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Colin McClimans and Danilo Simic think they have the recipe to take an address that has housed two short-lived concepts and turn it into a neighborhood restaurant that lasts. Nina May should open next month at 1337 11th St. NW where The Bird and Frenchy’s Naturel from the EatWell DC group once operated. The restaurant and eventual all-day cafe is named after each of the business partners’ young daughters. McClimans, 31, will be the executive chef and Simic, 29, will be the general manager and beverage director.
Nina May will serve New American cuisine using ingredients sourced from within 150 miles of the restaurant. Most of McClimans’ cooking experience in D.C. has been under Chef Todd Gray of Equinox—one of the first local restaurants to commit to sustainable sourcing when it first opened 20 years ago. McClimans says he’ll be even more strict about farm-to-table than his senpai, so diners shouldn’t expect to order yellowfin tuna from far off waters.
“It makes the menu extremely challenging to write,” McClimans says. The D.C. native will assess what’s available from some of his favorite farms, like Maryland’s Moon Valley Farm and Virginia’s Root and Marrow Farm, and let that dictate what he serves. While some signature dishes will stay on, the rest of the menu will rotate seasonally. “Creativity comes from restriction so we put a box around it.”
Simic and McClimans first met working at Equinox. Gray used to turn the kitchen over to McClimans on Sunday nights, when he would serve an experimental “adventure menu.” Simic was responsible for the drink pairings. Since their time with Gray, Simic moved on to work as general manager, beverage director, and bartender for Ivan Iricanin‘s restaurant group. Iricanin’s eateries include Ambar, Baba Cocktail Bar, TTT Restaurant, and Buena Vida. McClimans was most recently the culinary director for Slipstream.
In the dining room, customers will be able to order a la carte or select the “family meal” option. The latter means you’re agreeing to surrender control to the kitchen. “It’s like if you’ve ever dined at a restaurant where you know somebody,” McClimans explains. “They come out and say, ‘Will you let me just cook for you?’”
The server will ask about allergies and dislikes and then McClimans will start sending dishes to tables until diners tap out. He plans to price the experience at $35 to $45 per person. “It’s what we want people to do—give us the power to control their menus and their meal.”
The a la carte menu will include a mix of small plates, like bison tartare with roasted sunchokes and stewed marrow fat shelling beans with cardoons, plus a handful of large plates built for sharing, like whole roasted chicken with potatoes, crusty bread, and caramelized chicken jus. Simic is putting together a wine list to pair that leans heavily on California and local wine from Maryland and Virginia, plus a slate of classic cocktails.
Nina May will open with dinner service only. Then they’ll launch the all-day cafe downstairs where patrons can order coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and light lunch fare at a counter. At night, the first floor will be a touch more casual than the upstairs dining room.
“We understand that small plates are not for a single diner,” McClimans says. “We’ll do a burger, a couple pastas, a couple salads, and a couple of happy hour bar bites. The vibe downstairs will be louder, more energetic.” In addition to the 25 seats downstairs, there will 50 seats on the patio. Upstairs the ratio is reversed. There are 50 seats inside and 25 seats outside.
The pair hope that they’re able to capture the best facets of a neighborhood restaurant. “The people who own the restaurant are going to run the restaurant,” Simic says. McClimans promises that Nina May isn’t one of those phony neighborhood spots that claims you can visit three times a week when the average check is actually $160 per couple. “Our concept is all about value,” McClimans continues. “We want to offer fine-dining style food and attention-to-detail service but in an unpretentious, unstuffy atmosphere.”
That said, they’re aiming high. “We thought The Bird was crazy and out there,” he says. “This neighborhood was lacking, in this immediate location, something that was a really great food-style neighborhood restaurant. Places like what Tail Up Goat is for Adams Morgan and Rose’s Luxury is for Capitol Hill.”
Nina May, 1337 11th St. NW