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Then, of course, there’s the wine list. Ben Mahmoud, who is Tunisian, lights up when he talks about the 49 different types of pinot noirs on site. “It is insane. I’ve never worked anywhere that had this many — the biggest restaurants wouldn’t have more than 12 types,” he said.
He said they have made an effort to build a wine list that suits requests from local residents. A Rosso di Montalcino available by the glass tasted like velvet. “These decanters here,” he said pointing to the back bar, “are really busy.”
The downstairs wine cellar, Ben Mahmoud says, is the restaurant’s gem. “This place is built like a bunker,” he said, cool and climate controlled. Notably, they plan to use the space, which is quiet and lined with shelves of bottles, for private events. He said he’s received requests from congressional staffers to hold fundraisers there.
Removed from the immediate hustle of the Hill and other bars and restaurants, Ninnella is ideal for not just a quiet date, but also a quiet business meeting or policy discussion.
Hill East — the colloquial term for the part of Capitol Hill where Ninnella is located — is about to get a bit busier. New residential developments are in the works including a large-scale plan, termed Reservation 13, that is expected to bring in more apartment complexes near the Anacostia River waterfront.
Brian Flahaven, commissioner of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, said he’s encouraged by the retail development in Hill East, as it’s going to improve the quality of life. He says The Pretzel Bakery, on the northeast corner of 15th and D streets Southeast, is a prime example.
“What I tell folks is that the character of the neighborhood isn’t going to change,” he said. “Most of the area is zoned to be residential. But in places where you can have moderate-density apartments or condos, that’s going to bring good things for quality of life.”
Ben Mahmoud himself recently moved into the neighborhood with his girlfriend, who operates much of the front of the house with him at Ninnella. He says for him, and for Simeoni, D.C. is now the place to be.
“In the market, Washington, D.C., is the place to open,” he said. “It was San Francisco; before that it was New York and Chicago. For the last 10 years, all the biggest chefs are here.”