Young and Hungry

Rasika Will Be the First Ethnic Restaurant to Earn 4 Stars from Tom Sietsema

Ashok BajajTom 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."

  • Simon

    Woah, talk about a eurocentric notion of "ethnic." Former colonies = ethnic. Former colonial powers, apparently, not. I thought thar sort of retrograde mindset went out with the '70's.

  • Former Staffer

    I'd concur with Tom. The two or three occasions I've enjoyed Rasika the service has been splendid and the dishes superb.


  • Tony

    So that means Maestro (Italian), Citronelle (French) and Komi (Greek) are not recognized ethnicities?

    I'm surprised a language use like that could slip past an Editor.

  • EthNick

    Oh, please. "Ethnic" is widely accepted shorthand for non-European cuisine. What next, picket signs outside Tyler Cowen's house because he dares to put together the Ethnic Dining Guide? Spare us the false outrage, especially since you're probably white anyway.

  • White peoples are “ethnic” too

    I'm not white -- Indian, in fact -- and I agree 100% with Simon and Tony. Of course, Bajaj used the term himself, which was dumb. He, Sietsema, and others should understand that labelling all products of nonwhite cultures "ethnic" is just the latest racist gloss for the idea that whiteness is default and everyone else is defined by their opposition to it.

  • White peoples are “ethnic” too

    And yes, I understand the irony that they have to be defined as "nonwhite"; saying non-European or non-former colonial powers would include white majority cultures such as America and Australia.

  • creativemeat

    Am I ethnic?