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Top-notch Italian-- been to Maestro, Laboratorio


gnatharobed
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The first two that come to my mind in that category of upscale Italian are Tosca and Obelisk.

I haven't been to Obelisk but Tosca was very good - although I would lean more towards the pastas. The pasta dish my wife and I had was excellent, my fish entree, good, but not memorable. And if they are serving the tomato tart for dessert - get it.

Bill Russell

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My top two choices: Tosca or Tosca. Chef's table if you like the "behind the scenes" view; dining room if you like the quiet, tradational service. It's a great place and you will be happy you went. My wife took me to the Chef's table for my birthday: great food (too long ago to give you a specific rundown, unfortunately); great presentation; and nice interaction with the chef, sous chef, sommelier and a very nice and helpful waiter. I've also done the dining room several times and never been disappointed.

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Wat's wrong with Palena?

Obelisk went severely, and I mean severely, downhill within the past few years. A trusted friend has said that it seems to have "turned the corner" recently but I'm very skeptical.

You may want to take a contrarian approach and hit 2 Amy's.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Obelisk went severely, and I mean severely, downhill within the past few years.  A trusted friend has said that it seems to have "turned the corner" recently but I'm very skeptical.

I heard similar warnings about Obelisk, but last year I had one of the most memorable meals I've had in DC there. A fried risotto ball amuse, white asparagus with shaved parmesian, seafood raviolini, veal chop... Very simple presentations, but damn good. Maybe it was just an 'on' night and they haven't recovered from their slide, but I was really impressed. And at $58 for 5 courses, it's a nice deal.

Chris Sadler

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Hands down our favorite local spot is Kuna on U street.

It's comfort food, but extremely good. The main thing is that when you go there, you feel like you are at a friend's place. They often offer an amuse bouche of something creative from the kitchen, and last time we were there, they were offering tastings of each of their by the glass wines for people to enjoy.

It's bistro feeling - with tightly packed tables, but usually neighbors are friendly, and the staff is always nice - where they might not fit in at the best restaurants in town because they are so familiar with customers, the service is always good - our last waiter overheard my parents say they were going to Italy soon, and made several recommendations for Osterias in Rome for them to try out.

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Hands down our favorite local spot is Kuna on U street.

It's comfort food, but extremely good. The main thing is that when you go there, you feel like you are at a friend's place. They often offer an amuse bouche of something creative from the kitchen, and last time we were there, they were offering tastings of each of their by the glass wines for people to enjoy.

It's bistro feeling - with tightly packed tables, but usually neighbors are friendly, and the staff is always nice - where they might not fit in at the best restaurants in town because they are so familiar with customers, the service is always good - our last waiter overheard my parents say they were going to Italy soon, and made several recommendations for Osterias in Rome for them to try out.

IMHO Kuna has fallen off a LOT lately. Don't get me wrong - I still like it. But the prices went up, the number and quality of selections went down...and it's not in the same league as the other restaurants suggested.

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I Richhi? Can't attest to dinner but lunch is always smoothly executed and over years and years I have always been well pleased with the specials. Only hazard (for me anyway) is the irresistable pile of bread that comes before the main event.

"Food is an essential part of a balanced diet."

Fran Lebowitz

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I Richhi? Can't attest to dinner but lunch is always smoothly executed and over years and years I have always been well pleased with the specials. Only hazard (for me anyway) is the irresistable pile of bread that comes before the main event.

I keep hearing that i Ricchi has slipped, but I LOVE it.

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IMHO Kuna has fallen off a LOT lately. Don't get me wrong - I still like it. But the prices went up, the number and quality of selections went down...and it's not in the same league as the other restaurants suggested.

I was there not too long ago, and I agree. The prices are up and several of the dishes seem to now be too cluttered-- all sorts of garnishes and sauces. I still like this place, though. The owner and employees are all so nice there. Some friends of mine were running late, so they invited me to the bar and gave me tastes of all the glass wines (which must have been at least 8 wines).

Chris Sadler

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IMHO Kuna has fallen off a LOT lately.  Don't get me wrong - I still like it.  But the prices went up, the number and quality of selections went down...and it's not in the same league as the other restaurants suggested.

I was there not too long ago, and I agree. The prices are up and several of the dishes seem to now be too cluttered-- all sorts of garnishes and sauces. I still like this place, though. The owner and employees are all so nice there. Some friends of mine were running late, so they invited me to the bar and gave me tastes of all the glass wines (which must have been at least 8 wines).

I completely agree. But I don't think Kuna is exactly a special occasion restaurant for this crew...

Edited by JennyUptown (log)
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Obelisk has NOT gone downhill in the last several years. Pastan was just nominated for a James Beard award as the best chef in the Mid Atlantic area. I think it is questionable to claim that this, a wonderful restaurant that we are fortunate to have in this area, is anything less than excellent without substantiation or specific criticism. Frankly, "severely downhill" just seems to be an comment that causes me to wonder if there was a personal experience that colored one's perception? I've averaged two to three dinners there a year for the past ten and have never had one that was less than wonderful. The Beard Society seems to feel the same way with his nomination.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Obelisk has NOT gone downhill in the last several years. Pastan was just nominated for a James Beard award as the best chef in the Mid Atlantic area. I think it is questionable to claim that this, a wonderful restaurant that we are fortunate to have in this area, is anything less than excellent without substantiation or specific criticism. Frankly, "severely downhill" just seems to be an comment that causes me to wonder if there was a personal experience that colored one's perception? I've averaged two to three dinners there a year for the past ten and have never had one that was less than wonderful. The Beard Society seems to feel the same way with his nomination.

If you read Tom's chat on Wednesday and other postings here, it is a recurring theme about Obelisk. The fact that he's been nominated is meaningless.

Mark

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Which Chat? I read them almost every week including the last two and must have missed one where Obelisk was mentioned negatively. As for a "recurring theme on here" I don't follow this board as closely as Chowhound but I don't recall any significantly negative first hand comments about Obelisk. If anything the first hand comments have been almost uniformly positive. Still, all that matters to me is what I think of a restaurant and, based on my most recent visit just before Christmas, Obelisk was excellent. If it has declined since then I would have cause for concern. My argument is with posts that speak of second hand negative criticism, i.e. rumors, as opposed to a personal experience. I believe it is one thing to say that "I had a .... at Obelisk." It is quite another to say "severely downhill" when this is not based on a personal visit. One visit by one person can indirectly lead to a sum of criticism that can imply many people and many visits.

I would just feel much more comfortable in accepting the statement if it was based on his personal experience.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Which Chat? I read them almost every week including the last two and must have missed one where Obelisk was mentioned negatively. As for a "recurring theme on here" I don't follow this board as closely as Chowhound but I don't recall any significantly negative first hand comments about Obelisk. If anything the first hand comments have been almost uniformly positive. Still, all that matters to me is what I think of a restaurant and, based on my most recent visit just before Christmas, Obelisk was excellent. If it has declined since then I would have cause for concern. My argument is with posts that speak of second hand negative criticism, i.e. rumors, as opposed to a personal experience. I believe it is one thing to say that "I had a .... at Obelisk." It is quite another to say "severely downhill" when this is not based on a personal visit. One visit by one person can indirectly lead to a sum of criticism that can imply many people and many visits.

I would just feel much more comfortable in accepting the statement if it was based on his personal experience.

Well that kind of rumor and innuendo is very prevelant on any food-based messageboard. We all rely on the experience of others to form opinions of restaurants we have not (recently) visited.

Personally, I went to Obelisk last year and found it good but not great.

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I believe it is one thing to say that "I had a .... at Obelisk."  It is quite another to say "severely downhill" when this is not based on a personal visit.

I had a terrible meal at Obelisk. Happy now?

I've been to Obelisk 2-3 times in the past few years, and it was nowhere near the glorified heights that it hit in the mid-90s (and yes, I was there many times then).

At least three friends whose opinion I trust told me independently of one another within the past few years that they had disappointing experiences as well.

One person had spent a good deal of time talking with Peter Pastan about a year ago, and saw me later that day. He told me, unprompted, that he (Pastan) seems like he "just doesn't care any more" and that he's bored.

I'd say "get with the times," Joe H, except that I have not been to Obelisk in slightly over a year, and also I have heard reports from people that things have perhaps started to pick up.

I'm sorry your Holy Grails are being challenged here - Obelisk used to be one of mine, too.

Actually I'm not sorry.

Rocks.

P.S. I just emailed a friend of mine who knows and likes Pastan. I asked him, "You do agree that Obelisk has gone downhill, right?" His reply to me was "Unless it has righted itself since my last several visits."

No, I'm not going to name names, but I witnessed the downward trend myself. The only issue in my eyes is whether or not Obelisk is on the rebound, and I don't know the answer.

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"Well that kind of rumor and innuendo is very prevelant on any food-based messageboard. We all rely on the experience of others to form opinions of restaurants we have not (recently) visited."

Not on eG, Mark. There are enough of us here in and outside the industry who aren't afraid to ask the tough questions, give credit where credit is due and challenge assumptions or context--and wait for you to decide for yourself after direct experience. Taste may be subjective but take a current fav eG topic which many seem to have an opinion of, say, El Bulli or the minibar or Trio, just to throw out some examples of what might be called avant-garde cooking which we've discussed on this "food-based messageboard" in depth. Whether you've actually eaten and experienced these is directly relevant to the value of what you have to say about that experience and your ability to comprehend that experience. Worse is relying on other possibly agenda-driven opinions or some dumbed-down media-filtered version of the real thing. What you're left with is "I heard" and it "seems" and it "sounds like" rather than it is! Without having experienced any of these first hand one is in no position to comment meaningfully about the taste, quality or techniques employed because they haven't put any of it in their mouth! It's that way with an Obelisk or Palena or Maestro or any other restaurant as well--when you are forthcoming about what you know firsthand and qualify what you don't know, it is better for everyone. And that's also, I think, the best way to build up trust and respect in other people's opinions.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Without having experienced any of these first hand you are in no position to comment meaningfully about the taste, quality or techniques employed because you haven't put any of it in your mouth!

I agree that personal experience has a large bearing on whether to trust someone's opinion when commenting on a restaurant or issue in food (or anything else for that matter). But I don't think that should hold people back from commenting on their perceptions of the topic. It should, however, prevent people from stating their opinions or perceptions as fact.

For example - I have never been to Obelisk, but I want to go there because from what I have read it is the type of cooking I like - simple, ingredient focused and well prepared food in a spare setting. I don't need to ahve eaten there to know about the style and whether or not I might like that style of cooking and atmosphere. What I can't say is that definitively it is good or bad until I have been there. And once I have then I will only be able comment definitively about my experience there.

If everyone on eGullet only wrote about things they have direct and/or in depth experience with it would be a much less lively and interesting place.

Bill Russell

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Let's not talk at cross purposes here Bill--take for instance the fact that you know the tasting menu at say Obelisk is $58 but you've never eaten there. You're perfectly free to comment on your perception of that price especially versus other tasting menus or fixed price meals you've had at other local restaurants. Frankly, you're free to comment on anything, it's just not necessarily going to be "meaningful" or informed comment. There's the distinction. You're passing along impressions you've gotten from what you've read or heard elsewhere--and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm saying until you go there yourself you aren't in a position to comment meaningfully about the quality of the food or the ingredients or the value that $58 meal represents in relation to other tasting menus you've had or place all that into a context--you'd agree with that, right?

You'd probably also agree it is unwise to try to pronounce anything definitive about any restaurant after just one visit--because restaurants and chefs are not fixed, but mutable, and each experience actually is likely to be different. Hopefully the better restaurants develop some consistency over time and that's also the great value of an eG and of Tom's chats: more timely first-hand information from perspectives you have grown to trust. That's why Joe asked ok, who has eaten there recently and been disappointed? He wanted to know who, what had disappointed and what exactly people had experienced rather than heard. And I think that's a valid question. I also think Don answered it.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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