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Obelisk, West Dupont Circle - Chef Esther Lee on 20th & P Streets NW in Peter Pastan's Flagship


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I'd love to know what happened (or didn't) to Obelisk. When I moved to DC about 5 years ago, it was constantly mentioned by Tom S. and seemed to have a great rep. I always meant to try it but never did, and then I feel like it sort of dropped off the face of the earth.

I remember someone bringing this up in a Post chat a while back and Tom mentioned something vague about a bad experience. It's Peter Pastan's restaurant, right?

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I'd love to know what happened (or didn't) to Obelisk. When I moved to DC about 5 years ago, it was constantly mentioned by Tom S. and seemed to have a great rep. I always meant to try it but never did, and then I feel like it sort of dropped off the face of the earth.

I remember someone bringing this up in a Post chat a while back and Tom mentioned something vague about a bad experience. It's Peter Pastan's restaurant, right?

I had dinner at Obelisk several weeks ago, and I'm sorry to report that my impression remains that this once-glorious restaurant is a shadow of its former self. The antipasti were wonderful (and plentiful), but the meal went south from there - even the breadsticks and ice cream weren't what they used to be. It pains me to write this, too, since Obelisk was on my handful of "don't miss" restaurants back in the 90s (Peter Pastan should have won the James Beard Award for Obelisk ten years ago; now he deserves one because of 2 Amys; not Obelisk). For better or worse, the clientele also seems much older than it used to be.

Cheers,

Rocks.

P.S. For a more upbeat assessment, you could refer to Frommer's which says that "Obelisk is the most consistently excellent restaurant in the city. Service and food are simply the best."

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I had dinner at Obelisk several weeks ago, and I'm sorry to report that my impression remains that this once-glorious restaurant is a shadow of its former self.  The antipasti were wonderful (and plentiful), but the meal went south from there - even the breadsticks and ice cream weren't what they used to be.  It pains me to write this, too, since Obelisk was on my handful of "don't miss" restaurants back in the 90s (Peter Pastan should have won the James Beard Award for Obelisk ten years ago; now he deserves one because of 2 Amys; not Obelisk).  For better or worse, the clientele also seems much older than it used to be. 

Cheers,

Rocks.

P.S.  For a more upbeat assessment, you could refer to Frommer's which says that "Obelisk is the most consistently excellent restaurant in the city. Service and food are simply the best."

I went to Obelisk a few weeks ago and loved it. The antipasto were amazing - I could have left after the arancini or the cuttlefish stew and the meal would have been better and more memorable than virtually anything else I've eaten in the DC area. I agree that everything was very slightly downhill from there, but I still would rather eat a meal there than Citronelle, let alone Galileo, Tosca, or other assorted purveyors of dreck.

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I went to Obelisk a few weeks ago and loved it.  The antipasto were amazing - I could have left after the arancini or the cuttlefish stew and the meal would have been better and more memorable than virtually anything else I've eaten in the DC area.  I agree that everything was very slightly downhill from there, but I still would rather eat a meal there than Citronelle, let alone Galileo, Tosca, or other assorted purveyors of dreck.

:lol:

please, do tell of your experiences at these places that causes you to consider them "purveyors of dreck"

:P

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tom sietsama never demoted its rating, even when things were "not right" according to him. Since the star system came out, it has always been three stars. and from my experience, it was more of a zola/zatinya 3 star than say a cityzen 3 star.

was zola ever three stars? maybe, i guess, but it's never been in my galaxy. we just didn't hit it off right. i'm assuming there has been a sea change at obelisk; even if he kept the stars in place tom formerly had some negative suggestions about obelisk if i remember correctly. of course, there was another italian restaurant in the neighborhood where the stars came out again just as the chef had some sort of disabling close enounter in the kitchen.

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$65 for everything non-alcoholic, including coffee/tea. They gave me an extra dessert at no charge, which I thought was nice.

This thread has started me thinking about the game hen stuffed with traditional stuffing (with the addition of bacon) and the bread soup I had, which were simply sublime. My girlfriend's gnocchi blew, and her lamb chops were merely very good, but my apple tart was perfect.

The table to the left and to the right of ours both made impassioned speeches to the waitstaff about how amazingly good the meal was. And they didn't really seem like the type to do that much.

Maybe Pastan is inconsistent, but I'm not sure I've ever had a better Italian meal. Certainly not in Italy. Maybe at Babbo in NYC.

I've only eaten at Tosca once. The food was too salty and completely unimpressive, the ice cream almost entirely melted, the service indifferent to the point of aggression. My gf loves Galileo for the atmosphere, but the food just doesn't excite me at all. The pasta is OK. The desserts reminded me of eating at the Waffle House at 4 am in high school. Also my childhood trips to Disneyland.

