The downtown site of a former Italian eatery and pizza joint is giving rise to another Mediterranean concept that promises to evoke the experience and flavors of the Greek islands.
Simi Estiatorio, an authentic Greek restaurant soon to open at 601 Congress Ave. on the ground level of the historic Littlefield Building, replaces Due Forni Pizza & Wine, which closed in mid-2016 after just three years in business.
Simi Estiatorio was originally scheduled to open in early 2020, but challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic pushed that plan back. Now the restaurant is preparing for its 2021 opening with a new executive chef at the helm.
A native of Lima, Peru, chef Diego Sanchez — whose cooking career has spanned several decades and enabled him to master an array of culinary styles, from French fine dining to Peruvian seafood, Tunisian fare, and steakhouse cuisine — recently left a chef de cuisine position at Baha Mar Resort in the Bahamas to join Simi Estiatorio.
“We are so excited to have Diego lead our culinary team,” says managing partner and longtime New York City restaurateur George Theodosiou in a release. “He has a diverse range of experience and talent and we are incredibly fortunate to have him join us at Simi.”
Even though Simi Estiatorio has yet to open, Sanchez joins the team as the restaurant’s second executive chef, with previous executive chef and Greek native Yanni Tobas — once the personal chef for the likes of Arianna Huffington and Sarah Jessica Parker — moved on after the project’s delays.
For Sanchez’s part, he says he plans to focus on fresh ingredients, particularly grilled seafood, and traditional preparations in creating his lunch, dinner, brunch, and late-night menus for Simi Estiatorio, which highlight seafood dishes like grilled octopus, marinated swordfish, skewered scallops, seafood orzo, and grilled sardines.
“Greek food is about simplicity and fresh ingredients,” Sanchez says. “I incorporate things from my own training and background and make it my own. I like to bring imagination to a plate and create a full experience for the guest.”
Once open, Simi Estiatorio aims to offer downtown Austin a welcoming spot for authentic Greek fare, tapping into a culinary style Austin’s flourishing food scene has long lacked.
The Mediterranean-focused décor — designed by Joel Nolan of Nolan Studio, which has provided design and remodeling services for a variety of Austin eateries, including The Backspace and Amy’s Ice Creams — features a subtle palette of colors and textures “meant to evoke the warm, casual lifestyle of the Mediterranean area.”
The beverage menu for the 5,000-square-foot Simi Estiatorio includes a variety of classic cocktails and craft beers, as well as hundreds of Greek and American wines, housed in the restaurant’s wine room on the second floor, which also boasts a private dining space.
Simi Estiatorio plans to announce an opening date soon.