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Like Fathers, Not Quite Like Sons

Alums Open Indian Restaurant in D.C.

By Sala Levin ’10

Sahil Rahman ’12 and Rahul Vinod ’11

Photos by Rey Lopez

Photos by Rey Lopez

New D.C. restaurateurs Sahil Rahman ’12 and Rahul Vinod ’11 aren’t trying to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. They’re trying to find a place between them.

In December, the lifelong friends opened the Indian fast-casual eatery Rasa in the Navy Yard, hoping to create something distinct from the well-established restaurants Bombay Bistro and Indique, owned by their parents, Surfy Rahman and K.N. Vinod.

“If we found a way to introduce Indian food in an accessible manner, not only could we introduce people to new food but also to new cultures,” says Rahman.

The pair grew up in Gaithersburg after their parents emigrated from India, thinking of themselves as something like “ambassadors for the cuisine and culture” of India, says Vinod. They often brought their friends to their parents’ restaurants to introduce them to the many flavors of Indian food.

At Maryland, Rahman studied operations management and supply chain management; Vinod studied finance and operations management. They went into the corporate world, but always talked about going into the restaurant business, like their fathers.

Over the course of three years, Rahman and Vinod shaped the idea and secured funding after they saw opening in the market for an Indian restaurant focusing on quick, healthy, high-quality food in an inviting atmosphere. Rahman and Vinod’s parents’ restaurants are “upscale casual with Indique and more family casual with Bombay Bistro, but overall in the Indian food market there’s a gap in the middle,” says Vinod.

At Rasa, where the two now work full-time, diners can create their own meal starting with greens, grains, basmati rice or South Indian rice noodles and continuing with a range of proteins from chicken tikka to turmeric ginger shrimp to green jackfruit, a starchy fruit that’s become a darling of vegan cooks. Customers can then embellish their creations with vegetables, sauces including tamarind chili and coconut ginger, and toppings like masala beets, dehydrated bitter melon and toasted cumin yogurt. (Those overwhelmed by indecision can order one of the pre-made bowls on the menu.)

The restaurant has been getting positive attention, making Eater D.C.’s January hot list and earning two and a half stars from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. “It might be fast and casual, but a lot of effort goes into this food,” Sietsema wrote. In the Washington City Paper, Laura Hayes wrote, “The peanut sesame sauce is savory, the tamarind ginger chutney is fiery, and the dehydrated bitter melon slices used to add crunch are this year’s kale chips. Together they form a bowl as boisterous as the soundtrack to any Bollywood movie.”

The space reflects the restaurant’s family connections—Rahman’s aunt in India created the restaurant’s towering, bright blue door, as well as a series of nine colorful paintings lining an interior wall.

Family members have also lent a hand in day-to-day operations. In the beginning, parents and siblings helped on the cash register and in the kitchen, and Vinod’s father developed the menu. Rahman and Vinod hope the family-first attitude will translate to the dining experience. “We want to be part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” says Rahman.

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