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i'm not a good judge of the vicissitudes of obelisk since it has been years and years since i have been. the restaurant became somewhat of a running joke with us. my wife would call, usually at the last minute, and not be able to get a reservation, though she was equally unsuccessful the few times she thought she was planning well enough in advance. also, they sounded disdainful on the other end of the telephone. my memories of obelisk were that it was small, that the meals were simple and well prepared. i could be wrong in my recollection that we ate there even before galileo opened on p street, which we found a less expensive and more interesting alternative, but i will never forget when someone rushed out of the kitchen to ask us excitedly about what we thought of the small pieces of cheese on our plates. it's parmesan, right, i said? yes, it's parmesan! i guess those were the days when people still didn't know you could actually eat it ungrated. so there is a big hole in my obelisk experience. the last time, several months ago, when my wife suggested calling i told her to skip it. someone at work had just eaten there, partly to visit with a relative who was pitch-hitting on the floor staff, and he reported that it wasn't worth the money. i assumed that the energies had flowed to two amy's, which was yielding new finds for us on a fairly regular basis, such as deep fried anchovy bones, which my wife would not touch, or chestnut honey and gorgonzola, which she will not share. the pizzas were fine, but we were more excited by what we were finding around the edges of the menu. who knew that green beans, salt and olive oil could be as good as just about anything, which originally had been the point at the far less commercial venture in dupont circle.

when i saw obelisk listed here among the restaurants that never come up, it revived my interest, but again, no dice with the reservations. then i noticed the don rockwell review and thought maybe it was just as well. then the post returned to the subject, sounded fairly convincing about a resurgent kitchen, so we tried again and were able to get in on a thursday night. peter pastan, we knew, was capable of orchestrating a memorable meal, even from behind the controls. so we were looking forward to the opportunity of finding out what he could do in more intimate surroundings with what we had read was the catalytic return of jerry corso to washington's every-chaging culinary cast of characters.

the entry to obelisk is awkward. one flight of steps leads from the sidewalk to the door, beyond which is a small entranceway with a reservations table and pegs on the wall, where you can hang your coat if you're not worried that it would be easy lifting for a thief. going beyond the second door, you are barging into a darkened dining room that is in the midst of the ususal activities and quiet conversation. the noise levels will escalate slowly over the next couple of hours, but there is a strange hush to the whole place. the greeting and seating go smoothly, but the hostess leads the way with a conspiratorial aura; something has gone terribly wrong on these premises earlier in the evening. as guests, we are not to catch wind of it. i know of a restaurant that used to sneak live pheasants into the kitchen so that they could illegally butcher them there (wring their necks), so we could even be talking about a murder, though there is probably something smaller lurking behind the awkward smile. maybe they don't really like us being here; we're ruining it for them, and that's just the way things will have to be until the last customer leaves and the situation returns to normal, whatever normal is. they say that restaurants change all the time, so maybe it is just this one special night that the ambience flickers the way it does over sealed lips.

the antipasto table off to the right of center is reassuring, with fiery orange squash and gourds beneath its legs. our server appears out of nowhere. she is small and polished and we will find out later, when she applies the parmesan to our pasta, an athlete. as we explore our matinis, the boundaries of the apparition widen and we join into it. the bread sticks are remarkably good, crusty and singed with plump spots of tender bread, sweet, an earthy encounter with wheat. we order a bottle of quartodisole cantina grotta del sole 2000 ($58, priced in the middle range of the wine list). our server says yum, so i assume i have chosen reasonably well from a list where it is most likely difficult to stumble. the wine is refreshing, fruity, purplish, medium bodied, not exactly as powerful as i have since read the combination of aglianico and piedirosso grapes described, but a cheerful addition to our table for the lengthy duration of our meal.

things do still go downhill from the antipasto course in the revivified obelisk, an onslaught of four dishes, but this is a hard act to follow. most memorable by far was the burrata cheese, a pulled cow-milk mozzarella, whose fresh and creamy core plays off a chewy skin. this is tantamount to eating a newborn cheese plucked asleep from a bed of olive oil and salt and wakening on your tongue. calamari in a tomato sauce was delicious, as were two crostini. noodles in a lamb ragu with chantarelles followed, providing perfect flavor and texture, the food of shepherds who tend their flocks in pastoral contentment. when asked if there are any questions, nearby diners can be heard to ask for the identity of the pollastrino. it is a chicken halfway to becoming a grown-up, then deboned and smashed. a honeyed aroma lingers over the plate, the plumpest and softest meat consorting with equally succulent porcini. there is no tension, no contrast, in the ingredients here, but it is another burst of the baby, yielding its opulent juices without a whimper, without a muscle, just enough resistance to entertain the teeth along with the faint buzzing of bees. across the table, my wife was content with anchovy and tomato raviolis and lamb chops romping in rapini, though i was too self-absorbed by this time to noticed if her courses had carried her to a similar rapture.

