Rasika is often considered one of the top restaurants in Washington, making the Ashok Bajaj restaurant one of the toughest tables in town as well. As of next week, though, consider those tables just a little bit more achievable with the opening of the restaurant's brand new West End location. Sure, James Beard-nominated chef Vikram Sunderam will be overlooking both kitchens and Rasika West End will offer the same signature menu items that often come up when speaking of Rasika Penn Quarter, such as the palak chaat and the black cod. But keep in mind that this isn't an exact replica of the popular Penn Quarter restaurant — the menu varies some and the design differs dramatically.
Award-winning designer Martin Vahtra is behind the more modern look of Rasika West End, which also boasts more in the way of symbolism than its counterpart in Penn Quarter. As opposed to the plum accents in that restaurant, Rasika West End is all teal and lightness. Bajaj explains that he tries to match his restaurants to their neighborhoods, so the White House-adjacent Bombay Club is formal and Rasika Penn Quarter is vibrant. The West End, he says, might not be as vibrant, but he and his team were still looking to bring energy to it through the design.
And so a massive light wood installation stretches across the ceiling, representing the Banyan tree, the national tree of India known for providing shade to those seeking relaxation or a meal. The Hindu god Durga is represented by the darker wood installation hanging over the bar, all arms in every which way. They're still planning to add in more artwork — such as a piece depicting maharajas hunting out of a Rolls Royce, sepia-colored scenes of India. And Bajaj says they're bringing in a giant sculpture of the mudra (hand symbol) for "welcome."
What seem likely to be the most requested seats in the house are the carriage-like booths lining the windows or a table in the library, which is one of Rasika West End's three private dining rooms. Raised just slightly above the main dining room and separated with a set of sliding windows, the library is lined with randomly selected but meticulously arranged books. There's also lounge seating and an outdoor patio that should open in May.
And another difference from Rasika Penn Quarter? A chef's table downstairs in a glass-walled room just off of the kitchen — private but also close enough to feel part of the action. The menu for the chef's table will be a customized tasting menu, but expect biryanis and other classic dishes. Also don't expect it to roll out just yet. Bajaj says they're going to give the restaurant a few weeks open first.
Otherwise, Sunderam is bringing about 70 percent of the menu over from Rasika Penn Quarter, according to Bajaj, but among the new dishes there will be a new version of the popular black cod, more vegetarian dishes, pork chop and an entirely new category on the menu titled "Nosh."
Rasika West End is soft-opening Monday through Wednesday of next week, with limited reservations available now by calling 202-466-2500. The restaurant will be closed for a party on March 29 and then will officially open to the public on Friday, March 30.