Nothing makes me happier than seeing friends from home. With that said, this also seems to be when I get myself into the most trouble. Needless to say, after a late night gallivanting around U Street, an ornate brunch wasn’t what I had envisioned for this particular Sunday. I had booked reservations weeks in advance to dine with friends visiting from NYC and Philly, so I was locked in. Plus, I don’t have Indian food as often as I’d like, living far away from my parents’ house in New Jersey. The cuisine requires too many ingredients and more patience than I have to make items like roti from scratch. My Dad seems to think this is why I’m not married yet.
I’ve dined at Rasika a number of times and had the pleasure of seeing Chef Vikram Sunderam work his magic in the kitchen, so I was eager to check out the brunch offerings, to see whether it would live up to its name. In case you live under a rock, Rasika is known for its modern Indian cuisine and unique ingredient pairings for a more contemporary take on traditional dishes. The ambiance certainly reflects that, with a glass wall encasing colored spices, jewel tones throughout the restaurant, and banyan tree inspired booths. It feels like a special occasion when you walk into Rasika, one that requires dressing the part.
The six of us were seated right away at a round table in the main dining room. Our server greeted us and promptly asked what we would like to drink. I rarely pass up the chance to booze at brunch, however this was one exception I had to make. Sometimes a Bitch just has to say no and stick with caffeine. The drink menu showcased a seasonal array of juices, mocktails, and bottomless cocktails. $15 gets you bottomless mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, or (my personal favorite) Prosecco. I was a little surprised the Brunch cocktails were rather traditional and didn’t include Mango, lychee, rose or any other prominent Indian flavors.
My friends decided to skip their daily dose of Vitamin C, and dove straight into the sparking wine. I decided to go with the french pressed coffee and the Passion Fruit Punch which was rather tangy, but refreshing. Since a few of us are vegetarians, we decided to share all of the veggie-friendly options. We started with the Malai Chicken Tikka, Crab Poha, Dhokla and of course the Palak Chaat.
Growing up Gujarati, dhokla is a staple at most family gatherings. Dhokla has a fluffy, cake-like texture. The round, steamed lentil cakes were garnished with cilantro and shredded coconut, which provided a nice hint of sweetness. It was light and luscious, and paired with a fresh mint cilantro chutney, which was the real winner on the plate.
The guys went in on the Malai Chicken Tikka dumplings, which were filled with an assortment of cheeses ranging from boursin, cheddar, mozzarella, and more. It was tender and juicy, but it could have been seasoned a little more. It was savory, but not very spicy. They noted the pickled carrots were not pickled enough.
Poha in my opinion is one of the least exciting things in existence, but what do I know? However the guys thought the Crab poha was surprisingly good, blended well and looked even prettier. Typically Poha is just pressed rice with mustard seeds and curry leaves. The curried crab concoction was paired with coconut chutney. They thought it had a great consistency and stayed together well. Bonus points: it didn’t smell like seafood.
Next up: the Palak Chaat, Rasika’s signature and most well known dish. You’re not doing Rasika right unless you order this. The Chaat calls for crispy baby spinach, yogurt, tamarind and date chutney topped with tomato and onion. “Chaat” means a mixture of flavors, and that’s exactly what this dish is. It’s light yet spicy, sweet, and tangy – what more could you want?
For the main entrees, we went with the Pao Bhaji, Chicken Kathi Roll, and the Coconut Jaggery Pancakes. The coconut jaggery pancakes were a nice change of pace, compared to the previous items. They were light and fluffy and included an assortment of fresh berries on top with cardamom and caramel. It wasn’t overly sweet. However, we could barely taste the cardamom and it had almost no caramel. It was a pleasant surprise to have a side of pineapples, as well.
Pao Bhaji to me is the definition of comfort food. It’s the most reminiscent meal of my childhood. It triggers memories of happy Saturday afternoons and family trips to Mumbai. It’s essentially an Indian sloppy joe that consists of a spicy mixture of steamed potatoes, peas, and other vegetables paired with toasted bread. The Pao Bhaji at Rasika certainly did it justice.
The carnivores of the group were disappointed with the Chicken Kathi roll. It was anti-climactic and “just okay.” While the portion was rather generous, the chicken tikka and tomato stuffing were too moist and made the wrap rather soggy.
We couldn’t leave without trying dessert. Our server noted that the Indian Bread Pudding is a crowd pleaser, with the White Chocolate Kheer being a close second. Kheer is another thing I don’t particularly care for, but I was sold once I heard chocolate was involved. The rice pudding was topped with pistachios and coconut and looked very appetizing. I thought it tasted decent, but still wasn’t willing to jump on the Kheer bandwagon.
Lastly, we devoured the Indian Bread Pudding. By far one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. The combination of hot and cold temperatures really brought this dish together. The cardamom ice cream was to die for and you could taste the pistachio, raisins, and saffron. The perfect ending to beautiful Sunday brunch!
The Bitches say: A. We were impressed that the brunch menu captured the flavors and culinary styles across various regions of India. The service was excellent and the bottomless option makes Rasika a perfect group brunch spot for a special occasion.
1190 New Hampshire Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037
Rasika serves brunch on Sunday from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.