what was best in the cheese course -- bocconcino di capra -- was enough to make the goat the most endearing animal in the barnyard. more generous portions of principe and pecorino stagionato rounded out the plate. desserts were a yogurt panna cotta and an apple and quince almond crumble sitting beside a mound of whipped cream, more simplicity. in my estimation, they run neck and neck with desserts at two amy's but on many nights would not be the first to cross the finish line.

as for the mystery of the reservations, this is only a roughly 12-table restaurant and most of the tables did not seem to turn over. we arrived at 6:30. two or three tables were empty until maybe 7:30-8:00. one couple around 8:30 came in without a reservation, was allowed to perch at the tiny bar near the kitchen door for a few minutes and then seated next to us. the woman wore a black evening dress and a dazzling array of diamonds my wife claimed must be rhinestones. she was also wearing expensive perfume. the night we were there, obelisk seemed to be popular with out-of-towners. dinner for two was about $260, worth it i think, but making it impractical to regularly sample the ever-changing menu.

we received a warmer, more spontaneous smile on our way out into the cold night. and we really didn't care whether or not it was a sign of relief.

Edited by giant shrimp
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We went to Obelisk not long after it opened, and found it to be every bit as good as I'd been told (by one of my chef-instructors, who knew the people behind it). That's quite a while ago, and we have not been back since the only place we almost always hit when we're in town is Asia Nora. :lol: So I am sad to hear that Obelisk might have gone downhill, but happy to hear it's returning to its earlier splendor. Well, splendor isn't quite the right word -- we loved the almost austere space (very much like the late lamented Quilty's in NYC). But the food was indeed excellent.

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Are there any awards that those in the business feel are worthwhile?  Or does it even matter as long as you are making a profit and your customers are happy?

Personally I question why some restaurants are chosen.  I ate at Obelisk this week and with the exception of the first antipasti - barratta, which is similar to mozzerella - we did not have a single bit that was worthy of even the nomination.  The GM had to dance around the answer when we asked if the chef was even in the kitchen cooking the food.

Tom Sietsema in his Chat today may believe that your experience was extremely unusual. It would seem that Obelisk continues as one of the best restaurants in our city. As I mentioned I have not been to Obelisk in a couple of years but over the previous ten or so I've had many dinners there and it was always excellent. I would find it genuinely surprising if Obelisk, whose chef is currently nominated (again) for a Beard award as one of the finest in the Mid Atlantic states, has slipped. Despite your experience you may want to try it again. For many this is still the same excellent restaurant it has been since the day it opened. From Tom's Chat:

"Dupont Circle has a number of inviting options. They include the Tabard Inn, which serves its modern American menu in a lovely garden as weather permits; the intimate Obelisk, for some of the best Italian around (better start dialing now, though, if you're interested); and Komi, home to the young and talented Johnny Monis."

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I would find it genuinely surprising if Obelisk, whose chef is currently nominated (again) for a Beard award as one of the finest in the Mid Atlantic states, has slipped.

except that when obelisk was ascending last year, wasn't it the return of chef jerry corso that was responsible? he was the one who was batting the home runs, according to ts. so where is he now? did he duck out? i thought the food at obelisk was good when i was there several months ago, but maybe i was lucky, and it is so simple that i can see how one person can make a big difference. i don't mind that much at two amy's when a small plate is great at one meal and so-so at the next, it didn't cost that much. anyway, jerry corso wasn't nominated for a beard award and peter pastan was, who from the sound of things, isn't even doing a consistently great job of supervision.

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We were in a car accident overseas at the end of February, and we promised ourselves that when I returned to normalcy, we would treat ourselves to a special meal. Well, my first day back at work is Monday and our meal was Saturday night at Obelisk.

We got a reservation at 8:30pm by calling that afternoon.

The ambiance and service was as we remembered it from our last 2 visits (the last of which admittedly was in 2002). It's still low-key and casual, but the service does not suffer. For example, when we were asked to move to another table because the hostess erroneously seated us at a 2 top that was needed to be merged with another table for a larger group, she offered us two glasses of wine on the house (though that might have been after my husband gave her a quizzical-WTF look). Since we don't eat pork, we had risotto balls substituted for the house-cured meats in the antipasto course. All the servers were knowledgable about the wines, dishes; water glasses were filled promptly, courses came out nicely-paced, etc.

It's still $65 for 5 courses. We started with the antipasto course, and we really liked all the dishes. We started with an excellent ricotta cheese, served simply with fresh ground peper, kosher salt and olive oil. Soft-shell crabs that were very fresh and not overly fried. Peppery arugula topped with beets. Brushetta with fava bean and garlic spread-- very yummy (though with a tad too much olive oil). And the risotto balls tasted similar to their cousins at 2 Amys, except Obelisk's had mushrooms inside. This was my favorite course.

