Rasika West End Chef’s Table 06.24.2012

The spiced, crispy spinach is just the tip of the iceberg.  Using “iceberg” in an analogy for an Indian feast may seem out of place, but it is the perfect description for chef’s table at Rasika West End because it is big and powering.  

I’ve been eating at Rasika in Penn Quarter for years and know the work of Chef Vikram Sunderam:  this is not your grandmother’s Indian cooking. Rasika West End is the same brilliance as the Penn Quarter location.  The crispy spinach is wildly famous, but you are urged not to stop there.  The rest of the menu will knock your socks off.

I, along with Eric and group of lucky foodies recently had the first chef’s table at Rasika West End.  The first of many courses was the crispy spinach, but you have no idea of the pleasure that followed.  Dish after dish of interesting, inventive flavors, and well-paired wines.  There was a lot of moaning. 

We arrived early for pre-dinner cocktails at the bar, and then the six of us were huddled downstairs, past the bustling kitchen into a glass-encased room set only with one round table and chairs.

Simon demonstrating hyper-decanting
Sommelier Simon Stilwell stayed with us through each course describing the food and introducing the wines.  I wish every chef’s table had someone like Simon managing the proceedings.  He is quick, witty, and gets into the gritty details foodies love to hear.

For one course, he brought us a Spanish white, giving only the tiniest pour.  He then poured what was in the bottle into a blender – yes, a blender – and ran it.  This is called hyperdecanting.  We then tasted the wine after and it tasted better, more open.  

Every now and then Chef Vikram would pop in to chat about the food, as would the Chef de Cuisine, Manish Tyagi.  And this is what a chef's table is all about, isn't it?  Getting so close to the food, the people who make the food, understanding how they work -- it makes a meal memorable.  

Incidently, owner Ashok Bajaj was Washingtonian Magazine's restauranteur of the year.  I know who I would have my pick as chef of the year!

My friend David of the blog Pleasures of the Table also blogged about this meal -- his photos are fantastic so check out his post.

Below are photos of all the food we ate with the wine pairing.  Enjoy!

  • Amuse - Palak Chaat.  Wine:  Conde de Subirats, Cava Brut Rosé, NV, Catalonia, Spain
We started with the Palak Chaat, followed by the Sev Batata Puri, Avacado Banana Chaat, and Sweet Potato Tuk.  These are all exceptional savory starters.  While the crispy spinach is a huge favorite, I prefer Sev Batata Puri and Avacado Banana Chat, an unusual (and delicious) twist on traditional Indian street food.  

  • Crab-Calamari-Scallop-Shirmp.  Wine:  Vassiliou, "Retsina of Attica", Savatiano, NV, Attica, Greece
I can't believe there was a time in my life when I did not eat seafood.  All of these dishes have varying degrees of heat, but there is some there.  My favorites of this course were the Dakshini Scallops and the Calamari Chili Garlic.  

I was happy to eat the Crab Pepper Masala (pictured at the top of this post) since the last time I ate at Rasika West End I was getting over a cold and did not properly taste everything. 

  • Assorted Kebabs.  Wine: Telmo Rodriguez, "Gabo do Xil", Godello, 2007 Valdeorras, Spain (hyperdecanted)

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of kebabs and was hesitant when the chicken kebabs arrived.  There has been much dry meat in my life and it's not pleasant.  But Rasika's kebabs were all tender -- even the chicken.  Perfect with chutney and naan.    

  • Black Cod West End Style.  Wine:  Chateau D'Escalans, "Whispering Angel", Grenache Rose, 2011 Cotes de Provence, France

One the favorite dishes over at Rasika Penn Quarter is the black cod, and I think it's going to be a favorite at the West End location.  The one on this menu is called Khatta Meetha Black Cod, which means tangy-sweet in Hindi.  The cod is beautifully tender and flavorful.  Sitting next to the piece of fish is curried quonia -- really a fantastic take on a healthy-but-uneventful quasi-grain.

