Chef and restaurateur Philippe Massoud operated a Mediterranean restaurant called Neyla in Georgetown in the early 2000s. But he’s spent the past 15 years in New York, building a following for upscale Lebanese mezze at his Flatiron District destination Ilili. Today, though, Massoud makes his official DC return with a second location of Ilili at the Wharf.
The restaurant takes over the showpiece waterfront space long left empty by Mike Isabella’s ill-fated Requin. You’ll hardly recognize the place now with its garden look filled with citrus trees, an indoor water fountain, and bird cages (with fake white doves). Massoud drew inspiration from the lush courtyard gardens he remembers from his childhood in Lebanon, and much of the furniture is imported from his native country and Europe.
Massoud has tapped chef Walter Silva, a native of Lima, Peru who previously worked at Barcelona Wine Bar, to help oversee the menu. Ilili’s mezze selection will include many of popular staples from New York, including Beiruti kibbeh naye (a steak tartare with mint and bulgur) and fried Brussels sprouts tossed with sherry vinegar and dressed with fig jam and mint yogurt. Hummus can be dressed up with a number of toppings—from lamb confit to crab falafel. You’ll also find hamachi in nectarine vinaigrette with aleppo oil and sumac as well as bone marrow with steak tartare and pomegranate.
There are some larger platters for sharing, too, including a whole chicken with sumac/garlic whip and lamb shank with “Lebanese dirty rice.” For dessert, try pistachio/cashew baklava or a selection of sorbets in flavors like chocolate/arak and Turkish coffee.
The restaurant is open for dinner only to start.