For our first course, we both had the gnoochi, served with peas and squash blossoms. We both thought the gnoochi was pretty good-- not overly rich or mushy. The squash blossoms really made the dish.

For our second course, I had the duck and my husband had the lamb. The duck was braised with fennel, and perhaps other ingredients, but fennel was the overwhelming spice. I thought the duck was decent, but not transporting or particulary unique. The skin was crisp, but the meat was a little over-cooked for me. The duck was served with artichokes and peas, which were also sauteed with fennel. These were also OK, but nothing to write home about. OTOH, upon his first bite, my husband LOVED his lamb dish, which consisted of lamb chops that, in his words, was perfectly prepared and cooked. (He actually said, this might be one of the best lamb dishes he'd ever had.) I had a bite, and it was very flavorful (without being too game-y), and nicely seared with the inside still pink.

Then came the cheese course. I am not a cheese expert so all I can say was that all the cheese were good to me, served with fresh fig spread.

By the time dessert rolled around, I was WAY too full. Unfortunately for me, the house-made ice cream was mint chocolate chip, one of my least favorite flavors. i was tempted to order it anyway, because I still have fond memories of the chocolate chip toffee ice cream I had last time. Anyway, my husband ordered it and loved the fresh mint flavor (not what you buy at the store for sure). I had a dish that was some kind of pudding made with a dessert liquor topped with an almond cookie. It was good, but a bit sweet.

All in all, we both enjoyed the meal a lot, although my husband defintely enjoyed his meal more than I. Nonetheless, I really like the overall package, especially its non-stuffy ambiance. The meal definitely kept Obelisk on our list of special occassion places. Everyone around us seemed to be raving about the food. (Although we overheard a woman, who had clearly had too many glasses of wine as her slurred speech evidenced, talking loudly about peeing in the shower. TMI!! Fortunately, we were on our way out...)

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went last night for an anniversary dinner.

everything was excellent. of course, it's hard to match the antipasti, but the jerusalem artichoke soup and the chestnut tagliatelle with chanterelles were amazing. my steak was cooked to perfection (and i mean that), and my girlfriend tuna with gremolata was also wonderful. the only thing problematic was the excess caramel on the tarte tatin. still, i was very happy. write up will be going up soon.

read the blog!

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Last night I celebrated my 30th and my girlfriend gave me the option of dinner at any restaurant in DC. For the last few months I waivered between Maestro, Komi and Obelisk. I finally decided that I wanted to accent my thirtieth rather than overshadow it with pomp and wonder. I felt like course after course of foams and gelees would have left my girlfriend and me discussing preparations and inspirations instead of where we've been and would be. So I decided on Obelisk.

I once worked for a chef who said they spent years going back on forth of the name of their restaurant before they opened. They said that they wanted the name to not only reflect their cuisine and style but also their M.O.. At the time I thought this was looking into things to much but now I realize what they were talking about. Having said this Obelisk is perhaps the one of the most well thought out names for a restaurant as I've seen. Now it may seem as I'm rambling or tapering; I'm just trying to illustrate my perception of the genius behind this restaurant and it's importance in this particular culinary scene.

I'll try not to get into the details of preparations or service, all I can say is that both well excuted and very thoughtful. Only ingredients at the peak of their season were presented and techniques roamed somewhere between Milan and the Abruzzo. Service was prompt but not overbearing, intelligent and warm(Tina, the longtime GM whom I believe is one of DCs unsung restaurant heroes, is at every table at the drop of every plate describing ingredients and combinations) which I believe to be the perfect model for modern American Dining. The space...well it is small and a little cramped. Could there be a better vehicle for this fare and this service? When I walk in I feel like I belong, when I choose the deciscion is mine and when I eat I don't compare.

I'm going to try to wind this up. It seems to me that we get caught up in things like cleverness and popularity and we hardly ever see the forest. Obelisk is just that, a pillar in this community of dining. It is unpretentious, simple and deserving of any attention by the JB committee. It's contribution to this city shouldn't be overlooked: while Roberto was peddling tomato and mozzarella salads in May, Peter was garnishing his morels with chive blossoms.

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Haven't been to Obelisk in about five years. That dinner still remains as one of the best I've ever had in DC. Since then, it seems they've had their ups and downs, so I've shied away. However, dinner on Saturday was a great meal full of seasonal ingredients.

The Komi-style parade of appetizers included:

Burrata with fresh fava beans

Soft-shell crab with parsley sauce

Tart of spring greens

Roasted peppers and anchovies

Salt cod crostini

Olives

For pastas, we shared:

Pasta alla chitarra with squid and green garlic

Gnocchi with gorgonzola, hazelnuts and chive blossoms

Both excellent, especially the squid dish.