  • Curry.  Wine:  Shina's Estate, "The Guilty", Shiraz, 2008 Victoria, Australia

I love the idea of a curry course.  There should always be a curry course.  And sometimes, that is the only course I need.  There were so many elements that it was a little overwhelming.  The first picture here is the Kid Goat Biryani, followed by the Chicken Tikka Masala.  This, I have to say, completely, utterly blew me away.  It is possibly the best chicken tikka masala I have tasted.  There were vegetarian dishes as well, including Panjabi Khadi and Lentils.  The Panjabi Khadi is a personal favorite.  

  • Dessert:  Gulab Jamun and Kulfi.  Wine:  Heinz Eifel, Eiswein, 2009 Rheinhessen, Germany
I cannot tell you how many times I have been at an Indian restaurant and forgotten to photograph the Gulab Jamun.  And that is because I eat it as soon as it is put in front of me.  Devine sweetness: you must have it.  We also had with the dessert course the kulfi, which is Indian ice cream.  I remember when I was growing up, my mom had brought from India aluminum kulfi molds -- they are cone-shaped.  She would pour the liquid mixture -- usually pistachio-flavored -- into the molds and place in the freezer to set.  

Rasika West End 
 1177 22nd Street, NW  
Washington, DC 20037     


General Manager Atul Narain -- 
the first person you will see

Food Wine & Co Bistro: Divine! 06.13.2012

Bistro Burger with cheddar -- shhhh!  

How do you get a group of working moms together for an adult beverage and a wickedly delicious hamburger?  It takes months of planning.  Really.

This week I was so happy to break bread with a group of women I met almost five years ago in a mom's group shortly after we had all given birth to our respective first-born.  Every now and then we get together for a meal, a few drinks, and fabulous conversation.

We ate at Food Wine & Co Bistro in Bethesda.  I've dined at the bar before with Eric -- great appetizers and delicious wine -- so I was happy to make my way back to the restaurant.

Before I get to the food, I have to rave about the service:  everyone is nice.  So nice.  From front door to bus boy.  Excellent service.  And this is how it should be -- at every restaurant.  If any of the staff was undergoing an IRS audit or had a crazy mother-in-law sleeping in their house or a boyfriend slowly turning into Charlie Sheen -- it did not seep through in the service.

Yellow Tail Tuna Ceviche with Coconut Lime Sauce
To start, I had the Yellow Tail Tuna Ceviche with Coconut Lime Sauce.  With the exception of the "with", there is not one word in that description that doesn't make my mouth water.  If there is ceviche on a menu, I will order it.  And the Yellow Tail Tuna was fantastic.  So well prepared and flavored, with a little heat thrown in for good measure.  To drink with the ceviche, I had the Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand).

The wine was drinkable, but uneven.  Sauvignon Blanc is my wine of choice these days and I've been wowed:  Fire Road did not wow me.

For my main course, I had the Bistro Burger with cheddar.  (Although I'm off dairy right now.)  (Don't tell anyone.)  (Please.)  I was going to be one of those people who didn't eat the bun (because bread is bad -- right?) but it was so fluffy and so perfect I could not resist.  And I will now die a happy woman.  Good God that burger was good!  I always ask for my beef to be well done but not burned, and they delivered it just right.  Delicious.  And to drink with my burger, I had the Zucardi Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina).  Perfect, like an 80 degree day with a slight breeze.

And I dare not forget the chips served with the burger:  hand-cut rosemary-parmesan chips.  I was absolutely certain when I saw them that I would not -- under any circumstance -- eat one single chip.  But I did.  And then, 40 chips later...

If you find yourself in Bethesda and want good food and wine, go to Food Wine & Co Bistro.  Also, there is free parking after 5 p.m. in the lot next door.  If you frequent Bethesda for any purpose under the sun, you know parking -- especially free parking -- is hard to find.

Happy eating, all!

Food Wine & Co Bistro
7272 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, Maryland 20814