Shrimp Balchao.

Shrimp Balchao.

Back in August, our actual first meal for Restaurant Week meal was a restaurant I’d been looking forward to trying for months. Rasika is lauded as one of the best restaurants in DC and one of the best Indian restaurants in the country.  Unlike some restaurants,  you can order from the Restaurant Week menu or from the regular menu, so James and I decided he would order off the regular menu while I ordered from the RW menu to give us a little more variety.

I started with an appetizer of the shrimp balchao with peri peri masala, onions and tomato. If I had known balchao was an Indian form of ‘pickling’ I may not have ordered the dish, but I didn’t regret the choice.  It tasted more like spicy barbecued shrimp  with a strong tomato flavor. For my main entree I decided to try something I wouldn’t normally order- the Tamarind Black Cod with star anise, black pepper, roasted chili on a bed of upma (Indian polenta). Black cod is not a very fishy fish so it’s a good choice for more apprehensive fish-eaters. It was one of the flakiest pieces of fish I’ve ever tasted. The different spices gave each bite a different flavor. The upma was the perfect contrast in texture  to the main dish. My final bites of the cod were a little fishier than most of the fish but still tasty mixed with the other components of the dish.

Tamarind Black Cod.

Tamarind Black Cod.

After some thought, James decided on the chicken green masala, a basic but reliable dish.  The masala was tasty and properly spicy, a slow growing degree of heat that saturated the tongue.

While James was looking at the beer menu, trying to find something to balance out the meal, our server mentioned a brand of beer on the list called Kingfisher. An Indian ale, it was a smooth mixture of a pale ale and a light lager that complimented the meal perfectly. If you are a connoisseur of beer, we recommend this brand.

I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Asian desserts. Luckily Rasika offered a couple of options more to my taste. I chose the chocolate and mint ice cream, and I was not disappointed. It had a thicker consistency than your everyday frozen treat and tasted more like a rich chocolate brownie. It was the perfect cooling end to a spicy meal.

Chicken Green Masala.

Chicken Green Masala.

A couple of other notes about Rasika: The service was superb. Our server never slacked, giving us the right amount of attention and small talk against the time we needed to make our decisions and enjoy each others company.

He even surprised us when we told him we were celebrating our anniversary, bringing us two glasses of champagne and even a dessert for James to enjoy since he didn’t order one of his own.

Rasika is a great option when you’re looking for that special place for an anniversary, birthday or other important occasion.

Interested? Try Rasika over at 633 D Street Northwest, Washington, DC. To make a reservation, call them at (202) 637-1222.


Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp & GritsShrimp and grits. A lot of people aren’t familiar with grits, and those that are may think of them only as a breakfast item to be eaten alongside their eggs. But grits have a savory aspect to them that works well when mixed with, rather than served beside, certain ingredients and flavors.

My first taste of shrimp and grits occurred at Againn, but being from the South, it was not Cass’ first sampling. However, Againn set an unfairly high standard for the dish. The dish was terrific and they were surely versed in how to prepare grits perfectly. Still, we decided to try our hand at preparing this dish as an entree after finding a recipe in Southern Living from Bill Smith, executive chef at Crook’s Corner, a Southern food restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC,  which was honored this year with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award.

One of the joys of this recipe was very little prep time. There are only green onions to chop, which aren’t as tear-inducing as their larger cousins. For the shrimp however, we chose to peel and de-vein fresh shrimp ourselves instead of going for the pricier pre-peeled shrimp.  You can learn how to do this by checking out this how-to video. While this process takes a little practice, it’s relatively easy. Although I do recommend care with a knife when cutting down the backside of the shrimp.

The final product was not entirely as we had hoped. Cass was a little off on the measurements for the grits since we were unexpectedly in a rush. I also wondered if the chicken broth really imparted a full flavor. Part of me daydreamed of experimenting with  gravy on the dish instead of the broth. Don’t discount the bacon bits sprinkled atop the grits. The bacon added a nice crunch to each bite. Cass pointed out that the dish may have been richer if we had used full fat milk and cheese. The other problem was my fault as I had overcooked the shrimp slightly, making it tough. But all in all, it was a fairly quick dish to prepare and surely one that could be perfected over time.

Birch & Barley

Birch and Barley

Birch and Barley. Picture taken from their site.

Restaurant week. The week where you gorge yourself on the special list of entrees set aside for one flat rate. In a way, reviewing a restaurant during restaurant week is cheating because you get to taste what they think is special and unique enough to serve for one week out of the year. Or whatever is cheap and easy to make in mass quantity. Classy.

Cass and I went on Saturday night with a reservation made to sit chef side. Reservations online were booked, but a few tables were set aside for people who bother to call. We had a chance to sit and watch the chefs work, and even chat it up with them a little. The proximity to the chefs tempered our conversation about our food.

After complimentary rolls (including soft pretzel rolls) and risotto balls, we started with two appetizers. Mine was a flat bread pizza with chorizo, pine nuts, onions and shrimp. I was very surprised how well chorizo and shrimp went with one another, although pine nuts go with everything. Still, the nuts gave the chorizo a very satisfying crunch that conjured ideas of mixing pine nut pieces into meatballs in the future. Cass had the panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, whipped burrata and greens. A tangy vinaigrette really brought out the tartness of the oh-so-fresh and juicy tomatoes. One more fried green tomato would have been nice for this southern girl, but overall it was a good-sized and flavorful appetizer.

My entree choice was the brat burger, which was not beef but a mixture of pork and (if I remember correctly) lamb and veal, on a bed of sauerkraut and a soft bun with caramelized onion pieces on the top. The meat was drier than I expected, but sweet and enjoyable. Although a spread of a condiment could solve the moisture problem, the special choice of meat deserved a unique sauce. Cass ordered the braised lamb with bulgar wheat, favas and zucchini, after a brief discussion with the waitress and a chef about the taste of the lamb. The lamb could have used a touch more flavor and been a little more tender for Cass’ taste, but she admits that she is not a lamb connoisseur or even a huge fan of the meat.

The panzanella.

The panzanella. Picture taken from their Facebook site.

The final touch for me was the bittersweet chocolate cake. What surprised me about the dessert was not the cake itself, which tasted of a chocolate graham crust, but the sorbet on the side. It was a bright red bulb which tasted sour over sweet, contrasting nicely with the overall sweetness of the cake. Cass ordered the cookies & confections plate with homemade takes on the Snickers bar, Hostess cupcake, cereal milk sorbet, and oatmeal cream pie. The cereal milk sorbet was an adults’ version of cookies & cream, with a liqueur taste in the ice cream and rich chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled about. Cass declared the Snickers bar her favorite dish of the night- 2 by 2 inches of a chocoholic’s dream. The other two confections she saved to carry the indulgences on for another day. Still delicious hours later.

Birch & Barley and its upstairs companion Churchkey are known for their ever-changing beer list, but we chose to refrain from imbibing too much to save room for food. I did order the AK-47, a malt liquor from Elysian Brewing, and Cass ordered a taste of the Cerise, a tart beer fermented with cherries, by Founders Brewing Company. Our lack of drinking at dinner just gives us an excuse to pay Churchkey another visit.

This was our second time eating at Birch & Barley, the first time being brunch for Cass’ birthday last November. Cass preferred brunch over dinner (desserts aside), but should probably reserve the verdict for once we’ve dined at Birch & Barley for a non-Restaurant Week meal when the full menu is available.

Peaked your appetite? Check out Birch & Barley‘s Facebook listing or website, where you can view their online menu. Pay them a visit at 1337 14th Street, Washington D.C. Or call at 202-567-2576.