Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj: Potentate of the D.C. plate

By Manuel Roig-Franzia

Ashok Bajaj knows a lot about Karen Shaw Petrou. He knows, for instance, that Petrou – a prominent financial consultant and lecture circuit wise-woman – navigates Washington with a seeing-eye dog. He knows that she likes Hendrick’s gin. He knows that she and her husband, Basil, are prone to sip Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay.  Most important, he knows that Petrou has eaten at his Cleveland Park restaurant – the once separate, but now joined Ardeo + Bardeo – at least 203 times in the past five years. All that information, and more, resides in the computer that Bajaj keeps behind the desk in his bland-as-toasted-white-bread Penn Quarter office. So, it was with some distress that Bajaj observed about a year ago that the Petrous – Olympian patrons that they had become – gradually stopped going to the restaurant. When he finally spotted them back, he asked why they’d forsaken him, and after some hesitation and considerable hemming and hawing, they told him. “We thought the restaurant had gotten tired,” Karen Petrou recalls telling him. She wanted more vegetarian dishes and more appealing fish. And not only that: The couple had taken up with another restaurant. (The Petrous, being discreet sorts, prefer not to mention the place that won their affections, but Bajaj blurts it out when I ask him later: It was BlackSalt, the Palisades neighborhood hangout.)

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