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Photo: Greg Powers
Photo: Greg Powers

New and Notable: August 2018

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

NEW

Gravitas
Open: July 3
Location: Ivy City
Lowdown: Matt Baker’s sophisticated tasting menu restaurant has literally been years in the making. The chef has taken the former Pappas Tomato Factory and transformed it into an urban oasis where minimalist fixtures, mossy accents and hanging terrariums are juxtaposed with original 1940s brick, windows and steel beams. This antique character is what drew him to Ivy City in the first place, along with the opportunity to help weave the fabric of a burgeoning community. Gravitas is the first tasting menu restaurant to hit the neighborhood, with a selection of 15 dishes – half of which are vegetarian – that can be mixed and matched to create a custom tasting of four, five, six or seven courses. Baker says he wanted a restaurant that allowed him to dream up and serve manicured, experimental dishes. That’s evident in courses like a gruyère agnolotti decorated with a fried ash chip reminiscent of webbed sea coral. Baker focuses as much on sourcing as he does on experimenting, pulling ingredients almost exclusively from the Mid-Atlantic region. In the coming weeks, he will debut a rooftop bar and garden supplying produce like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and more. The bar program features spirits and brews from the restaurant’s Ivy City neighbors, used in drinks that incorporate seasonal vegetables. The wine list is comprised of mostly food-friendly options to facilitate pairings with a wide spectrum of flavors. 1401 Okie St. NE, DC; www.gravitasdc.com

La Vie
Open: July 12
Location: District Wharf
Lowdown: Social Restaurant Group is expanding their portfolio, which already includes Provision No. 14 and Pamplona, among others, to include a posh waterfront restaurant, bar and event space. The vast fifth floor venue boasts panoramic views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows in the main dining room, and has three more spaces, each with a distinct vibe. The Conservatory bar and lounge is covered in climbing greenery and matching plush upholstery. The Chandelier Room is, expectedly, adorned with a display of 15 of the hanging fixtures. Finally, the Ledge is a sprawling waterfront terrace. The menu nods to the riverfront location with coastal fare like seafood towers, spreads, house-made pastas, mussel pots, whole branzino, and mainland fare like steak frites and a decadent burger. Drinks follow suit with spritzes, shareable cocktails and plenty of bubbly. 88 District Sq. SW, DC; www.laviedc.com

Poca Madre
Open: June 19
Location: Chinatown
Lowdown: To say Poca Madre is Victor Albisu’s passion project would be an understatement. After closing his South American grill, Del Campo, Albisu and his team poured their hearts and souls into its replacement. Poca Madre is a sincere homage to Mexico, celebrating the country’s history, culture, agriculture and cuisine. The menu is, simply put, an exploration of contemporary Mexican dining. But every aspect, from the sourcing to the recipes, tells a deeper story. Dishes include flashes of influence from the various periods of colonization by Europeans and the far-reaching trade routes that brought Southeast Asian spices and herbs to the country. Many ingredients are imported from Mexico to support local farmers including sea salt, grasshoppers, cocoa nibs and dry maíz that is cooked, soaked, scrubbed and ground to form tortillas, which are cooked to order. The resulting product is unlike any tortilla I’ve had before: deeply flavored, crispy yet soft and enticingly aromatic. The small plates and entrées put creative twists on traditions, like a corn risotto that conjures the flavors of elote and a shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche with flat noodles made from the two types of seafood. Drinks rely heavily on the spirit made from the plant featured in Poca Madre’s logo and décor, with a liquid nitrogen-frozen margarita and a take on a Mai Tai that uses mezcal and cantaloupe seed orgeat. The space is accented by suspended greenery, a mirror carried over from Del Campo’s bar and a striking piece of artwork that clearly communicates the team’s view on immigration: a depiction of a freestanding open door on the U.S.-Mexico border modeled after a real-life installation from 1988. 777 I St. NW, DC; www.pocamadredc.com

San Lorenzo
Open: June 25
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: Chef Massimo Fabbri, known and loved for his cooking at Tosca and Posto, opened his own restaurant in Shaw in honor of his family and the cuisine of his home in Tuscany. The spot is named for Fabbri’s favorite neighborhood in Florence, and his son, who is named after the patron saint of cooks. The menu is succinct and simple, with classic Tuscan recipes and a few salutes to his time at Tosca. Start with antipasti like tuna carpaccio, panzanella or fried squash blossoms, and be sure to sample the fresh pastas. My favorite was the tortelli stuffed with robiola and black truffle complemented by a porcini mushroom sauce. Entrées range from sautéed scallops to a grilled T-bone steak for two. To finish, there’s a selection of traditional desserts like panna cotta and fruit crostata. The bar serves both signature cocktails and unaltered Italian favorites, as well as beer and wine. Though the space is narrow, the surrounds are cozy and inviting, with Art Deco Murano glass pendants, brick peeking through distressed plaster and Florentine-inspired patterned tiles. 1316 9th St. NW, DC; www.sanlorenzodc.com

