Nestled in an absolutely hideous strip mall in Pawtucket are three, very unique, very impressive restaurants. First up is LJ's BBQ, next to that is Rasoi, and then The Garden Grille. Strip malls are not exactly bastions of high dining, but, for some reason, this one is. The trio represents a dynamite combo of food that could keep you busy for months. From the irony of having a vegetarian/vegan restaurant fifteen feet from a temple to slow-cooked meat, to the figurative and literal middle-ground inhabited by Indian food, Blackstone Place in Pawtucket is a destination that no Rhode Island gourmet should miss.
Rasoi sits in between the PETA nightmare that is LJ's BBQ and the PETA wet dream that is the Garden Grille. I knew it was going to be a tough sell what with India about thirty seconds down the street. India really raised the bar for Indian food around these here parts, but the food is kind of Americanized. While there's certainly nothing wrong with this, for no one could ever argue that India tastes bad, my tongue yearned for a more authentic, Indian experience. I was hoping Rasoi would give me that.
The sign, design, and Indian-looking folks running the place all gave a solid impression. In fact, the logo and sign are so well done that you might be fooled into thinking it a chain. The design of the interior doesn't quite follow from the impression the sign gives you, and it's very inferior to the sumptuous interior of India's two locations. Still, it's an open, welcoming, and well appointed interior. On the night I was there, the music was too loud. As a result, I had a terrible time trying to hear the waiter. Which was unfortunate. He was very friendly. I noticed that the wait staff was all Indian, and everyone in the kitchen appeared to be white. The shoe is on the other foot, it seems. Damn the white man. Yeah. Overall, I was hoping for a more Indian feel and didn't get it. Maybe pillows, or fornicating statues would have done it.
The disappointment continued on into the menu. Lots of good-sounding food stuffs, but all visibly Americanized. The samosas are good, as is the Tawa Jhinga, but the appetizers are otherwise unremarkable. One area where Rasoi shines is its fantastic bread selection. Every bread is excellent, and the naan is a treat. It's the best naan I've ever had. Airy, sweet, and moist, with a wide variety, this is the one area where Rasoi truly outperforms India. The honey and ginger naan is sweet, and the flavor of ginger is perfectly balanced. The coconut and date naan is almost a dessert.
The entree list is large and runs the gamut of usual Indian meats of chicken, lamb, and shrimp. They also separate vegetarian meals with a list of about ten options. The whole of the list is well balanced and quite affordable. All in all, it's a tad cheaper than India, but I encountered some chicken with tough parts. The ingredients at India have never been anything but top-notch. Dessert offerings are almost non-existent, but they offer pretty decent coffee. Nothing much else, but as I said, if you didn't get any at the start, you might as well finish with the honey-date naan.
As far as value goes, Rasoi has a real winner with the lunch menu. It's very large and very affordable and they obviously do not skimp. And for the gourmets who consider themselves more as gourmands, two buffets, a vegetarian one on Saturday and a standard Indian buffet on Sunday, are sure to send your belt out a notch or two. Here, the fact that Rasoi does little to differentiate itself from India doesn't matter. You get an enormous amount of bang-for-the-buck that India doesn't match.
Rasoi makes a good run at India's dominance of the local Indian scene, but it doesn't manage to do any dethroning. They offer delivery, which is a party piece that India is lacking, so homebodies need apply, but for someone more than ten minutes away, that's meaningless. Maybe if Rasoi had gone for fully traditional dishes, or offered a more inventive set of non-traditional ones, they would have gotten somewhere. Rasoi doesn't even deviate enough from Kabob & Curry, the owner's other restaurant, for it to be an entirely separate entity, in my mind. As it stands, they offer some very well made, not-terribly-inventive, Indian dishes that anyone would be well-served to get. And since good Indian food is very hard to come by in the Rhode Island area, Rasoi offers enough differences from the nearby India to make a trip worth it for diners who would like to try something a bit new.
Price range for two: $30-$50
727 East Avenue
Pawtucket, RI 02860
In Blackstone Place
Monday through Thursday 11:30am to 3:00pm then 4:30pm to 9:30pm;
Friday 11:30am to 3:00 pm then 4:30pm to 10:30pm;
Saturday 12:00pm to 10:30 pm
Sunday 12:00pm to 9:00pm