In a time of quick pivots and pop-ups, Philotimo is an anomaly. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli, whose high-style restaurants include Michelin-starred Masseria near Union Market and Italian emporium Officina at the Wharf, spent over three years creating his fine-dining Greek restaurant in downtown DC. Finally, after many pandemic-related delays, Philotimo is ready for its splashy debut on Saturday, January 22.
Stefanelli is primed 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 a wood-burning hearth. The glassy dining room is set with linen banquettes, Eucalyptus wood branches, and woven rope chandeliers—meant to conjure both modern and classic Greek aesthetics. A 44-seat patio will debut in the spring.
Five-course tasting menus (starting at $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’s now part Turkey. Other familial lines—Italian heritage previously explored in Stefanelli’s restaurants—are rooted in Puglia. Flavors and traditions from the Mediterranean regions intermingle often at Philotimo, such as homemade pastas like mantia (veal-stuffed dumplings with brown butter and yogurt) or gogges, a thick hand-rolled Greek noodle with lobster and tomato.
“You have all this influence that’s been carried back and forth through people and trading culture—it’s hard to draw a line where one stops and one begins,” says Stefanelli.
The prix-fixe begins with complimentary orekitiká, appetizers for the table, such as savory loukoumades (doughnuts) stuffed with creamy taramasalata and Golden Osetra caviar, a tangy winter salad, and homemade breads. After, guests pick three courses from four menu categories: pastas, vegetables, meats, and seafood. Diners are welcome to stick to one column. Vegetarians can make a meal of dishes like artichokes and baby carrots with avgolemono and dill, or stewed wild mushrooms with black Throumba olives and feta. Pescatarians can home in on seafood—a fisherman’s soup, grilled octopus—with rare finds from the Athens fish market being flown in when direct flights to DC resume in summertime. Omnivores can dabble in local meats, such as Shenandoah Valley lamb with Keros olive oil, spinach, sunchokes, and tzatziki.
Across all categories, Stefanelli—a partner in Greek provisions company Ancient Foods—utilizes specialty Greek olive oils, honeys, dried herbs, and olives from small producers (some grown or made specifically for the restaurant).
Two tiers of wine pairings are available from the extensive 4,000-bottle cellar: a Greek pairing ($68 per person) or a reserve pairing ($175). The cellar—which leads into an intimate private dining room with VIP-ready access from a separate elevator—holds around 70-percent Greek wines, plus other regions that explore the Greek diaspora (Italy, Turkey, et al).
Just as complimentary snacks start the meal, gratis homemade pastries and sweets bookend it.
“The culinary experience is hugging with 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 the understanding,” says Stefanelli, who recently traveled to Greece over a dozen times in planning the restaurant. “It centers around that core value of wanting to take care of someone without asking.”
As ambitious as Philotimo is to start, there’re plenty of plans to grow in the Midtown Center development—home to large-scale restaurants like Dauphine’s and London-based restaurateur Arjun Waney’s forthcoming Japanese restaurants, bars, and a club Shoto/Akedo. Stefanelli will start lunch 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 run until 1 AM with Greek wines, espresso martinis, and favorite late-night staples: gyros and souvlaki.
Philotimo. 1100 15th St., NW; 202-390-1300. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.