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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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My wife and I went to Obelisk for the first time this weekend and really loved it! The dinner is $75 per person, extra for wine pairings. We thought that overall it was a very good value considering the quality and variety of dishes we had.

The antipasti came out quickly. Actually the pacing of the whole meal was excellent. We had the delicious burrata mentioned upthread, as well as a dish of roma and lima beans with some kind of shaved fish roe. Stewed octopus which was very tender. Fried sardines. And rillettes of lamb and pork. That was really good! The burrata and rillettes were my favorites.

For first course my wife had ravioli stuffed with eggplant and fried green tomato. I had spaghetti alla chitarra with clams. The ravioli were soft as we like them, not hard, but not as fine and transparent as the ones you can get at Tosca or Zaytinya. Very good flavor, though. Compared well to the wonderful raviolis we love at Sergio's. At first I wasn't too sure about my pasta but the flavors grew and grew on me as I tasted the sauce with fresh parsley. The third choice which we didn't have was a hearty lentil soup. I probably should have tried that.

For our second courses my wife had grilled lamb chops with chick peas, and I had pan-cooked fluke with fennel and guanciale. She said the lamb chops were done just right and were quite tasty but a little fatty. There were two of them. You get a lot of food, but there isn't any waste with uninteresting fillers on the plate. My fluke was well seasoned and a bit blackened on the outside, making for a nice combination of textures and flavors. The fennel just didn't have it that night (maybe too hard to get good fennel in the area?) but the guanciale was spectacular! There wasn't a lot of it but it was so flavorful. I wasn't expecting it to be as crunchy as it was. My wife said it was almost like cracklins! The fish compared well with what you can get at Pesce, which I think is one of the better places in DC for fish. The other second course available was squab.

Hard to top the antipasti, but the cheeses and dessert might have been the best things we had! Somehow I got a second wind at that point. There were three cheeses, but I can only remember the name of one of them, a sovrano hard cheese like parmigiano reggiano. One was like a blue cheese, and the other was soft and creamy. One of the best cheese plates we have had in DC, though I think we might put CityZen at the top of our list for cheeses. The fruity jam that came with it was quince.

For dessert we both had the chocolate cake with caramel sauce. I can't describe it to do it justice! So light and moist! The other choices were a strudel with dried fruit, and a yogurt with quince and cranberry.

Service was excellent. The atmosphere was comfortable and leisurely. I would love to return. Very good value for what all we got.

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Has anyone visited Obelisk recently? Am curious what the current Prix Fix price is. Also - any insight into how far in advance you need to book these days for a Thursday night?

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We had dinner at Obelisk last night. I wasn't sure if I would post about the meal, but then I sat here and read through the whole thread on this restaurant. It is funny because it has a recurring theme of "had a meal here that didn't live up to my memories of the place"..."has anyone been there lately"... So it seemed incumbent upon me to contribute to the tradition.

When I first came to DC as an undergrad I lived a couple blocks from the restaurant. I would often stop to look at the menu while walking down the block (I recall it being $55 price fixe; same handwriting though) and hope that I would meet a guy who would take me there on a date. Since then I met a guy and we have eaten there together several times- most notably New Year's Eve 2005; the next day we went engagement ring shopping. I still have habit of checking out the menu every time I walk by and momentarily I am twenty years old again. Sigh.

We hadn’t been back to Obelisk in easily two or three years. No other reason than it seems like there were always other places we wanted to try or because you can’t make a reservation online and when you do call you generally can’t get a weekend reservation unless you call a week or so ahead. This time I called on Wednesday we could get a 9 pm table on Friday night.

When we got there they had just turned over from the earlier seating. The restaurant was half full. By10pm it had filled back up again. They could probably squeeze in at least two more two tops along the banquettes. But I appreciate that they don’t since it makes the restaurant more intimate and you don’t feel like you are on top of anyone.

Dinner started with cocktails. I particularly enjoyed mine which was gin, Cynar, and Valencia orange.

Antipasti included their “standard” but exceptional burrata with olive oil, salt and pepper; room temperature marinated shrimp; porchetta with super crispy skin; perfectly fried arancini with squash and mozzarella; and a bracing salad of arugula, grapefruit, and fennel. No question their antipasti overshadows the rest of the food.

Pasta course he had the chitarra pasta with a light coating of tomato sauce and polpettini. The meatballs were a mix of beef and pork with pine nuts. I had the guinea hen agnolotti in a broth with a poached egg. Not sure how else to describe the dish other than to say it was an elevated version of my grandmother’s kreplach soup.

