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Next-Generation Indian Restaurant Rasa Rises in Navy Yard

The quick-service eatery is nearing an opening date

Rasa co-owners Sahil Rahman and Rahul Vinod
Photo: Kyle Schmitz
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Aspiring restaurateurs Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman are in full-blown construction mode in Navy Yard, building out a new Indian restaurant they say has more thought and meaning behind its design than most quick-service counters.

“We want to celebrate the beautiful nature of Indian culture and transport people a bit,” says Rahman. The owners hope to deliver Rasa Indian Grill at the base of the F1RST building (1263 First Street SE) by November.

Customers are transported to India even before they enter the 2,300-square-foot space. An ornate door was created by Rahman’s aunt in India and shipped stateside in multiple pieces. Inside, the cavernous space will give off a whimsical vibe — starting with a three-seat swing set behind the main window.

“It was a dream to have that inside the restaurant but [I] wasn’t sure it was realistic. They found out how to do it,” Rahman says of architect HapstakDemetriou+.

Boxed shelving affixed on one wall will be filled with trinkets, books, plants, Indian spices, and typewriters. Colors in Rasa’s bright and vibrant logo will be relayed up throughout, with colorful strings draped from the ceiling in a zigzag pattern to add dimension.

The partners scoured the city to find a neighborhood with a mix of day and nighttime traffic all week. “There’s still not a lot of dining options in Navy Yard,” says Rahman.
Photo: Kyle Schmitz

“It’s our version of the Renwick Gallery,” he says, referring to a recent exhibit at the modern art gallery.

Lots of thought also went into creating authentic seating; two huge communal tables built from reclaimed wood are en route from Chicago. And the style of the lights at a music festival he attended in India were the inspiration behind a hanging bamboo lighting fixture he custom ordered from China. That piece, along with stools from India, are temporarily cooped up in the partners’ apartments while the build out is completed.

A custom-built wooden “wave wall” separates the ordering line and seating area.
Photo: Kyle Schmitz

The partners and lifelong friends grew up in the restaurant business. Chef K.N. Vinod, co-owner of Indique in Cleveland Park and Bombay Bistro in Rockville, Maryland, is Rahul’s father. His longtime business partner, Surfy Rahman, is Sahil’s dad. The hospitality scions left their cushy jobs in New York City a couple years ago to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

Entering the service industry was always in the back of their minds; Rahman wrote a business plan back in high school for a casual restaurant designed to get more friends interested in eating Indian cuisine.

“I thought, ‘maybe we need to present the food in a more accessible way,’” he says.

The name itself, Rasa, has multiple meanings. Translating “to taste,” it’s also the combination of the owners’ first names. And the yoga tie-in is the nine rasas, or human emotions, that range from joy to fear.

As an ode to that reference, nine huge panels are being created by his aunt to fill up the massive wall near the ordering line. She’s an interior designer and artist (and designed Bombay Bistro) and came up with the unique turquoise-blue hue that appears in its logo and throughout the space.

“It’s so incredible to wrap your head around all the moving parts, the way everything gets here, and how many people are involved in the process,” says Rahman.

The massive brick oven, its version of a tandoori, will be used to cook naan breads and some meats and vegetables.
Photo: Kyle Schmitz

Rasa is joining a food-packed block — it’s surrounded by homegrown sandwich shop Taylor Gourmet, Mediterranean-themed chain Roti, and burrito slinger Chipotle — and the partners are excited to introduce another District-born option to the area.

Rahman said the restaurant is projected to operate from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., but those hours could be extended during future baseball seasons.