Obelisk: A Well Deserved Meal


My sister to me on a Saturday afternoon:  “What are you doing tonight?”  Me:  “Going out with friends to a REALLY nice dinner.  My sister (sarcastically):  “Oh good, because you deserve it.  You don’t get to do that very often.”

Okay, fine.  My husband and I have been out to some really nice dinners recently.  And then there are the meals I’ve had out with my girlfriends, and the ones I’ve had during business trips, and the quick weeknight dinners I don’t even write about. The question I’ve been getting a lot lately is “how do you eat out so often?” My answer is that I have always eaten out this much- basically every Saturday night and once or twice during the week.  The only difference is that now I am writing about it, and admittedly I am going upscale a little more often than I used to.  But in the world of restaurant critics and local food writers I am woefully behind.  There are some highly rated local restaurants where I have never been including Inn at Little Washington, Minibar, Marcel’s, and Cityzen. I’m working on it.  So when my friends suggest going to Obelisk, I jump at the chance.  It has been on my list for a very long time.

I am initially surprised by the decor.  It is more casual (and sparse) than I imagined, which is not a bad thing.  It feels authentically down home Italian.

The friends who we are with have known Obelisk chef/owner Peter Pastan for years.  Although they have not connected with him in advance of our visit somehow he knows (good for him for keeping an eye on the reservation list) and he has sent us a bottle of sparkling rose wine.  He is not there and we are told he spends most evenings at his other restaurant, Two Amy’s. He has started us off with a smile, in absentia.

The meal at Obelisk is a prix  fixe at $75 per person.  You select three courses, but long before you get to what you ordered you are served an amazing array of antipasto.  My friends and husband have stated their preferences in advance, in keeping with their individual boundaries for keeping kosher.  No meat, no shellfish, although one of my friends will eat meat (no pork) but not to be mixed with dairy.  Our server is not phased, although she double checks with me that I will eat absolutely anything.  I do have limits but I keep them to myself.  However, I secretly hope that I won’t be served the pigs head salad I read about online. The menu changes almost daily, so you never know.

We begin with the bread.  It is divine- the perfect mix of crunchy outside and soft inside that isn’t always so easily attained.

Now it’s time for the onslaught of dishes…potato frittata with ramps, a marvelous burrata cheese drizzled with olive oil, red mullet fish with olives, asparagus in parchment (mine included pork).  We delight in each and every dish.  The freshness of the ingredients, a key factor in the food at Obelisk, is clearly contributing to the success of these small plates and everything that follows.

Then out comes fried chick peas for the non pig eaters, as I am served the dish I had not been looking forward to:  pigs head salad with orange peel.  I have to taste it.  I do, but I can’t get past what it is and it’s the one dish I don’t finish.

pigs head salad

We finally get to the primi dishes that we have actually selected:  Ravioli with watercress, squash blossoms and pine nuts for the non-pig eaters and raviolini with sucking pig, fava beans, and crisp pig skin on top for me. Simply stated…delicious!


We are truly stuffed at this point but our secondi (main course) is still to come.  I have ordered lamb with peas and pancetta (yes pig has been inserted into nearly everything).  The non-meat eaters have fish which has a nice char on the outside and a delicious slightly spicy sauce. They find it extremely satisfying.

we can’t remember what kind of fish this is, but it’s beautiful

The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.  The fresh peas and pancetta are the perfect complement to the meat, adding just a bit of crunch.  I wish for another bite, not because I need more food but because I want to savor the taste for just a little bit longer.

We could stop here, as we could have stopped earlier, but there is more.  We are served more fresh bread, which we can’t help but eat as an accompaniment to a beautiful cheese course.

If there is any course that is less than perfect in this meal, it is dessert.  Two of us have a rhubarb crostini with brown butter ice cream.  It is good but not remarkable.  There is also coconut cake.  Our favorite is surprising – mint chocolate chip ice cream.  I was puzzled as to why someone would choose this over a cake or crostini, but to taste it is to understand.  It’s made from real mint leaves and fine chunks of chocolate.  It is the clear winner of the three.

What makes Obelisk so special is the entire experience.  The food is outstanding but there is so much more.  The service is warm and attentive.  The atmosphere is cozy and comfortable.  The price is more than reasonable given both the quality and quantity of the food. Our friends have hesitated coming here because of their concern about food restrictions.  Obelisk, while clearly a purveyor of pork products, does just as well without them.

There is usually about a week lag time between the time I have a meal and actually write my blog post.  During that time my opinion of a restaurant can change slightly as I have some time to sit with my impressions.My fondness for Obelisk has grown with time.

My sister joked about my deserving to go to a REALLY good restaurant.  Obelisk is the kind of place to go for a celebration, a romantic night out, or a relaxing evening with friends.  Doesn’t everyone deserve that, at least once in awhile?

Obelisk, 2029 P St NW
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   4.9
Zagat rating:  27

#14, Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2011
Washington Post review

Obelisk on Urbanspoon

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