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The yellowfin tuna sashimi with black vinegar aioli

FEATURES

Seriously Delicious

By Nevin Martell

Photography by Greg Powers

09.24.18

Matt Baker’s Gravitas is poised to rise to the top of DC’s restaurant scene.

The logo for Gravitas incorporates the outline of the Chesapeake Bay. This signals what’s to come at this superseasonal, locally minded tasting-menu restaurant in Ivy City. It’s the work of chef-owner Matt Baker, whose impressive résumé boasts stints at Minibar, Brasserie Beck, Occidental and North Bethesda’s City Perch, where he was the executive chef.

The corner building in the ascendant neighborhood was once a tomato processing plant, a fitting history for an eatery so focused on vegetables (more on that later). A soaring ceiling and flurries of greenery give the space an open-air, beachy industrial vibe. To further echo a Bay aesthetic, tables and chairs are the color of storm-tossed driftwood, while the banquettes and trim favor foggy grays. Next to the entrance, a small six-seat bar resides. The kitchen opens up along the back, giving diners an unfettered view of the team in action. Above it, on a small mezzanine level, a semiprivate dining room practically hovers over the scene.

Though it won’t open until later this year, the 2,000-square-foot rooftop will house a 30-seat bar inside a greenhouse and an alfresco lounge. It is already home to garden towers installed and maintained by Up Top Acres, a boutique firm that created roof gardens for Oyamel and the Pike & Rose development.

Now, have a cocktail before you begin. Signature selections emphasize a regional sensibility. Topped with egg white, the King of Beets evokes a brandy-powered salad by featuring the namesake root, walnuts, tarragon and lemon. The Ivy City Martini employs gin from nearby One Eight Distilling along with tomato brine, Dolin Blanc vermouth and orange bitters. For those who are abstaining, opt for the zero-proof Garden Party, a turmeric, pineapple and ginger beer mocktail. 

Diners are offered a four- to seven-course tasting menu, along with optional wine pairings. Choose between any of the selections in the categories—Light Beginning, Indulgence, Hearty and Sweet—though meals always end with dessert or a cheese course. Reflecting Baker’s great love of vegetables, roughly half the choices will always be vegetarian.

The heirloom tomato tart with a Parmesan emulsion

Meals get underway with a lovely bread service: housemade cornbread and focaccia complemented by a dollop of Trickling Springs butter that’s punctuated with wakame seaweed and a housemade honey butter. A couple of one-bite amuse-bouches follow; they were gazpacho and caramelized squash panna cotta one evening I visited.

Dishes generally arrive in an order that builds from sprightliest to heaviest. In the latter category, a summer salad made with tiny carrots, tomatoes smaller than marbles and cucumber half-moons is arranged like a fairy’s wreath around herbed cheese. A basil-kissed tomato tart sitting on a round of pâte brisée is a kaleidoscopic explosion of tomato. And then there’s melt-in-your-mouth yellowfin tuna sashimi splashed with soy vinaigrette featuring creamy black vinegar aioli, a perfect supplement to the smoothness of the fish. Nori and crispy shallots offer a pleasant textural contrast.

Moving into the indulgent realm, a backwoods symphony of mushrooms deserves a standing ovation. Morel caps hiding creamy Parmesan are teamed with golden roasted chanterelles, as well as dots of garlic aioli and petite pucks of fried polenta. A buttery-on-the-inside golden-seared scallop serves as a throne for a quenelle of sustainable caviar from North Carolina. And the foie gras torchon with sour cherries comes off like a decadent take on the all-American pie.

Heartier fare might include lamb loin on a bed of farro or pan-seared skate with uni emulsion, corn and squid ink squiggles. In the latter, the sea urchin bridges land and sea, finding a sweet complement in the kernels and a briny one in the fish.

Desserts are pretty plays on classics, such as sticky date pudding, coconut cake and strawberry shortcake. But don’t be deceived by the seemingly simple finales. Gravitas has aspirations to be one of the most ambitious restaurants in DC by celebrating the beauty of the Chesapeake watershed—and it succeeds handily.  

The slow-braised beet

GRAVITAS
1401 Okie St. NE, 202.763.7942
PRICES Four- to seven-course tasting menu, $78-$110 per person
HOURS Tue.-Sat. 5:30-11pm