Main course he had cod with chickpeas and baby clams. It was described as a house-salted cod poached in olive oil. I had the roasted quail with potatoes, olives, and artichokes that was sauced with an aged balsamic. I would agree with the other comments that the mains are far better than the average restaurant fare but not particularly exceptional at the same time.

Cheese course was an Italian blue, hard Italian sheep’s milk cheese, and a Pennsylvania goat cheese.

Dessert he had the chocolate cake with caramel sauce. I’m fairly certain we’d had it there before. Other posts upthread would suggest that is highly plausible. I had chestnut ice cream and pear tart. Their ice cream continues to be a stand out. This flavor in particular- not too sweet and very subtle.

Our check came with a plate of small goodies- salted toffee, chocolate-mint truffles, hazelnut biscotti.

I’ll note it looks like they’ve been at $75 price fixe for easily 5 years, which is impressive considering food costs have gone up a bit. Overall it was a lovely, relaxed and high quality meal but also kind of unremarkable. That isn’t a bad thing.

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Interesting that some restaurants which are indeed excellent are never mentioned on here.  Obelisk is a case in point:  we've celebrated birthdays and anniversaries there but, for whatever reason, haven't been in a couple of years.  I just did a bit of research and, fortunately, others haven't forgotten about it:  28 from Zagat for food (same rating as Komi which is rarely mentioned anymore either; should I mention Marcel's which is also 28...), 4.5 out of 5 from Yelp and Trip Adviser.  We'll be back-just reassuring to hear that it's still doing well.

Reassuring that Obelisk, Komi and Marcel's are still loved by many.

These are foundational restaurants for D. C.

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I was surprised to find a moment ago that Obelisk now has an actual website.

For any business that serves the public, it has become almost as much table stakes as having a lockable front door.

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Don's Dining Guide comment on Obelisk includes the caution that main entrees have disappointed recently.  I think that comment has been there for a long time but, after dining here last week to celebrate a close relative's 80th birthday, that comment is still correct.

The service was excellent and, of course, the space lovely and intimate.  The noise level was a bit high which surprised me given its smallness but the celebrant correctly identified a lack of soundproofing as the culprit there.

Our antipasti course, the best course of the evening, included:

- crostini with fava beans and pecorino:  very tasty if simple

- burrata: outstanding; maybe the best thing we ate all night

- a salad of shaved fennel with two different kinds of citrus (one dime-sized orange wedges; not sure what those are) and a citrusy viniagrette); the acid level on this was a bit too high but it was still appreciated to cut the richness of every other dish in this course

- duck confit:  good but a bit dry

- suppli al telefono:  the fried risotto balls with cheese were hot, crispy and rich so easy to like

Pasta Course

- the 80 year old couldn't appreciate the chitarra due to the meatballs being made with pork and lamb.  I tried it, thought it good but a bit heavy and straightforward.

- a ravioli dish stuffed with ricotta and, maybe (?) egglplant, was better.

We had only two mains represented at our table.

1) A double cut pork chop looked great to me but I didn't try it. The folks who ordered it enjoyed it but didn't rave.  My relative tried it and pronounced it dry with strange texture but that's feedback that should be taken with several grains of salt given the other perspectives.

2)  A spatchcocked chicken cooked Tuscan style with a brick.  Good but very ordinary.

Cheese Course

Three different types, one of which was a Taleggio with the the other two harder Italian cheeses, one goat and one cow.  Fine. smaller wedges/slices. Nothing special per se.

Dessert

We had a dense, somewhat dry chocolate cake with a much better honey, buttermilk ice cream

It was a nice evening.  Didn't work for our celebrant who not only didn't love the main courses but also thought it way too much food and would have preferred an a la carte ordering option (not Obelisk's fault obviously) but, for the rest of us, a nice meal probably not good enough to merit the cost of around $110 pp (all in) with just a couple of glasses of wine.  At that price point, I'd go elsewhere for higher-end Italian food next time. I know Peter Pastan hasn't been cooking here in a long time but feels maybe in need of a bit of a refresh.

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Sounds a bit inconsistent with the main entree. Our last two visits (December and again this Saturday) were both really very good! In December I had roast chicken that was anything but ordinary. More like the chicken we used to get at Palena. This Saturday it was suckling pig for two. The skin was crispy and the meat juicy and tender. Came with new potatoes and with ramps and marinated sweet yellow peppers.

We also had --

burrata, (agree, maybe the best single dish)

hog head cheese sausage salad (this was so tasty. I thought I was at Marcel's when this came out!)

arugula salad with anchovy dressing (the crostini just soaked this up so it got better and better as you got further into the dish)

fried sardines with Meyer lemons

Wife had raviolini with fava beans and ricotta (next single best dish!) in some kind of thick, potato like broth. Could not get enough of this.

