At a time when many of Washington's top restaurateurs are expanding far and wide--Michel Richard just opened a branch of Central in Las Vegas, José Andrés is planning a restaurant in Puerto Rico, and Todd Gray has a project in the Dominican Republic--Ashok Bajaj is content staying close to home. The longest trip between any of his six DC restaurants is four miles, the distance from his Penn Quarter supper club, 701, to his revamped Ardeo & Bardeo in Cleveland Park. No matter which Bajaj restaurant you choose--his portfolio also includes the old-world Indian Bombay Club, the forward-thinking Oval Room, the modern-Indian Rasika, and the Italian Bibiana--you can count on two things: a high level of refinement and a Bajaj sighting. Every night, he jumps into his Mercedes convertible and makes the rounds of his restaurants.
Bajaj has been pushing Washington's restaurant scene forward for 23 years. But this year has been one of his best. He completely overhauled Ardeo & Bardeo, polishing up the dining room, installing a new chef, and making it a destination--this is the first year it's landed on our list of 100 Very Best Restaurants. And he has announced a seventh venture, a sister restaurant to his popular Rasika, to open this spring in a luxury condo building in DC's West End.
Asked why he hasn't branched out to New York or London, the Delhi-born Bajaj smiles. "It would be fun, just for the kick of it," he says. "But I enjoy being here. I love what I do, and I've never worked a day in my life."