The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obelisk holds its impeccable form as chef becomes owner

The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2017 Spring Dining Guide.


For more than half of Obelisk’s 30 years, the secret weapon at the Italian gem nurtured by owner Peter Pastan has been chef Esther Lee. “A year in” the job, Lee recalled recently, “I said I’d like to run a place like Obelisk,” a small restaurant where whatever could be made from scratch was, breadsticks and fig jam included. “It never dawned on me that I would own it one day.” You read her right. Pastan recently turned the reins of his Dupont Circle restaurant over to his longtime right hand. Can we expect a makeover for the spare, 11-table dining room? “I’m not closing for a month for a multimillion-dollar renovation,” says the chef, laughing at the thought of changing anything that’s made Obelisk such a favorite over its long run. Nor does Lee expect to overhaul the fixed-price menu, a five-course ode to seasonality and freshness. “Truthfully,” she says, “I would like to keep it the simple trattoria it’s always been.” That’s just fine by those of us who have followed her work all this time. Pillowy gnocchi treated to toasted hazelnuts and Castelmagno cheese, the pride of Piedmont, and halibut in the company of clams, leeks and tomato shouldn’t go anywhere but down the hatch and into our dreams.

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3 stars

2029 P St. NW. 202-872-1180.

Open: Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Prices: Prix-fixe five-course dinner, $78 Tuesday through Thursday, $88 Friday and Saturday.

Sound check: 70 decibels / Conversation is easy.


The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.

Consistency remains the key ingredient


Restaurants that don't change typically do so at their peril. If there's an exception, it's Obelisk, humming along after 28 years and more or less doing what it has always done: putting out some of the best Italian food in the city. Forgive me if you've heard this before, but here goes: Try not to fill up on the antipasti — a bar of Sicilian sweet-and-sour fish, burrata set on a pool of olive oil, the best fried squash blossoms of my year — a spread as abundant as it is amazing. Pasta will have you competing with the dishwasher to wipe the plate clean, buttery tagliolini with crab and bottarga most of all. A pleasant surprise: Entrees are now the equal of the other four courses on the $75 menu. (Succulent culotte flanked with filet beans, pine nuts and guanciale is something steakhouses should aspire to.) Owner Peter Pastan should buy some new chairs and give his townhouse retreat a coat of fresh paint, but the fact that he hasn't, and the place still draws crowds, is testament to his conviction that food trumps frills. Hail, constancy!