about concealing evidence of the gauche background of some of its decor: I must have peeled two or three “Bed Bath and Beyond” price tags off of various bathroom accoutrements. Not that I would fault a restaurant for going the cheap route: I am the “thrifty” epicure after all. I just found it amusing. I wish I had taken a picture.
With the increase in prices to $35.08, whether RW dinner is still a good deal is definitely an open question. At Rasika, however, you want to be there for dinner – the selection is considerably better. Ignore the menu at the Rasika website; I don’t know if they thought to publicize their wishful thinking, but it doesn’t match what they are serving. Head to Washingtonian’s Best Bites (which I link to so often I should be a subsidiary) instead. The most obvious discrepancy between the online and actual menu is the missing Palak Chaat, or crispy spinach, at lunch. As I have been told, and as our waitress mentioned about half a dozen times, crispy spinach is Rasika’s “signature appetizer.”
I don’t generally think of an appetizer as being a signature dish, but the spinach lived up to its billing: melt-in-your-mouth crispy and delicate, with the tamarind-yogurt chutney that accompanied it providing a wonderful tangy sweetness. How one actually deep fries spinach became a major point of discussion for the rest of the meal: my contention is that you must have to put a strainer in the oil and then dump in the spinach and yank out the strainer (bringing the spinach along) almost instantaneously. Maybe 2-5 seconds in the oil? I just can’t think of another way to prevent the spinach from completely falling apart. Of course, you can tell me I’m an idiot and explain the right way to do it the comments.
Our other appetizer was a banana balchao, or pancake, which was another pleasant surprise. Usually I like banana flavoring one way: in my raw banana that I eat with breakfast. Banana shakes, banana yogurt, bananas in fruit salad: gross. But this was very delicately banana flavored, and the strong flavors of the masala topping were the real highlight of the dish. It also had a nice, mellow heat – a heat that I never saw in any of our other dishes, unfortunately.
For my entree, I eschewed Frank Bruni fave Black Cod (yes, a NYC food critic has a favorite dish at a DC restaurant) for the Goa Fish Curry, made with fresh wild-caught halibut. Halibut is an interesting fish: with its mild, buttery flavor, I find it too boring to eat on its own (as I would with a piece of salmon or char), but it makes a fantastic choice for a curry, or other heavily sauced dish because it is so firm that it holds up so well. In this instance, it was wonderful, providing a richness that was an effective counterpoint to the bright flavors of the curry sauce. My dining partner had the chicken makhani – it looked delicious, and she assured me it tasted that way, though she only finished about half of the dish. I think maybe she doesn’t take to spice in the same way that I do.
Dessert was another revelation. We picked the two simplest desserts: mango-saffron ice cream and lychee-rose sorbet. In my experience, ice cream tends to have less thought put into it than most desserts; unless you are at a place that touts its homemade ice cream, we aren’t generally talking about a signature dish. But the ice cream/sorbet we had was simply fantastic. The mango ice cream was really delicate, avoiding the cloying sweetness that mango-flavored dishes are often burdened with. Also, the color was beautiful, clearly taking more from the golden-yellow of saffron than the neon orange of ripe mango. And the lychee sorbet, which you might assume would be quite delicate, was instead very strong, with definite flavors of rose as well.
As for the “thrfit” part of the equation, this meal was a complete disaster. It was about three times as much as I’ve spent on any meal so far in the District. We added a bottle of wine, a tasty Alsatian white, which was the “RW wine special” at $30.08. Maybe that’s my one regret: the wine was good, but some of the cocktails coming out from the bar looked sensational (including one, a ginger-peach martini with rosemary foam, which sent me into desperate mixologist contortions imagining how to recreate it at home), and were a comparable steal at $10.
Obviously you can’t look at RW from a purely thrifty standpoint, however. I’ll probably not be getting back to Rasika for a long, long time. I just can’t afford it. And getting in for a nice dinner, which only cost $65, while quite a lot of money, was in my mind completely worth it.