The rise of the fast casual trend in DC has been very welcome in our household for both our stomachs and our wallets. But there’s a new spot in town that’s about to turn the fast casual scene upside down – in the best way possible.
RASA is a “fine fast casual” restaurant located in our old Navy Yard stomping grounds, serving up a tantalizing selection of customizable Indian flavors. The concept is the brain child of Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, who grew up in the restaurant industry. Ever since they were young, they’ve wanted to share the meals they grew up loving with people unfamiliar with Indian food and to broaden diners’ understanding of how expansive Indian cuisine really is. Their labor of love has finally come to fruition, and the results are outstanding.
RASA is a combination of Rahul and Sahil’s names, but is also a Sanskrit word that translates to “essence of enjoyment”. That enjoyment starts the moment you walk up to the gorgeous blue front door, custom-made in India, and swells as you walk into the vibrant, rainbow-hued dining room.
The colorful artwork was all painted by local artist Nandita Madan. I’ve been to a lot of fast casual restaurants, but never one this beautiful and fun.
While grab and go is certainly an option at RASA, the welcoming space encourages diners to stay a while. And for that, you need a drink. There is a vast selection of teas and juices available, along with fresh young coconuts, beer and wine and – my favorite – a masala gin and tonic.
Of course, the main event is the food and it does not disappoint. Rahul and Sahil have put a lot of thought and effort into creating their menu. In fact, they spent two weeks last Fall traveling across India looking for inspiration. As a result, the menu features both common flavors and ingredients along with those that are less known among Western diners.
The menu is divided into two sections. The “We Got You” section offers signature creations that take the guesswork out of ordering. The “You Got This” section allows you to create your own customized bowl.
Tom and I dipped into both sections. He ordered the “Tikka Chance On Me” featuring chicken tikka, roasted tomato sauce, basmati rice, sautéed spinach, pickled radish, kachumber, toasted cumin yogurt, mint cilantro chutney and lentil crisps.
One of the menu items I was most excited to try was the South Indian rice noodles. Most people (myself included) don’t realize that noodles are a part of Indian cuisine. I used them as the base for my customized bowl and added lamb kebab, peanut sesame sauce, charred eggplant, cucumber cubes, masala beets, mint cilantro chutney, mango coconut yogurt and micro greens.
We both loved our bowls, brimming with fresh veggies and incredible flavors. There are so many culinary discoveries waiting to be made at RASA. I can’t wait to taste my way through the rest of the menu. As is common with build-your-own menus, the options can be a little overwhelming. But I’m definitely up for the challenge.
The Sides + Sweets
The sides and sweets are tempting as well. We tasted the pumpkin soup, which is rich and comforting. The Kulfi pops (Indian ice cream pops) were a big hit, both delicious and fun to eat.
If you’re looking for a fun, delicious addition to your fast casual repertoire, get yourself to RASA stat. I have a feeling it’s about to become DC’s newest addiction – it’s definitely mine.