Obelisk should not get confused with your fixed menu, avant-garde, molecular wonderland where foie gras meets cotton candy. Obelisk is a culinary journey exploring flavors of seasonal Italian cooking with an elegance many Americans have not yet experienced.
Obelisk is not for the weak at heart, or tongue, or table manners, or purse strings. In fact, from the moment you hang your coat in the tiny foyer and awkwardly slide open the door, you are transformed into a world of quiet conversation, silent savoring and handwritten menus. A sudden attitude adjustment for me, seeing as my voice travels quicker than light as well as the high volume and quantity of “oohs and ahhs” (when eating, of course.) Yet the chance to observe a fixed menu in the District is always a treat.
There is something to be said about the infamous “fixed menu.” While some may think it is a recent phenomenon sweeping our cities made only to attract the gastro-elite, it is, in fact, the very opposite. We seem to have lost the idea of the chef grabbing what’s seasonal at the local market, throwing it into a pan, and flipping it into something extraordinary. Or, in this neck of the woods, we may never have had this idea in the first place. Regardless, to me, it is a direct demonstration of the chef’s iron balls for $70 a head ($75 on the weekend). If a restaurant is offering only a few choices, yet all include the best of local and seasonal ingredients sautéed, baked and stewed with the best cuts of meat and fish, the restaurant must know a thing or two. Besides, it is not as if there aren’t choices on the menu. Though the stream of antipasti at Obelisk is chosen for you, primo, secondo and dolce are your choice of three, and you may pair all courses with wine for $40 more.
I was well informed of the “lackluster” atmosphere before arriving for my meal, so it came as no surprise that this small restaurant resembled a 70s Hilton-esque hotel lobby, dim-lit and, of course, with squishy booth-seating lining the walls. After observing my hushed surroundings with only the sounds of cutlery clicking, I quickly asked my date across the table to move next to me, because, again, my voice travels and immediately there was so much to say. In private.
Our meal began with a prosecco and limoncello cocktail. Two of my favorite things married; what more is there to say? As the antipasto plates of mullet fish sautéed with carrot and onion, fava bean parmigiano bruschetta and rapini with garlic began arriving, I soon started to take notice of the subtle, yet sophisticated, idiosyncrasies and warmth within the dining room. Suddenly, and to my surprise, the once dreary hotel lobby transformed into a diner’s welcoming embrace. I noticed the beautiful oak center table gently cradling the cutlery and supporting a quirky vase of fresh cut flowers. I also noticed how the subdued lightening accented the booths’ striped fabric. Even the breadsticks began tasting like French toast. At this point, I was definitely under the influence of a skillfully chosen 2001 Amarone.
The evening moved on, and the room became warmer with a spoonful of Guinea hen raviolini in a light chicken broth, hatted with a poached egg. This dish proved an uncommon, yet delightful, nuptial between pasta and poultry, two ingredients more often found on menus such as Olive Garden and Maggiano’s, with the addition of cream, of course. In this case, I found Obelisk’s raviolini amount to a subtle, yet successful, culinary faux pas. Moreover, what’s not outstanding with a runny egg on it?
When speaking of food, we all want to hear the words “local ingredients.” Well, what if one orders the pigeon? The answer is, hopefully not! In Italy, eating pigeon (or more commonly known as squab), while still a rarity in a city-center, is not too far off the bird-beaten path. In fact, people have been eating pigeon, which is similar in taste to pheasant, for centuries. Raised in farms purposefully to be rubbed and roasted, pigeon is a fatty, bony yet succulent meat meant not to cook over a medium temperature. From the moment I scanned the menu, I knew the fearless descendent of the Dodo bird was mine. The pigeon was roasted with artichokes, house-cut pancetta and fava beans. The bird’s skin was perfectly crisp and not too oily, while the meat was the perfect color rose. This was a dish meant for savoring. And that I did. Quietly.
Skipping dessert and heading straight for the coffee, Obelisk impressed until the very end. The restaurant topped us off with a perfect tazza di caffe and a small plate of house goodies including homemade mini curry biscotti, decadent truffles and, to my delight, tangerine sugar-coated jellies.
Depending on your choice of wine, the check should not surprise. The beauty of the fixed menu is to know what you are spending before you arrive at the restaurant. Your exit from Obelisk should be just as seamless as your meal.
Dining at Obelisk is not a spur-of-the-moment choice of indulgence. Chef/owner Peter Pastan has developed quite a following among DC foodies, and it’s almost guaranteed to grow with his recent inclusion as a finalist for this year’s James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Make your reservations well in advance, since there are few tables, and plan at least 3 hours to sit and enjoy your dinner. My best advice: Choose your dinner date wisely for this culinary experience. Bring the family members you enjoy spending time with, bring your colleagues to impress, bring the love of your life and, of course, your table manners. Most importantly, don’t forget to look into the eyes of the person you are cheering!
|Address:||2029 P St., NW (Bet. 20th and 21st Sts.) Washington, DC 20036|
|Parking:||Street and Valet|
|Go for:||Menu changes daily but recent highlights include: fava bean parmigiano bruschetta; guinea-hen raviolini; roasted pigeon with artichokes|