Mains

Halibut with stew of spring vegetables (there was some Italian name for this, but I forgot it)

Flat iron steak with onions and asparagus

Great quality steak and fish, prepared perfectly. I loved the onions that came with the flat iron-- they seemed to be marinated in balsamic and cumin.

Can quite remember what the three cheeses were for the cheese course, but for dessert we had:

Strawberry custard tart

Yogurt panna cotta with rhubarb and shortbread

Desserts weren't all that exciting, but were satisfying. I'm guessing there's no pastry chef here, as the choices were all "chef's desserts".

Dessert was followed up with biscotti and other small sweets.

To accompany all this, we had a delicious bottle of Italian rose imported by Neal Rosenthal.

The price has crept up a bit. I thought I walked by a couple of weeks ago and saw that it was $65, but on Saturday it was $75. That pushes Obelisk into some rarified company (five-courses at Palena is $76 last time I looked) and things still slip just a bit after the wonderful antipasti, but Obelisk deserves more attention here than the one or two posts a year it gets.

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I too hadn't been to Obelisk for five years or so. I dined there last night, and was pleased to the tips of my toes. As in the past, Obelisk is a remarkably pleasant place to be. The room is small, but feels un-crowded, quiet without being hushed. The dining-room staff all know their jobs very well, and provide graceful, knowledgeable, attentive service that is never intrusive. The food last night was probably not as uniformly excellent as I've had there in the fairly distant past, but it was a very good meal. The antipasto array included some very nice olives, burrata (perhaps the biggest hit of the evening), grilled asparagus with a balsamic vinaigrette, something the server called "beef fritters" which were little fried things with a garlic-parsley sauce, a shrimp salad with bell pepper (and wonderfully sweet, fresh shrimp), and crostini with fava beans and pecorino. My primo was the least wonderful thing I ate; it was guinea-hen agnolotti in broth with ramps and a poached egg, and while it didn't offend me, none of it seemed to taste like much of anything. My secondo was halibut with favas and guanciale, and was a stellar demonstration of fine food-stuffs being allowed to speak for themselves; it was wonderful. I too forget the names of the cheeses, but there was one goat and two sheep, and they were all very nice. Some good sorbet that I couldn't finish, and a demi-tasse of superb espresso. I had a lovely meal, all told, and Obelisk is most definitely going back into my rotation.

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Has anyone tried Obelisk recently? I have reservations on Friday and would love to get a preview if anyone has visited since March 2008. Thanks very much!

Tom on his weekly chat today said:

Capitol Hill: Hi Tom,

If you had to pick one Italian restaurant inside the Beltway that would make you think, "Wow, when did I arrive in Italy?", which would it be?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Right now? Obelisk. The food coming out of that kitchen these days borders on enchanting.

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Finally getting a chance to report back...since the dinner at Obelisk on the 8th to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, we had a new addition to our family...first time parents, whew...sleepless nights ensues.

We wanted to something low key despite the milestone anniversary since I could not drink...we plan to do Spain next year to make up for it. Obelisk's decor was bare yet inviting and warm, as was the service. The restaurant's forte is definitely their appetizers (antipasti and primi). The buildup was not there in the subsequent courses. Would I return? Yes, but I left thinking that I had not missed anything by not going there the past 7 years I lived in the neighborhood. If one were to ask, if one should dine there, I may more enthusiatically point them to Dino, where they will find better value. Especially after having dined at Dino couple days (restaurant week special) before this, I felt like at $75, Obelisk underperformed. For our purposes, Obelisk fit the bill, it was low key and we had a grand time with great company of family members.

The menu we had consisted of the following:

Antipasti misti (fried squash blossoms, burrata, pork terrine, pickled assortment of beans)

Primi (Dandelion greens ravioli wit anchovy butter--our favorite; Gnocchi with persto; Bigoli with tomatoes and pancetta--heavy on the salt)

Secondi (Quail with chanterelles; Culotte with flat beans and pine nuts)

Formaggi: (Cincerino, carvanzina and pipe dreams farms goat cheese)

Dolci: (Yogurt panna cotta with blackberries; chololate raspberry cake; peach infusion with vanilla ice cream)

They have a new chef...Jessica Lee (don't quote me...I think that was her first name).

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Hi, new to this bored, but maybe have run into folks on some of the other boreds.

I've heard talk that Obelisk had a rough period, maybe this was 2004/2005, but I never experienced it.

It has consistently been my favorite restaurant in DC if not the country. I've been going for 15 years now, without a real disappointment.

Someone above said that Tina is one of the unsung heroes of the DC scene, and while I don't live in DC, I am certainly a huge fan.

On Saturday October 4, my companion and I had a wonderful meal there.

