No. 24: Obelisk
Cuisine: The prix fixe dinner menu at Peter Pastan’s Dupont Circle townhouse restaurant typically begins with a plate of burrata, a creamy cheese from Puglia that’s dressed with just a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. It doesn’t look like much, yet it inspires “oohs” from diners. And so it goes through a bounty of antipasti plus four unfussy courses, every dish a testament to the power of simplicity.
Mood: Aproned waitresses in ponytails and hipster glasses seem to know every ingredient on the daily changing menu. But underneath the foodie talk, there’s a winning, down-to-earth vibe, and the intimate dining room feels more like a living room than a 21-year-old restaurant. In fact, Pastan might be the one taking your reservation when you call.
Best for: Diners seeking a more intimate, lingering experience than is found at most high-end Mediterranean restaurants; Italophiles who appreciate the details, from the house-made breadsticks to a shelfful of grappas.
Best dishes: Antipasti of lamb meatballs in tomato sauce, tangy eggplant-and-walnut salad, and pork rillettes cut with green-tomato jam; spaghetti alla chitarra with squid, garlic, and red pepper; pork chop marinated in grape must before grilling; rare tuna with preserved lemon and fresh artichoke; vanilla ice cream showered with tangerine granita—a Creamsicle gone Sicilian.
Insider tips: Pacing is important here. It’s tempting to fill up on the six or so plates of antipasti, nearly all wonderful, which hit the table in rapid succession. But the next course, soup or pasta, tends to be heavy, and the entrées, cheese course, and desserts are substantial.
Service: *** (three stars).
Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.
See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurants.