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Foreign A Fare


Dine on traditional Mexican favorites at Casa Oaxaca.

Visiting Washington, D.C., means globetrotting for international cuisine doesn’t extend farther than the city limits. To get started on your culinary journey to the nation’s capital, here’s some inspiration. All you need to pack is a healthy appetite.

Casa Oaxaca
For food-lovers, there’s no more satisfying state in Mexico than Oaxaca. Located in the southern part of the country, Oaxaca is revered for its moles, cheese, chocolate and mezcal, the eye-popping, smoky liquor made from the agave plant. The recent arrival of Casa Oaxaca means a fan of such food and drink has only to book a table there to feel as if he’s been whisked south of the border for a few hours. The pleasures aren’t limited to what lands on the table. Unfolding across two floors, the setting at Casa Oaxaca is intimate and playful. Picture cowhide stools at the small bar, serious folk art on the deep-red walls and servers who know the menu as if they cooked it themselves—and know just when you might want to explore another tequila.

Check your socks for holes at Makoto. That’s my advice to anyone desiring dinner at this most Japanese of Washington’s restaurants, whose patrons are asked to slip out of their shoes before entering the spare, narrow dining room. No one just drops by Makoto. With fewer than 30 seats, including a sushi bar, reservations are mandatory.

Looking around and listening, it seems that half the diplomatic corps must come here to hoist chopsticks and sip sake. I imagine such clients feel at home perched on the wooden boxes that serve as chairs, nibbling on pristine sushi; salmon bound in kelp, topped with a bit of rice and served as a single snack; or lightly crunchy soft-shell crab enhanced with a citrusy yuzu sauce. This is all beautiful food, right down to the sparkling grape ice that might signal the end of Makoto’s eight- to 10-course tasting menu.

If you think all Indian restaurants are cut from the same cloth, you haven’t eaten at Rasika, which opened in December 2005 to immediate crowds and instant raves. Here’s one reason why: The space is sumptuous, thanks to walls the shade of saffron, red-tipped crystal rods separating bar from dining room, and an open grill and barbecue whose beautiful backdrop of spices remind visitors that there’s more to the cuisine than curry. Another explanation for the bustle is chef Vikram Sunderam, a gifted import from London (via Bombay) who looked around his new home and incorporated what he saw into a menu that weaves tradition with innovation. Asparagus is not a staple in India, but you’ll find chili garlic asparagus at Rasika prepared with chili flakes and garlic chutney.  Pair it with chicken liver kali mirch with crushed pepper corns, garlic, lemon juice and uttapam. Rasika means “flavors” in Sanskrit, and flavors, nuanced and luscious, are what you’ll find on the chef’s script: fried baby spinach with yogurt and chutney, kokum scallops poised made on the tawa with coconut milk, garlic and cumin. along with the finest Indian breads to be had for miles.

The people-watching at Rasika keeps pace with the cooking, which means you might enjoy your samosas or kebobs in the company of a former first family (the Clintons have been in) or a well-known byline (Hello, Maureen Dowd).

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in August 2007 by MSP Communications.

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