I love the wine list, a special section for "Whites made like reds" is especially nice. So many DC lists are really out of date.

I commented to Tina that it looks like they took some seats out, and they did. It looks to be under 30 these days and the Prix Fixe is up to $75, but if you look at what that gets you in NY, London, or Paris, it seems like money well spent.

My favorite thing about the restaurant is how unpretentious it is. There isn't anything fussy about it. The food is pure, well chose, and expertly cooked. I had the best venison I've had in years. I've sometimes had meals there where I could close my eyes and feel like I'm in the Piedmont.

So, the long and short of it is that I'd keep Obelisk on your "must dine" list for DC, I certainly do.

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House cured olives (where can one acquire olives locally to cure at home?)

Bread with properly ready to use butter (very good, esp the butter)

Burratta (Wow, the best burrata I have ever had)

Artichokes with anchovy garlic herbs (brought me back to Roma from last year, the anchovy elevated this to a whole new level)

Eggplant capponata (wonderful, almost meaty, a star)

Supppli with duck ragu parmagianno (very nice, a nice contrast in textures)

Squid polenta (the only dud of the night -- underseasoned and not really inspiring)

Pork terrine with onions - riatta? (basically pork cheeks, shredded and terrine-ified with a shmear of fat on the top served with pickled onions -- so, so good)

Clams with spaghetti -- not overly wrought at all, simple, of the sea, with proper amounts of salt and garlic, nothing to mess it up (they were more like cockles though)

Guinea fowl mini ravioli en brodo (so, rich and full of depth of flavor. While Palena still gets the nod for exquisite broths, this was the thinnest of hairs below those)

Snapper with blood oranges tomatoes artichokes and crispy skin (my wife gave me a small taste of this and it was wonderful)

Red wine marinated squab with braised spinach (simple, elegant, perfect. And I love working on some bones.)

Cheese (3 cheeses, all very good, both nothing spectacular (say like the cheese spread at Grammercy Tavern)

Dried fruit strudel (perfect and not in your face, subtly deliciously good)

Citrus granita with blood orange tangerine and vanilla (wow. wonderful. Think of an upscale creamsicle where the flavor playfulness is key. wow)

2003 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Valpolicella Superiore (which is a STEAL at $64. No it's not a steal compared to retail, but trying a wine from this vintage where the Amarones are painfully pricey, this wine sings like a wonderful Amarone all by itself and, for $64, this wine is absolutely delicious and ready to go.) The rest of the wine list was indeed good. Lots of well thought out selections and it tried to meet the requirements of spendy clients and not so spendy clients.

I also have to say, we were not too close to our neighboring diners. The space is nice and the service was quite good and friendly without being too friendly. As always, I think the waitstaff can feed off of you having a good time and it was evident here for me. It's also a joy to be able to dine at a restaurant this good without having to fuss over my attire. After a really hard week at work and on the home front (lost a cat to cancer a bit over a week ago), this was a treat for my wife and I and it really, really hit the spot. There really is something healing about a good meal in a wonderful atmosphere with the one you love, particularly after a rough week.

Kudos to Obelisk, we'll be back.

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I had dinner at Obelisk several weeks ago, and I'm sorry to report that my impression remains that this once-glorious restaurant is a shadow of its former self. The antipasti were wonderful (and plentiful), but the meal went south from there - even the breadsticks and ice cream weren't what they used to be. It pains me to write this, too, since Obelisk was on my handful of "don't miss" restaurants back in the 90s (Peter Pastan should have won the James Beard Award for Obelisk ten years ago; now he deserves one because of 2 Amys; not Obelisk). For better or worse, the clientele also seems much older than it used to be.

Cheers,

Rocks.

P.S. For a more upbeat assessment, you could refer to Frommer's which says that "Obelisk is the most consistently excellent restaurant in the city. Service and food are simply the best."

I don't think I've been to Obelisk since this visit in March, 2006, but I had dinner there last week.

My overall impression of the meal is a bit more upbeat than my last several experiences. The dining room seemed fresh on this visit, with the tables nicely spaced, and the clientele somewhat younger than I remember from several years back. Service was across-the-board stellar - friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive, but not the least bit intrusive. The wine list remains very good, and Obelisk still allows diners to bring their own wine for a $25 per bottle corkage fee (maximum two bottles per table).

The antipasti come fast and furious, and were largely excellent - the fritto misto in particular (lemon, onion, shrimp) was terrific, and I thought both the lemons and onions were stunning, the onions superior to the ones on Palena's fry plate. The bread was homemade and quite good (except for the grissini, which tasted oddly sweet).

Once again, I'm afraid that things went downhill quickly with the main meal, the Primi (pasta courses) being merely "good," with the duck-confit raviolini ruined by a brodo that had excessive pooling of poultry fat, and which could only be neutralized by the salt shaker, turning an otherwise delicate dish into something resembling a babushka's heavy-handed chicken soup. The Secondi (meat courses) were mediocre at best - in particular, the Culotte steak was suffocated by what I can only term a Teriyaki sauce that reminded me of something I used to find at the Luau Hut. After the antipasti, my hopes were very high, but these courses were genuine disappointments.

However, the desserts - particularly the mint chocolate chip ice cream - were as good as I can ever remember, and that's saying something, because for my palate, Obelisk's ice creams have been some of the best I've ever eaten.

Up above, crazeegirl noted last summer that the price for the prix fixe was $75; it is now down to $70. Obelisk isn't a bad value for the money, and the dining experience as a whole is lovely, but the appetizers and entrees I had were simply not good enough to make this a great restaurant.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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My husband and I moved to the DC area in late August of 2007 and since then we have been slowly working our way through the local restaurants. One of the very first restaurants we visited was in early September 2007 to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We chose Obelisk in the Dupont Circle neighborhood because, after an exhausting move, we wanted excellent food, but with a more laid-back, less formal atmosphere. We were ecstatic with our experience that night. Everything we were served was exquisite and, while I didn’t take notes, I still remember the nectarine tart I had for dessert. Despite our wonderful experience there we had not returned because, being new to the area, we wanted to experience as many restaurants as possible. So, we had a rule that we wouldn’t repeat a restaurant until we had been to all of the others in its price/quality category. Last Wednesday we made an exception. We decided to return to Obelisk to celebrate our wedding anniversary again. We made this decision despite the fact that we haven’t yet been to Palena, Corduroy, Inox, or 2941. This speaks to how very much we had enjoyed our first visit to Obelisk and wished to repeat it.

I am sad to report that our second visit, at least for me, did not quite measure up to our first. Still wonderful was the service, which is some of the best in any restaurant in the area. The staff is very knowledgeable about both the food and the wine and also very accommodating and friendly.

The evening began with the house-cured olives, followed by the bread which was delicious and served with a butter that was room temperature and, therefore, spreadable. Those are the best breadsticks you’re likely to get in a restaurant and the sourdough wheat bread was very good. This was followed by the cheese course: an Italian Burrata dressed with olive oil and pepper. The Burrata itself was extremely delicate, airy and light and also completely tasteless. The olive oil and pepper added the only flavor.

Next came the parade of antipasti:

• Matsutake mushroom served with pecorino and celery leaf: honestly, the celery leaf was the star here; no other flavors could be detected.

• Smoked swordfish belly: this was very well cooked, a tad too fishy for my taste; my husband loved it.

• Pork rillettes with onion jam: excellent!

• Puff pastry stuffed with arugula, cheese, anchovies, and herbs: this was a real miss; the pastry was overcooked and dry, almost burned, not at all light and fluffy; the stuffing was nothing special.

For the Primi course my husband had the Shrimp Soup which he loved and my taste of it confirmed that it was excellent, cooked well and flavorful. Unfortunately, my choice was the Gargati with Polpettine, a pasta dish with small meatballs made of pork and veal, accompanied by a tomato sauce. This dish was a disaster all the way around. The pasta was dense, tough and chewy. The meatballs were dry and tasteless. The sauce was fine but could hardly save the dish.

For the Secondi, we both chose the Black Sea Bass with Romesco Sauce and Artichoke stuffed with cheeses and herbs. This dish was excellent. Every component was perfectly cooked and very flavorful.

The evening ended on a very high note as both of our desserts were wonderful: my husband had the chocolate raspberry torte with chocolate raspberry ice cream; I had the peach and blackberry crumble with whipped cream. The whipped cream had been directly imported from heaven!

To drink we had an Italian Pinot Noir, Grosjean Valle d’Aoste 2006 ($63); this was a lighter red, befitting the season and the food and it was very tasty.

Despite our disappointing experience, we will certainly return to Obelisk. However, not before we’ve checked out the remaining restaurants in this category on our list.

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The burrata we've had at Obelisk has been some of the best we have tasted. We went again in mid to late August and had a fine meal there. Is it Palena (my local benchmark)? No. Was it good? Yes? Very good as a matter of fact.

We'll be back, too, but only once we've hit some more places we have not tried and some we have not tried in too long (Tosca comes to mind).

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I don't think I've been to Obelisk since this visit in March, 2006, but I had dinner there last week.

My overall impression of the meal is a bit more upbeat than my last several experiences. The dining room seemed fresh on this visit, with the tables nicely spaced, and the clientele somewhat younger than I remember from several years back. Service was across-the-board stellar - friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive, but not the least bit intrusive. The wine list remains very good, and Obelisk still allows diners to bring their own wine for a $25 per bottle corkage fee (maximum two bottles per table).

