Image: Fagottini di Funghi – mushroom and pear stuffed past pouches.
Last Updated: 6/4/2020
Current Status: Gravitas was planning on using its upstairs outdoor space for a relaxed concept, but instead it has become part of its plan for offering sit-down service now. They continue to do a very good version of Take-out and Delivery Tuesday – Sunday 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm. For the time being they are also doing a pop-up shot with wine, beer and some specialty items Saturday & Sunday 12:00 – 4:00 pm.
Before Times Review:
First Visit: September 2019
Gravitas is a commitment. The dining room only serves a tasting menu format, in either five-course or seven-course options. At $90 for the five-course version and $140 for the seven, you are already in the special occasion/splurge category. Before you sit down, you are committed to an expensive and long meal. The question is whether Chef/Owner Matt Baker’s commitment to his craft can match the commitment he asks diners to make. The answer is yes. Gravitas is a special place, unique and personal in the cooking, almost contradictory in the setting. It can compete with some of the other dozen or so spots in the area aiming for a transcendent moment worth the splurge.
The cooking is New American, relying on local purveyors and tied to the Chesapeake region. Along with The Dabney, Shilling Canning Company, and Estuary, it is making an argument that our previously overlooked region is worthy of culinary attention. The menu changes with the seasons, though the tuna sashimi is a staple that has stuck. Consistent with the focus on ingredients, the cooking draws on Italy and Japan, places with cuisine that lets the components shine. In execution, dishes can be different than expected. The escargot in butter and garlic is five snails atop a pearl-like pasta and a broth that borders on bouillon more than butter. It paired better with Pinot than white. The roasted squash is perched atop sushi rice and set in a Kombu broth for something much more delicate than the autumnal brown butter dish you might envision. On the other hand, dishes like corn & lobster velouté, sweetbreads, and lamb loin are close to expectations in plating and please with layers of flavors. Desserts also tend to have a twist, avoiding mere decadence.
The wine list leans old world, under the direction of David Kurka. It is mostly over $100/bottle. Kurka opened Masseria and Officina, and has a talent for sprinkling gems among the more-recognizable names. The list is strong on Pinot Noir variations that can work across several courses and pairings. Wine pairings are available for an extra charge.
The setting is industrial, located in a former tomato canning factory. The brick, factory windows, and exposed ceiling are rougher than you might expect for fine dining. The chairs are also generic wood dining room models and a little tough for a two-hour meal. So fair warning that it is not a luxurious setting even if it is a dramatic one. The service, on the other hand, is bubbly and smooth and on par with some of the city’s best dining rooms. Note that there is a lounge on the roof and a bar with à la carte options. There is also a two-seat chef’s tasting option at 15 courses.
At Gravitas, there are dishes that will challenge your palette. There are dishes that will warm your cockles. Some flavors sing, others are mere murmurs. It is tasting menu format with substantial courses. The meal will last two hours. Think of it as an experience and a meal. It is worth setting aside a night and making the trip.
Other Guidance: According to its website, “Attire is smart casual.” The menus tend to be generous to vegetarians and pescatarians. In light of the tasting menu format, vegans can be accommodated but the website advises that “vegans, or guests with allergies or dietary restrictions, notify us a minimum of 24-hours in advance of your reservation.” Entrance is at street level. Stairs required for upstairs lounge.
Washington Post: 2.5 Stars (bumped up from an initial 2.0) and #10 in the Spring 2019 Dining Guide. Tom says, “If there were an award for most improved restaurant of the year, I’d nominate Matt Baker’s airy and light-filled retreat in Ivy City.” Which kinda sounds like he wants to say 3.0 but can’t pull the trigger.
Lori (Been There Eaten That): From August 2018, “Gravitas Executive Chef and owner Matt Baker brings it all to life, painting a picture on that plate that is mesmerizing.”
Food and Drink: