Chef Nicholas Stefanelli opens Philotimo Greek Fine Dining Downtown DC

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Gourmet Greek restaurant Philotimo opens in downtown DC. Photograph by Deb Lindsey, courtesy of Philotimo

In an age of quick pivots and pop-ups, Philotimo is an anomaly. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli, whose high-end restaurants include the Michelin-starred Masseria near Union Market and the Italian emporium Officina at the wharf, has spent more than three years establishing his fine-dining Greek restaurant in downtown DC. Finally, after numerous pandemic-related delays, Philotimo is ready for its splashy debut on Saturday, January 22.

Stefanelli is ready to push the boundaries of Greek cuisine in Philotimo’s 62-seat dining room, flanked by an open kitchen with an adjoining chef’s table and wood-burning fireplace. The windowed dining room is adorned with linen banquettes, eucalyptus wood branches, and braided rope chandeliers, meant to evoke both modern and classic Greek aesthetics. A 44-seat terrace will open in the spring.

Local lamb with Jerusalem artichokes, spinach and tzatziki. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

Five-course tasting menus (from $108 per person) explore the intersection of the chef’s Greek and Italian heritage. The Hellenic side of Stefanelli’s family immigrated to America in the 1920s from Trabzon, a once-Greek city on the Black Sea that is now part of Turkey. Other family lines – the Italian heritage previously explored in Stefanelli’s restaurants – are rooted in Puglia. The flavors and traditions of the Mediterranean regions often intertwine at Philotimo, such as homemade pasta such as mantia (veal ravioli stuffed with brown butter and yogurt) or gogges, a thick hand-rolled Greek noodle with lobster and tomato.

“You’ve got all this influence that’s been passed down through the people and the business culture – it’s hard to draw a line where one ends and the other begins,” says Stefanelli.

The fixed price starts with free orekitiká, appetizers for the table, such as savory loukoumades (doughnuts) stuffed with creamy tarama and Golden Osetra caviar, a tangy winter salad and homemade breads. Then, customers choose three dishes from four menu categories: pasta, vegetables, meats and seafood. Diners are asked to stick to one column. Vegetarians can whip up a meal of artichokes and baby carrots with avgolemono and dill, or cooked wild mushrooms with black Throumba olives and feta cheese. Pescatarians can feast on seafood — fisherman’s soup, grilled octopus — with rare finds from Athens’ fish market being airlifted when direct flights to DC resume in the summer. Omnivores can sample local meats, such as Shenandoah Valley lamb with Keros olive oil, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes and tzatziki.

All categories combined, Stefanelli, partner of a Greek supply company ancient foods– uses specialty Greek olive oils, honeys, dried herbs and olives from small producers (some grown or made specifically for the restaurant).

A semi-private balcony overlooks the main dining room and flanks the wine cellar. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

Two levels of wine pairings are available from the expansive 4,000-bottle cellar: a Greek pairing ($68 per person) or a reserve pairing ($175). The cellar, which leads to an intimate private dining room with VIP access from a separate area lift – contains about 70% Greek wines, as well as other regions that explore the Greek diaspora (Italy, Turkey, et al).

Just as free snacks start the meal, free homemade pastries and sweets round it out.

“The culinary experience is close to hospitality,” says Stefanelli. The restaurant’s name, Philotimo (pronounced “Fill-Oh-Tim-Oh”) channels an amorphous Greek concept of hospitality and selflessness. “I must have asked 150 people and everyone takes you in a slightly different direction of understanding,” says Stefanelli, who recently traveled to Greece more than a dozen times to plan the restaurant. “It revolves around this core value of wanting to take care of someone without asking.”

Vegetarian dishes include artichokes, baby carrots and turnips with dill and avgolemono. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

As ambitious as Philotimo is to start with, there are plenty of plans to expand into the Midtown Center development, home to large-scale restaurants like Dauphine and London restaurateur Arjun Waney’s upcoming Japanese restaurants, bars and a Shoto club. /Akedo. Stefanelli will start lunchtime in the spring and open Kaimaki, an adjacent cafe and Greek wine bar. The hangout will open early for Greek coffee service and a bougatsa bar (sweet or savory pastries), then go on until 1 a.m. with Greek wines, espresso martinis, and late-night must-haves: gyros and souvlaki.

Philotimo. 1100 15th St., NW; 202-390-1300. Open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.

food editor

Anna Spiegel covers the restaurant and bar scene in her native DC. Before joining Washingtonian in 2010, she completed the MFA program at the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in New York and St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

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