The antipasti come fast and furious, and were largely excellent - the fritto misto in particular (lemon, onion, shrimp) was terrific, and I thought both the lemons and onions were stunning, the onions superior to the ones on Palena's fry plate. The bread was homemade and quite good (except for the grissini, which tasted oddly sweet).

Once again, I'm afraid that things went downhill quickly with the main meal, the Primi (pasta courses) being merely "good," with the duck-confit raviolini ruined by a brodo that had excessive pooling of poultry fat, and which could only be neutralized by the salt shaker, turning an otherwise delicate dish into something resembling a babushka's heavy-handed chicken soup. The Secondi (meat courses) were mediocre at best - in particular, the Culotte steak was suffocated by what I can only term a Teriyaki sauce that reminded me of something I used to find at the Luau Hut. After the antipasti, my hopes were very high, but these courses were genuine disappointments.

However, the desserts - particularly the mint chocolate chip ice cream - were as good as I can ever remember, and that's saying something, because for my palate, Obelisk's ice creams have been some of the best I've ever eaten.

Up above, crazeegirl noted last summer that the price for the prix fixe was $75; it is now down to $70. Obelisk isn't a bad value for the money, and the dining experience as a whole is lovely, but the appetizers and entrees I had were simply not good enough to make this a great restaurant.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Prix fixe was $85 on our summer visit. As much as I want to disagree with Don I believe he is exactly right in his observations. This is a restaurant that I want to like very badly-it just "feels" like an Italian restaurant in a small town in Italy. It could be a grat recommendation for someone visiting D. C. or for a special occasion.

The only problem is that there is nothing special about the main courses. They are, indeed, mediocre.

In the '90's my wife and I celebrated several anniversaries and birthdays here. Today it just isn't on that level. My hope is that it returns to what it once was.

By the way, Grapes in Norwalk, CT carries the tre bicchieri Tenuta Sant Antonio Valpolicella which is about $35 a bottle retail. Their amarone is E 65 or so in Italy. There is another Valpolicella called Tenuta Chicherri which the Wine Library and Grapes both carry for around $35-40 that may be a bit better. '04 was an extraordinary year in the Veneto. Dal Forno's Valpolicella '03 may be the best of all of the '03's. It is also priced like it here at close to $200 a bottle. In Italy it is around E 65 if you can find it. The '04 which has not been released yet may be even better.

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We had dinner here on Saturday and enjoyed it a lot. It was pretty strong from beginning to end for us:

Small plates for starters were very good:

- The burrata was fresh and delicious

- The veal/pork meatballs were seasoned well and moist

- The salad of maitaake mushrooms and celery leaf was nice and fresh. Very aromatic flavors.

- a duck/goose liver pate (I think) was smooth, rich and not heavy.

- Salmon croquettes were nice, but took a backseat to the other bites

And the breadsticks were so tasty, I could not stop eating them!

1st course was the best course:

- The Tagliatelle with Chanterelle mushrooms were divine, and the best course of the night

- My wife's gnocchi with goat ragout was very good as well

For the main course, we split a veal chop (for two). It was good, except it was a little rare (odd they didn't ask for our preference on doneness).

Dessert was also of good quality. I had a pear tart with vanilla ice cream (yum) and my wife had something chocolatey, but I was nearing a food coma so I cannot recall! :rolleyes:

The cookies and the lemon gum drop at the end was nice. It was a lot of food for the two of us! Service was very nice and unobtrusive.

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Going tonight for dinner for my wife's birthday. Anyone have any recommendations for someplace within walking distance for a casual/quite drink for afterwards that is NOT Brickskellar (I am DONE with that place)

I'm not sure how quiet it will be, but Urbana would be convenient and it's casual. Farther away and less casual is the Mayflower Hotel bar. Another option is Firefly. I find it low key and cozy. Guess it depends how much walking you want to do. Enjoy your evening.

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Going tonight for dinner for my wife's birthday. Anyone have any recommendations for someplace within walking distance for a casual/quite drink for afterwards that is NOT Brickskellar (I am DONE with that place)

Years ago, a date took me for drinks at the Fairfax Hotel on 21st and Mass Ave. While not as nice as the Mayflower or Tabard, I remember being pleasantly surprised at the cozy bar, complete with wingback chairs and a roaring fire in the fireplace.

I offer this suggestion with severe reservations since it was, as I said, years ago, and hotels remodel themselves more often than Hollywood starlets, but it might be worth a peek since fireplaces are rare and lovely in the winter, and it's close enough that you could always just wander to Urbana if things have changed...

ETA: Sorry--I just realized my suggestion is too late. But I'd love to hear if the hotel still has a cozy bar if anyone is in the neighborhood...

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