Tom Sietsema won’t confirm it, but sources indicate that Rasika, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj‘s upscale Indian establishment in Penn Quarter, will receive four stars in the Post critic’s next Dining Guide, which should hit the Web on Thursday.
It would be the first so-called ethnic restaurant to earn four stars in Sietsema’s nine-plus years as dining critic.
Several people, after reading a prematurely published version of Sietsema’s guide on the Web on Sunday, have called Bajaj and told him the same news. “My gut feeling is that it’s true as well,” says Bajaj, the City Paper‘s runner-up for Best Restaurateur this year. “But I want to see it myself.
If it’s indeed true, I asked Bajaj what the recognition would mean to him, a New Delhi native who opened his first Indian restaurant, the Bombay Club, 21 years ago in D.C. “It’s a great honor. That’s No. 1. But No.2, it’s an honor for ethnic restaurants.”
Bajaj says that two decades ago he had to host free cooking classes and pass out small samples to convince locals that Indian cuisine wasn’t all about tongue-blazing curries and hot peppers. Such groundwork paved the way, perhaps, for Rasika, which opened about four years ago and immediately raised the bar for Indian cuisine. Bajaj lured chef Vikram Sunderam from the Bombay Brasserie in London and instituted a designer cocktail menu. He even hired a sommelier for Rasika.
Critics and diners took quick note. In fact, Sietsema, in his 2008 guide, awarded Rasika three and a half stars. But moving Rasika to the next level required a critic willing to see that four-star restaurants don’t all have to be rooted in French cuisine, don’t have to be tied to a luxury hotel, and don’t have to have a long, multi-course tasting menu, with wine pairings, that runs well into three digits.
“My hat is off to Tom, too,” Bajaj says, “for recognizing that ethnic restaurants can be four stars, too.”