Image: Kampachi Sashimi – Shiso, Quail Egg Yolk, Daikon and Carrot Salad, Enoki Mushroom, White Truffle Ponzu.
Last Updated: February 2023
Gravitas resides in a converted industrial building in the Ivy City neighborhood, making it a bit out of the way and a little less formal than other fancy tasting-menu places. So, the first decision you have to ponder is whether it is worth the trip. We think it is.
Within the context of the tasting menu, there are choices to be made for each course. The cooking reflects a specific approach. The dishes have a lightness. They are more likely to rest in broths than under creamy sauces. In keeping with the Mid-Atlantic focus for sourcing, the essence of the ingredients is preserved and built on, so the primary flavor of the sunchoke dish is the sunchoke. The smoked Salmon is an intensely colored and gently-smoked piece of fish. The flavors tend to dance rather than pound away. Preserving the flavors should not be taken to mean that the dishes lack sophistication or technique. The kampachi is rolled and rested against daikon and carrot salad, then the ponzu of white truffles is poured around it. The dishes tend to be organized horizontally to let the eater pull the pieces together. Perhaps consciously or instinctively the restaurant does not provide spoons for these dishes and the plates are not made to be slurped from. Even the mechanics of eating preserve the balance, keeping the broth as a background element.
A note about the desserts. Pastry Chef Aisha Mahoney is doing some of the best work in the city. She was a key player in the Baker’s Daughter shops and the more decadent desserts at Michelle’s. She started doing a standalone event of desserts for dinner. At Gravitas her approach matches the overall style, carefully composed dishes with notes that stand alone or play with the other parts of the plate. The desserts here are specifically called out by Michelin.
Even though you are progressing through several courses, you leave satisfied but not stuffed. Likewise, the service is professional but not stuffy – matching the post-industrial feel of the converted warehouse. The wine list is deep and the team excited to talk about it. The pairings on the night we went last tended to Mediterranean – Italy, Greece plus a sake to keep it interesting.
Unlike other tasting menu places, Gravitas has managed to keep itself in the merely “very expensive” category, without being absurdly so (though there is a “Chef’s Counter” option if you want to go really big). It remains on our short list of places that are worth the splurge.
For non-tasting menu options, there is a delightful rooftop space with open air seating and a greenhouse for interior dining called The Conservatory. It also tends toward New American by way of France for its food. (Confusingly, it is on the same reservation system as Gravitas, so click through on the preferred date on Resy, then select the Conservatory option instead of one of the Gravitas dining room options.)
Other Guidance: It is a special occasion spot, but not formal. Gravitas is located a street level with restrooms on ground level, but there is dining spaces upstairs, so best to flag if you want to avoid that. GF and vegetarians can do well with options on and off the menu to accommodate. Flag restrictions as well and the kitchen can plan to work around it.
Washington Post: 2.5 Stars (bumped up from an initial 2.0) and #10 in the Spring 2019 Dining Guide. He 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 wanted to say 3.0 but couldn’t pull the trigger.
Lori Gardner (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.”
What Mickey Eats – paid a visit with roughly the same menu we had, but she has better pictures.
Michelin: One Star
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: