Chef-owner Esther Lee hopes to reopen Obelisk this weekend after an electrical fire shuttered the restaurant on July 29. (Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

 

Update: After an extensive cleaning of the smoke-damaged dining room, Obelisk will reopen at 6 p.m. Friday. The Italian restaurant on Dupont Circle has about 18 seats available for tonight's service. For a reservation, call 202-872-1180.

Original post:

Less than a year into her stewardship of Obelisk, the three-star Dupont Circle institution for refined Italian cooking, Esther Lee has learned the hard way that ownership has its drawbacks. A July 29 electrical fire has put her restaurant out of commission for 11 days.

And counting.

When she arrived at Obelisk on Saturday morning, July 29, Lee noticed that Pepco had sealed off a section of P Street NW and that crews were working to restore electricity after a storm the previous night knocked down power lines. The news would get worse for Lee when she walked into her restaurant: It was filled with smoke.

[Obelisk holds its impeccable form as chef becomes owner]

“I was like, 'Did I leave something on?' " Lee said.

She had not. Instead, an electrical room under the stairs that lead to Obelisk had caught fire. Smoke had poured into the small, 11-table dining room and kitchen, causing untold damage. Lee had scheduled a cleaning company to assess the damage on Tuesday, but the crew backed out at the last minute. The company is apparently backlogged with flood-related cleaning requests after recent storms, Lee said.

Another company is scheduled to assess Obelisk on Wednesday and determine how fast the restaurant can reopen. Lee said she hopes it will be Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, Lee has lost countless dollars in revenue, though she said insurance will eventually cover some of that. With her electricity out for more than a week, Lee also lost thousands of dollars in fresh produce, meats, eggs and dairy.

[Craving Italian sandwiches? A shop in Brookland imports the Naples deli experience, with a twist.]

“I had to throw everything out,” Lee said. “I took the starter home with me.”

The starter, she added, has been at Obelisk since the day it opened in August 1987.

Last year, Lee purchased the 30-year-old Obelisk from Peter Pastan, the restaurant's founder and original guiding light. After working for Obelisk for the past 17 years, Lee had to make her first big decision as owner: to open the restaurant like some neighbors on the block? Or wait for cleaning crews to scrub away any trace of smoke?

“I can’t have customers spending the kind of money that dinner is here, and it smells worse than an ashtray,” Lee said.

Obelisk, 2029 P St. NW. 202-872-1180. obeliskdc.com.

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