Nicholas Stefanelli’s Greek half gets neglected. Every step in his culinary career thus far, including opening of Officina on the Southwest waterfront last month, has been a move to advance the cuisine of his Italian roots. But soon, the MIchelin-starred chef will have a place to pay tribute to the other side of his family’s heritage, too.
Stefanelli tells Eater that his next restaurant, the one downtown advertised “as a unique Mediterranean experience” in giant ads on the side of the $650 million development that will house Fannie Mae, will feature Greek food in a nuanced, regionally specific way unfamiliar to many people in the United States.
“It’s not just the story of feta cheese, which is beautiful, but there’s a lot more depth and complexity to it,” Stefanelli says. He believes that Greek food in America can evolve much in the same way as Italian food, which at one time made some people stop at spaghetti and meatballs.
Stefanelli specifically mentions getting away from the islands and exploring mountainous regions to the north. He references studying the food of the Pontic Greeks, an ancient group based in the mountains of northeastern Turkey that fell victim to a genocide at the hands of Ottoman empire in the early 20th century. Stefanelli does go on to mention two islands, Crete to the south of the mainland, and Kefalonia to the west.
“There’s all these, like, micro-cultures that kind of operate on their own, but they’re all part of one bigger cuisine,” he says.
The restaurant does not have a name yet. It is in the early stages of gathering permits, Stefanelli says, which he estimates could take up to six or seventh months overall. It will have to compete with ThinkFoodGroup’s Zaytinya nearby and Kapnos in the U Street NW corridor.
As to why he’s tackling another project so soon after opening a three-story, multipurpose venue at Officina, Stefanelli says Carr Properties presented him with an opportunity that was too good to pass up. The chef and owner also mentions the history of the site where the old Washington Post building was located as an appealing feature.
Although he does not have specific dishes he’d like to share yet, Stefanelli says spotlighting artisanal producers — like he does at Officina — will be a priority. So will giving a platform to young winemakers in Greece.
“I want it to be a similar style ... where it’s a place that you can come and share a bunch of things and really eat kind of like how you eat when you eat at somebody’s house in Greece,” he says.