Nina May opened in the fall of 2019 to immediate praise. Located in the old Bird space in Shaw, the fresh concept of a communal neighborhood eatery has been brought to life by Chef Colin McClimans and General Manager Danilo Simic. Every element is designed to make you feel good – and it does!
Upon entry, diners are enveloped by the cozy space, friendly knowledgable staff, and a loyalty to sourcing hyper local. The space is inviting with modern accents in a chic rustic design, setting the scene for homey hand-crafted bites.
During my visit, I dined on the chef’s choice menu option, allowing the chef to make decisions for you until your party is full. I love the idea of being surprised with each dish as I relax with some beverages and conversation.
First up was the fricassee of Maryland farmed mushrooms on rye toast with pastrami cauliflower fondue. It is savory, crisp-tender, herbaceous and tangy all at once. From umami to sour, all of the tastebuds are touched in this hoard worthy dish.
An interactive portion of the evening included a build-your-own oyster po’ boy. While the concept is exciting, the execution fell flat. The kimchi lacked acid, the oysters needed salt, and the remoulade was less than smoky. However, it did not deter me from getting hands-on with the parker house rolls of perfection, and I’m confident that dishes have been polished since my visit in December.
My most thought about dish from 2019 is Nina May’s heirloom carrot and brown butter cavatelli. Toothsome house-made cavatelli studded with crispy Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and toasted walnuts is a textural symphony. The carrots whisper sweetness and the nuttiness of the walnuts sings with the sprouts. The simplicity makes it complex, and I was fighting people off to savor the last few bites of this cozy comfort concoction.
To close out the meal on a real high, we were gifted with the lemon and thyme roasted Pennsylvania chicken. I do not typically order a chicken dish at a restaurant unless I’m at Zuni Cafe, but this dish is hard to beat. With hyper local supporting ingredients – moon valley potatoes, crusty bread, caramelized chicken jus – it’s really just the perfect feel good nosh. Juicy chicken, crusty bread pudding-like from the jus, creamy potatoes, and a few bitter lettuces with a hint of vinegar achieves entrée nirvana. I close my eyes and let each element linger together on my tongue before I’m brought back to reality as a firetruck races by.
Nina May is special because it makes their diners feel special. The team chooses special ingredients from farms and artisans doing special things to produce the best ingredients for our region, and in turn makes each visit SPECIAL. I can’t wait to go back, and hope you all get a chance to experience the magic.