January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Peter Pastan's relaxed townhouse dining room.

No. 23: Obelisk

“Come on in,” a waitress says as you hang your coat in the vestibule of Peter Pastan’s brownstone dining room. You might think you’d wandered into a dinner party.

Obelisk was a harbinger of relaxed formality when it opened in the late ’80s. That hasn’t changed. You’ll see all levels of dress—jeans and loafers, sport jackets, pearls—and throw pillows are scattered among the cushioned benches. The long, wooden service table in the middle of the room gets more crumb- and cork-strewn as the night goes on: By 11 o’clock, it’s a messy pastiche of dwindling cheese rinds and spilled fleur de sel.

If the quality of the cooking has peaked and dipped over time—Pastan also minds his Neapolitan pizzeria, 2 Amys—chef Jerry Corso has put the kitchen back on track. The five-course prix-fixe menu starts with five antipasti, lets you choose a soup or pasta and a meat or fish, and ends with cheese and dessert. The sharable antipasti, each a little surprise, are the best part: You might be given an oozing slice of burrata, the creamier cousin of buffalo mozzarella; a perfectly tart arugula-and-beet salad; or a crostini piled with calamari stew fired up with red chilies. The rest of the meal soars in places—a robust roasted squab with cranberry beans, a filet of bass with zesty guanciale and fresh clams—and dwindles in others: A recent night’s gnocchi were on the clunky side, an artichoke soup was watery, and desserts tasted like they’d been sitting awhile.

But it’s easy to let the hours drift by at Obelisk and to forget about the clocks ticking in the city outside.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.