Philotimo. 1100 15th St., NW.
Chef Nick Stefanelli’s fine-dining Greek restaurant Philotimo initially opened in January of 2022 after lengthy pandemic delays only to be shut down a few months later by a kitchen fire. Now, after more than a year, the downtown DC restaurant is re-opening Friday, October 27, with limited reservations—it will make its full debut on Wednesday, November 1. Philotimo’s even shorter-lived sibling Kaimaki—a more casual spot serving coffee, cocktails, and Greek street food next door—is set to reemerge a month or so later.
Stefanelli has previously explored his Italian heritage at Masseria near Union Market and at Italian spots Officina at the Wharf and Officina Cafe downtown. Philotimo is an ode to the Hellenic side of his family, which immigrated to America in the 1920s. His goal remains to delve into the regionality of Greek cuisine and showcase small producers of Greek olive oils, honeys, dried herbs, and more. The biggest change post-fire is that the restaurant will now have an a la carte menu rather than its original five-course prix-fixe, which started at $108 per person. (Stefanelli says the exception will be quarterly tasting menu events focused on different regions of Greece.)
Expect appetizers ranging from spanikopita and dolmades to a lemony beef tripe avgolemono soup and loukoumades (doughnuts) stuffed with creamy taramasalata (with optional caviar add-on). The new menu will still include favorites like veal-stuffed dumplings with yogurt and brown butter and hearth-roasted lamb with fresh oregano and lemon, inspired by Stefanelli’s visit to the olive fields of Sparta. He’ll also have his own version of rice-stuffed peppers in an aromatic tomato broth—a comfort food dish he always requested from his mom. A new addition is grilled whole fish, featuring daily catches from the Mediterranean imported directly from seafood markets in Greece.
Fortunately, the one thing that wasn’t damaged by the fire was the insulated wine cellar, containing 4,000 primarily Greek bottles. “All the wine was saved,” Stefanelli says. “We’re building back on to our collection.” Meanwhile, a cocktail menu features an olive-oil martini and a baklava-infused rum drink.
The fire that shut down the restaurant took place in the middle of dinner service in June of last year: “My [general manager] at the time came to me and was like, ‘I need you to come upstairs because there’s smoke in the liquor room,'” Stefanelli says. “Within only 25 minutes, the entire restaurant was just full of smoke.”
Stefanelli says he never got a definitive answer on the exact cause of the fire, but investigators told him they suspect the exhaust from the kitchen equipment was somehow causing heat to build behind the tiles, causing the blocking in the wall “to turn into a big giant piece of charcoal basically, and it combusted inside of the wall.”
While the fire was contained in the kitchen, smoke caused widespread damage to the dining room. “It took almost a full year to get clear direction before we could even start rebuilding,” Stefanelli says. Almost everything had to be replaced. The layout and some design details remain the same, like Eucalyptus wood branches along the mezzanine and woven rope chandeliers. But Stefanelli says the dining room now has a “darker, moodier” look with a metallic, iridescent ceiling that gives the space more “sparkle and pizzazz.” A private dining room flanking the wine cellar with its own elevator for VIPs got an upgrade with its own bar.
This time, he hopes to keep the fire contained: “We’re cooking over a live hearth,” Stefanelli says. “So we’re lighting a fire every night.”