Dining at Rasika? Here’s What to Drink

Whether you're nibbling on palak chaat or sharing a bunch of dishes, you'll want these wine recs.

The newly renovated dining room at the Penn Quarter Rasika. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Rasika, with locations in Penn Quarter and West End, is one of the top Indian restaurants in the country, with cooking that emphasizes complex spicing over searing heat. To go with it, Sam Haltiwanger—wine director at the newly renovated Penn Quarter location—has assembled a wine list with a wide variety of thoughtful selections (an Argentine sparkling brut rosé made from Malbec at $12 a glass; a rare 2006 Reisling from Nikolaihof-Wachau, an Austrian estate that is the oldest biodynamic winery in the world). Need help pairing your next meal there? Here’s what I’d recommend.

If you’re getting palak chaat: And who isn’t? The crispy spinach—dusted with chickpea flour, flash-fried, and then lightly dressed with a mix of yogurt and tamarind/date chutney—is the kitchen’s most popular dish. Try the 2013 St. Cosme “Little James Basket Press” White ($11 a glass; $44 a bottle), a gem from the Rhone Valley. The blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Sec, and Viognier is fresh and aromatic, with lovely flavors of peach, lemon, and tangerine that balance the sweetness of the chutney yet cut through the yogurt.

If you’re having the chicken biryani: My favorite dish on the menu is this chicken baked in a casserole with aromatic spices and basmati rice, topped with a puff pastry, and served with a side of cooling raita. It calls for a big white that can both stand up to the spices and complement the chicken. The 2012 Sine Qua Non “In the Abstract” is a rare find on restaurant wine lists. The blend of white Rhone grapes (including Viognier and Roussanne) and Chardonnay from the cult wine producer Manfred Krankl is worth the splurge. It is a viscous wine, with cascading flavors of ripe apricot, white nectarine, grilled peaches, and baked apples—powerful and elegant at the same time. One caveat—at $295 a bottle, it ain’t cheap.

If you’re ordering tandoori salmon: The fish is coated with Kashmiri chilies, cinnamon, and black pepper, and then baked in a traditional tandoor. Given the smoky heat of the dish, I’d go for the 2010 Westrey Oracle Vineyard Pinot Noir ($58 a bottle) from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which has aromas of cherry cola, black plums, and baking spices. Hints of cinnamon on the finish add an exclamation point to both the wine and the salmon, while smooth tannins cut through the rich texture.

If you’re playing it safe with chicken tikka masala: I don’t mean to seem obvious here, but an off-dry Riesling, like the 2012 Mercer from Yakima Valley, Washington ($56 a bottle) is a great match. The lush juiciness of the honeysuckle, lychee, and tangerine flavors plays off of the spices, and the bright acidity is the perfect foil for the rich, creamy sauce. A slight effervescence adds a refreshing touch.

If you’re sharing a bunch of things: There are some cool picks for both white and red wine lovers to share here. I think the 2013 Luigi Tacchino Gavi di Gavi ($50 a bottle) is a versatile, well-balanced white that was born to pair with a variety of things—it’d be great with mild seafood, like the black cod with dill, and with chicken dishes. Red wine aficionados should spring for the multi-faceted 2012 Chateau Raspail ($95 a bottle) from the Gigondas region of the Rhône Valley. Made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah, this cousin of Chateauneuf du Pape offers up a flamboyant bouquet of red and blue fruits mixed with crushed rock and floral undertones. It’d pair deliciously with many of the cheese-based dishes and vegetarian selections.