Chef Matt Baker wants to be the reason you visit Ivy City and he wants to lure you there with vegetables. The first-time restaurateur says his long-awaited restaurant Gravitas is now accepting reservations for July 1, but it could open as early as June 22.
Customers dining under a nest of millennial-endorsed hanging terrariums and moss-covered exposed brick will be able to build their own tasting menu of dishes, half which will be vegetarian. Dinner starts at $78 for four courses and climbs to $110 for seven courses. “The flavor profile is much broader when it comes to vegetables” Baker says. “If you were to pick out a pristine carrot versus a generic carrot from the grocery store, it’s incomparable. You don’t quite the same variance when it comes to meat.”
Sample plates include poached morel mushrooms with crispy polenta, parmesan emulsion, garlic aioli, and lavender; truffle-crusted diver scallop with roasted carrot and fennel, snow peas, herb oil, and sherry jus; and a spring onion custard with smoked onion and toasted brioche that can be crowned with caviar for a surcharge.
Instead of Russia, the caviar is coming from North Carolina. Baker is laser-focused on showcasing products from local farmers and watermen whenever possible. He’s working with Tuscarora Farms in Maryland and Little Wild Things urban farm, which just moved into a new factory space in Ivy City.
Before setting his sights on Gravitas, Baker worked in kitchens in Florida and Singapore. In D.C., he’s worked at minibar by José Andrés, Brasserie Beck, Occidental Grill & Seafood, and Bethesda’s City Perch Kitchen + Bar.
The ambitious chef hopes to change about half of the menu every week. “I want a restaurant that’s exciting, constantly evolving, pushing boundaries, and trying new things,” he says. View the opening menu below.
Part of Baker’s eagerness may stem from the fact that he signed the lease for Gravitas back in April 2016. Many chefs would have thrown in their kitchen towel, especially after a wall collapsed nearby, but the 31-year-old stuck with it.
“It’s a historic building and with that came a lot of really challenging construction delays,” he says. The restaurant is located inside the former Pappas Tomato Factory and Baker says it has original brick, steal beams, 25-foot ceilings, and industrial window panes. Natalie Park Design Studio crafted the space. “The natural light that comes in from three to seven o’clock is amazing,” Baker continues. “All those things contributed to why we chose the space.”
Baker hopes Gravitas is one of the anchor businesses that draws the rest of D.C. and the surrounding suburbs to Ivy City. The rapidly redeveloping neighborhood is also home to restaurants like Ari’s Diner, Ivy City Smokehouse, Big Chief, and La Puerta Verde.
The neighborhood’s industrial feel attracted Baker to Ivy City, where he likes being surrounded by various “makers” like distillers and brewers. Compass Coffee is opening a large scale roastery next door. “It’s not your generic downtown area where it’s just coffee shops, restaurants, and banks,” he says.
Head bartender Mary Kelly will shake and stir liquor from neighbors like One Eight Distilling and Republic Restoratives in her cocktails. They too will rotate frequently and she will incorporate fruit, vegetables, and herbs to mirror what’s coming out of the kitchen. Baker also has experience as a sommelier and created the wine list, including a wine pairing for each dish on the menu.
General Manager Sam Lindenberg will run the dining room. Gravitas is going for relaxed service even though the food is refined.
Gravitas currently has a downstairs dining room and a few tables perched above on a loft that overlooks the space. Phase two of the restaurant will include a greenhouse-themed rooftop bar and garden from Up Top Acres. Baker hopes its completed by the end of the year.
Initially Baker sought to work with Brainfood to offer after school programming in the garden, but the youth empowerment organization recently ceased operations. He’s looking for a new group to partner with to help connect kids with healthy food.
The restaurant will open serving dinner only Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Brunch could launch within the first six weeks. Reservations are available on Resy.
“What’s that saying?” Baker asks. “Nothing worth having comes easy? I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to step back and really recognize that it’s actually opening now … Even three or four months ago, it wasn’t clear that it was going to happen.”
Gravitas, 1401 Okie St. NE; (202) 596-1653; gravitasdc.com