New Sommelier, Menu Additions at Rasika Penn Quarter

IMG_0062Always one of the most popular places to dine in DC, Rasika in Penn Quarter has taken it up a notch with new additions to the menu. And a new sommelier with a willingness to recommend unusual wines to pair with Indian flavors.

G’s coorgi duck wouldn’t look out of place at Marcel’s, or any classic French restaurant, although perhaps the rice would raise some eyebrows? (as would the iPhone on the table)

My lobster moilee consisted of chunks of sweet lobster in a subtly flavored coconut, ginger and chile sauce. Overhearing me waver about my selection, my server volunteered, it’s the only way to lobster. While I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, I agree that it was exceptional. I sopped up every last bit of the sauce with my rice and truffled naan.

And the wine … We wanted to drink red, even knowing it would be tough to find something to pair with both the duck and the lobster, not to mention the Indian spices.

Sam, the new sommelier, with roots at our neighborhood wine bar Veritas (which just closed) and Daikaya, another favorite, first suggested an Oregon pinot noir from Dundee Hills. Yikes. We had to explain that we’ve been abstaining from Oregon pinots since our trip there last Fall. Actually, I’m not sure that pinot noir and I are getting back together … so I’m trying the absence makes the heart grow fonder theory.

Our sommelier was a bit surprised, but undaunted. He suggested an entry-level blaufrankisch from Austria, which intrigued us. Then after talking to us more about our tastes, suggested an Italian nebbiolo as a safer choice for us.

While we had had several good Austrian gruner veltliners at Rasika (under Paul’s regime), we had never tried Austrian red. In this case, the Hillinger turned out to be quite smooth. It was nicely blended, fruity without being overbearing, with soft, barely tastable tannins. It reminded me a bit of a nice Loire red (I know, I’m in a small club that likes cabernet franc) or a mellower Washington merlot. At any rate, it was a hit.

The food at Rasika has always been excellent, but since longtime sommelier Paul left, the wine service has been uneven. Subsequent folks have been friendly, but not that helpful, steering us to more typical and recognizable Washington, DC wines (read: prestige and price). Sure, I’m happy to drink a Chateauneuf du Pape or a super Tuscan, but I’m not sure that’s the best pairing for modern Indian. I’d rather have my palate challenged by something more unusual, something that will make the food sing.

So I’d say Sam is off to a good start with us, and with new dishes to complement old classics, Rasika is as good as ever. Maybe even better. And that’s saying a lot.


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