NOTABLE

Test Kitchen Tuesdays
Date: Tuesdays during the summer
Location: The Oval Room
Lowdown: For Chef Bryan Moscatello at The Oval Room, the new Test Kitchen Tuesday series is the perfect outlet for culinary creativity. Each Tuesday, he creates a three-course menu that showcases unusual ingredients, cutting-edge techniques and out-of-the box dishes, all within a chosen theme. Previous Test Kitchen menus have covered ideas like “Memories of a Jersey Shore Clam Bake,” “The Parents Are Away So It’s Breakfast for Dinner,” and “Who Cooked Roger Rabbit,” with dishes ranging from a lobster burger to a take on steak and eggs with beef tongue and a quail egg. The menu is available at the bar or on the patio every Tuesday for $45 per person. There is also an optional $25 drink pairing. 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.ovalroom.com

Wandering Oasis
Date: Now through fall
Location: Various locations around DC
Lowdown: DC’s Mixtress, Gina Chersevani, has taken her show on the road. She recently debuted Wandering Oasis, a 27-foot traveling cocktail truck, at various locations around the District. The truck is covered with giant banana leaves and tropical birds and supplies drinkers with frozen and draft cocktails like a hibiscus lemon daiquiri, citrus sour margarita, grapefruit crush and bourbon mint tea. Every drink on the menu is 16 ounces and costs about $9. The menu of drinks will rotate each weekend. The truck’s planned stops are TBD, but it will definitely make a few cameos at Nats Park over the next few months. Follow Chersevani and her cocktail truck’s DC stops on Twitter at @MIXTRESSdc.

Photo by: Krystina Brown
Photo by: Krystina Brown

Matt and Kim Bring “Almost Everyday” to 9:30 Club

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to see Matt and Kim headline their second sold-out show in a row at 9:30 Club. The raucous euphoria of all the acts combined was the equivalent of eating sugar straight from the bowl or jumping on a trampoline in an anti-gravity chamber.

Future Feats set the precedent with their infectious blend of pop punk-tinged tunes. As the crowd slowly trickled in during their set, their upbeat rhythms helped build excitement for the acts to come. I came in just as they turned the lights up and took a group selfie with the crowd from the stage. Soon after, they finished out their high-spirited performance with “27,” a carefree, acoustic-driven ode to the morning after a night of birthday shenanigans.

Tokyo Police Club took the stage next, a band that I fell in love with in 2011 after the release of their highest-charting U.S. album Champ. Their music is oxymoronically lively and laid back at the same time. David Monks’ vocals lilt so smoothly over the cheery guitars and percussion, like a surfboard that effortlessly careens over whatever kind of wave the sea can throw at it. The sound is so L.A. that you’d never guess they were really from Ontario, Canada.

The camaraderie between members of the band was immediately visible when they started performing. During the guitar solo in the first song, and for a few other moments later on in the show, all of the band members circled the drummer and jammed together, which showed how much they genuinely enjoy playing music with each other.

I was excited to hear some of my favorite songs by them live including “Breakneck Speed,” “Frankenstein,” “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” as well as some of the newer tracks from their dual-part 2016 EP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness (a nod to the legendary Smashing Pumpkins album) – and their new single from this year, “New Blues.”

Matt and Kim were the last to grace the stage, but first members of the sold-out crowd greeted them by (successfully) starting the wave and sending it up to the rows in the balcony. The dynamic Brooklyn-based duo built on that energy with their entrance, backed by “Für Elise” and what sounded like a baby reading the script projected on their background display. Right when it got to the part where it said, “Hold on, it might get bumpy,” the dude standing next to me bumped into me and spilled his beer on my arm – as if on cue. That was an indicator of the messiness and chaos to come, but strangely, it only made me more excited to see what Matt and Kim would get up to next.

Their entire approach was reminiscent of a mixed-media art project, which is fitting since this pair met at Pratt Institute. It is a trademark of theirs to incorporate other artists’ work into their shows, and somehow it all works well together. Going beyond the standard fare of lights and smoke, they projected a mishmash of graphics (like one of Kim dancing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge) and memes (like the classic Oprah meme) on the display that played on the wall behind them for the duration of their set, and had little dance breaks to songs like DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here)” and Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy.”

Our show morphed into an album release party since Almost Everyday was set to drop that midnight. To celebrate, they threw T-shirts, confetti, balloons, blowup dolls and pool floaties (which became vehicles for crowd surfing) out into the audience. They also performed a few tracks from the new release like “Forever,” and an older song of theirs called “Yeah Yeah” that’s been pulled from all streaming services due to record label shadiness (according to Kim).

Matt also took a moment to give us some background about the band’s hiatus last year, which was due to Kim’s meniscus and ACL injury. Matt says he is “more proud of this album than anything in his life.” After the hiatus they were both happy to be back touring because, he said, “I’ve done this for my entire adult life and this is all I wanna do.”

But besides Matt and Kim’s high-energy performance, what really made this night so much fun was the crowd. Kim actually made a little mistake during one song because she said she was so amazed by how lively the audience was. Toward what I thought would be the end of their set, they played “Daylight” (the only song of theirs that I knew well before that night) and went offstage. The crowd was so hype that they came back and did another song for us. This whole night reminded me of what’s so special about concerts that aren’t in large stadiums, and that’s being able to interact with and experience music with the people who make it up close.

For more on Matt and Kim, click here.