Parental visits to Georgetown are a treasured time for hugs, excessive pictures and most importantly, eating somewhere other than the Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall. From Italian to Ethiopian, the dining options in Washington, D.C. are endless, often making the choice of an establishment a daunting task. However, true Lebanese cuisine can be hard to come by. Ilili, a new upscale Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant located at The Wharf in Southwest, is the perfect choice for such a dining experience.
Upon arrival, patrons enter a massive glass atrium right in the center of The Wharf, a prime location for a restaurant made of towering glass windows that surround a greenhouse-esque interior, creating a truly whimsical atmosphere. With fruit trees scattered throughout, intricate birdcage chandeliers and a stone fountain in the center, the ambiance is magical. From the hand-painted tile floors to the centerpiece fountain, everything is inspired by or created in Lebanon. Chef Philippe Massoud’s devotion to preserving the authenticity of his homeland shines through in every aspect of the restaurant.
The name itself, Ilili, references Lebanon in a creative way. In conversational Lebanese, Ilili means “tell me,” and this is shown through the restaurant’s presentation of food. Every dish is served family style, making engagement with your tablemates a cornerstone of the dining experience.
The meal began with heapings of Levantine pita bread, which continued to be replenished as dinner progressed. Almost every item served is eaten with this pita, so be sure to arrive ready to enjoy some carbs.
The first course was hummus, baba ghannouj and other dips made of chickpeas and eggplant. Even in these simple dishes, the care put into the meal was apparent. At Ilili, everyone is welcome to consume these dishes in whatever manner they feel is right, which generally leads to most foods being consumed sandwich-style in between pieces of pita.
After the dips were finished, an assortment of fresh and diced vegetables were promptly served. The Ilili staff were incredibly accommodating, doing everything possible to cater to dietary restrictions and allergies.
The must-try vegetarian dish of the night was the hinbeh, which consisted of charred dandelion greens with onions and pine nuts. For the more adventurous meat eater, kibbeh naye beirutiyyeh is at the top of the list for must-try bites. Top quality steak tartare served with the traditional toppings of mint, onion and jalapeño truly embodies the authentic Lebanese experience that is promised during a visit to Ilili.
The meal was finished off with the mixed grill — a smorgasbord of chicken, lamb, steak and char-grilled vegetables. There was something here for everyone, from the most timid chicken-eater to the daring pescatarian.
As the dinner finishes, you might find yourself in the bathroom trying to wash your greasy hands, and then Ilili’s only fault will arise. However, the sinks are some of the most high-tech appliances of the 21st century, and it might take the better part of 10 minutes to actually figure out how to get them to work. But other than this challenge caused by probable user error, Ilili served a most certainly unforgettable dinner.