Location: Dupont Circle
Rating: 4 out of 5
Summary: An intimate and impressive modern Italian experience
With only 37 seats in a single room, you will be hard pressed to find a more intimate or personable dining experience in the district than Obelisk. While we may not have had a chef or fireplace at our table, the family dining room atmosphere worked perfectly with the restaurant’s theme of classic Italian flavors with some modern twists. The menu itself is hand written and is a constantly changing line up of courses and dishes, one week’s list likely different from the next. Pair that creativity with a kitchen using only the best local ingredients and you get a dining experience that is executed to near perfection.
Our first course was actually a variety of antipasta dishes. Every dish had the feel of classic Italian flavors and traditional starter plates with a local twist or a creative technique. The burata was a plate of fantastically fresh cow cheese with a light salt, pepper, and olive oil drizzle. The squab liver pudding was an unusual addition, but the meat pate’s smoky flavor combined with the candied hazelnuts was divine. Although the sardines cooked in prosecco were tad on the salty side, the sweet wine and onions helped lighten and balance it out. The grapefruit and fennel salad served as not much more than a plate of fruit, but the blood oranges and beets were a nice combination. Our last anitpasta dish were balls of risotto and cheese, breaded and fried to perfection so the innards melted in our mouth. The variety of ingredients and different styles of these starters plates surpassed anything we had expected to be served for only an antipasta course, setting the expectations for the rest of our meal high.
Our first pasta selection was tagliolini with sea urchin, a bowl of long and thin noodles and freshly prepared sea urchin. Be it the natural flavor of the sea urchin or an addition by the kitchen, we tasted little else than the flavor of sea water, the salt overpowering anything we could hope to taste.
Next we were served the arugula ravioli and Virginia ham, tightly packed pasta of ricotta and arugula decorated with small cubes of cooked ham. Cooked al denti, the firm ravioli still broke apart easily to spill the succulent filling, the arugula and slight amount of melted ricotta combining seamlessly with the hint of garlic cream sauce that barely made notice of itself at first glance. The consistency of the ham was pitch perfect, cooked well enough to eliminate a raw texture, but still far from giving an incompatible crunch. While we would have enjoyed the pasta to have been cooked a touch more, it would be hard to say no to another helping with such proud flavors.
For our Secondi, we first chose the duck breast, served with stoved tongue-of-fire beans. Although our duck was served rarer than some may be used to, the meat was incredibly succulent and barely clung to the fat surrounding the tender bird. A tad on the salty side, the tongue-of-fire beans followed suit, absorbing the juice and broth of the duck while adding its own texture and profile.
Our second entree was the culotte with escarole and onion. Our server described our cut of meat as a domestic version of kobe beef and the flavor didn’t let us down. Tender and juicy, the steak was cooked immaculately and had a wonderful smoky undertone. The onions and escarole by themselves were either overly sweet or salty. Combining either with a cut of beef brought to light the thought behind the pairing. Yet, the meat rang most true by its lonesome, the quality of the meat not to be understated.
For our final course, we decided on the chocolate cake with caramel sauces, surprisingly light piece of cakes topped with powdered sugar and surrounded by a pool of two different melted caramels. Luckily, the rich chocolate taste wasn’t overpowered by the super sweet sauces, although we eventually felt as though we had ingested enough sugar to last two meals. We whole-heartily suggest a latte afterwards.
Our second dessert was the Blood orange panna cotta, a long plate of what looked like a deconstructed cake with a crust of homemade short bread, panna cotta, and blood oranges separated. Although the crust and panna cotta worked well together, the acidity and tang of the blood orange didn’t pair well with the creamy flavor or smooth texture of the panna cotta. While we can grasp where the concept behind it, the dish simply didn’t come together.
It would be hard not to recommend Obelisk to the average Washingtonian. This unassuming restaurant offered us some of the best Italian we have had in the District in an intimate atmosphere second to none. However, some of the dishes just didn’t perform as well as others or came off as not fully thought out. This inconsistency makes us second guess the price tag associated with the meal, as the $75 three course meal is the only option available, but those dishes that were executed well were near perfect and made the meal. If you’re looking for a new place for that special occasion, Obelisk is well worth your time. If you’re looking for to just satisfy that Italian craving, there are other, cheaper options available.