I had spaghetti chitarra with lamb and pork meatballs (really enjoyed this one too. Had this before)

The other two entree choices were quail and red snapper. I could have gone with either one but I had heard that if there's an entree to be split, that's maybe the best one to go with.

Chocolate cake and ice cream. Nothing too fancy. Can't remember the other choices.

So between December and last Saturday I am feeling more confident about the main entree working well.

I am thinking next time of asking if I can replace the main entree with another round of the pasta, it's been that good!

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Sounds a bit inconsistent with the main entree. Our last two visits (December and again this Saturday) were both really very good! In December I had roast chicken that was anything but ordinary. More like the chicken we used to get at Palena. This Saturday it was suckling pig for two. The skin was crispy and the meat juicy and tender. Came with new potatoes and with ramps and marinated sweet yellow peppers.

We also had --

burrata, (agree, maybe the best single dish)

hog head cheese sausage salad (this was so tasty. I thought I was at Marcel's when this came out!)

arugula salad with anchovy dressing (the crostini just soaked this up so it got better and better as you got further into the dish)

fried sardines with Meyer lemons

Wife had raviolini with fava beans and ricotta (next single best dish!) in some kind of thick, potato like broth. Could not get enough of this.

I had spaghetti chitarra with lamb and pork meatballs (really enjoyed this one too. Had this before)

The other two entree choices were quail and red snapper. I could have gone with either one but I had heard that if there's an entree to be split, that's maybe the best one to go with.

Chocolate cake and ice cream. Nothing too fancy. Can't remember the other choices.

So between December and last Saturday I am feeling more confident about the main entree working well.

I am thinking next time of asking if I can replace the main entree with another round of the pasta, it's been that good!

Interesting, MC. You had fairly different (and, dare I say, more interesting?) menu options. I'd have been interested in the suckling pig, the red snapper, the fried sardines and the arugula salad but none of those were on menu when we went.

I'd be curious to hear more about the chicken you ordered, especially since you compare it to the Palena chicken. Ours was described as "Tuscan brick" or something like that. It was cooked under a brick. I'm sure of that. Ours was much leaner than the Palena chicken. And, because it was leaner and maybe cooked at higher heat (not sure), it wasn't as succulent or substantive as the Palena chicken. Further, the Palena chicken,for me, was much more savory due to the brining that ensured great flavor throughout. Don't think the Obelisk chicken we had was that involved in preparation, Another attribute of Chef Ruta's version ours at Obelisk didn't share was the skin. At Obelisk, it was fine and golden brown but had nowhere near the same seasoning and crispness of the one at Palena, in the latter's heyday. Just a bit more detail there on why I called ithe Obelisk bird more "ordinary." It wasn't bad and we finished it but no wow factor on it. Maybe you had a different chicken dish though? Ours was only available for two if that helps distinguish it?

May be we just had different takes on the chicken but curious since not sure we're commenting on the same dish?

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Doesn't sound quite like the same chicken dish we had in December. It was not a dish to be split for two. Crispy skin and juicy meat, not dry at all. But I don't remember much more than that. Maybe it was more dark meat whereas yours was more white meat?

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Doesn't sound quite like the same chicken dish we had in December. It was not a dish to be split for two. Crispy skin and juicy meat, not dry at all. But I don't remember much more than that. Maybe it was more dark meat whereas yours was more white meat?

Definitely a different dish. Ours was an entire bird so all parts but a leaner bird spatchcocked, all of which probably meant a higher heat-to-mass ratio and, not being brined, more straightforward in flavor.

There likely is some difference in experience with such limited menu choices that do change from night to night. Because we were celebrating the 80th birthday, I understood, but was disappointed, that they didn't have the veal chop on the menu. Might have been game changing for us but what can you do? Thanks for the additional detail, MC. Helpful for me and, hopefully, for others who use these threads to inform their choices.

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Really sorry to hear my recommendation steered you wrong, darkstar.  :(

Really, no apology needed, Gadarene! I really appreciated (and appreciate) the recc! Part of the disappointment was my own fault for not better using my own knowledge of my Uncle's prefs in making the choice. That had nothing to do with you. And, part of it was just bad luck given the menu that night. Had it been different as described, it might have been much more successful.

Just want you to know I really appreciate your and everyone else's help. We had a fair bit of success with the other choice. And, Obelisk wasn't disastrous when considering all the members of our party. And, if the sharing of experiences here helps even one or two people down the road then, well, that's the whole point of the website, right?

Thanks again. You rock, truly!

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Dinner at $88 and wine pairing at $58 - expensive considering the tiny amount of food served.  Nothing particularly exciting but food was well executed.  I'd never go back.

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