First Look Review of Kellari

Fish sit glistening on ice at Kellari Taverna, a high-energy New York import. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Kellari Taverna, which opened in October, is the third restaurant in four years to occupy a prime space near Farragut Square. Jimmy’s on K Street, a suit-friendly steakhouse, lasted just 12 months—two more than the next tenant, Restaurant K by Alison Swope, which closed in June 2008.

A spinoff of a Manhattan restaurant, the Greek seafood place is trying to beat the odds with its upscale version of a cantina on the Aegean: Wine barrels are part of the decor, Greek music plays on a loop, and fish—12 types are sold by the pound—are displayed over ice. Generous freebies—house-baked cookies, crostini at the bar—lend the open, whitewashed room a homey ambience, while the lawyers and lobbyists who make up the early crowds give the place a bigtime air.

The attempt to create a warm, hospitable feel extends to the menu, which touts the freshness of the seafood and reminds patrons that mezze, or appetizers, are “a Greek tradition of sharing.” The prices, though, can be jolting for those without a company card—$37 for a pound of grilled sea bream with no sides?—and the upselling waitstaff might prove a turnoff to all but the expense-account set.

“Come as strangers and leave as friends,” goes the restaurant’s slogan. If that seems overly optimistic, Kellari is poised to do what its predecessors couldn’t: set K Street buzzing.