Food

Gravitas Chef Matt Baker Is Ready to Open His Splashy French-American Brasserie Downtown

Look for caviar service, souffles, and uni toast at Michele’s, opening Wednesday, November 3.

Michele's opens in downtown DC from Michelin starred chef Matt Baker. Photography by LeadingDC

Chef Matt Baker of Ivy City tasting room Gravitas will soon debut his next restaurant, Michele’s. The playful French-American brasserie and raw bar will open on Wednesday, November 3 inside downtown DC’s trendy Eaton hotel. The 132-seat dining room and heated outdoor patio will be joined by a branch of Baker’s all-day cafe Baker’s Daughter. An intimate omakase tasting bar will debut in the coming weeks.

A riff on a lobster roll with a creamy salad, micro celery, and toasty brioche. Photograph by LeadingDC

Named after Baker’s late mother, Michele’s draws from three big culinary forces: her native New Orleans, Baker’s native Houston, and the chef’s classic French training, which he says is always “the backbone of the kitchen.” So what does that look like on the table? Not your typical brasserie fare.

Hamachi crudo is inspired by tacos al pastor. Photograph by LeadingDC

Some of the nods to Baker’s favorite food cities are more obvious than others. A hamachi crudo—with Tajin spice, pineapple, guajillo-chili dressing, avocado mousse, and cilantro—is inspired by Houston’s al pastor taquerias. A fried whole fish with nuoc cham, herb salad, and crispy garlic pays tribute to his hometown’s big Vietnamese population and dining scene.

New Orleans comes to mind in dishes like oyster gratinee, which is served with grilled bread for mopping up the creamy Creole-spiced sauce. There are also plenty of vegetables on the menu, such as barbecued carrots dressed in a Worcestershire-heavy sauce with cornbread croutons. 

“I think Dauphine’s has the best BBQ shrimp in the city,” says Baker of his downtown New Orleans-inspired neighbor. “We basically shoved out the shrimp and plugged in carrots.”

Vegetarian dishes include this celery root “tatin” with miso-apple cream and agave glaze. Photograph by LeadingDC

For dessert, pastry chef Aisha Momaney is ready with soufflés sauced tableside with creme anglaise, and a decadent bananas Foster sundae. Baker also tapped former Bourbon chef Andrew Cleverdon as chef de cuisine.

Uni-brioche toasts accompany a Maryland crab salad with grapefruit sabayon. Photograph by LeadingDC

The warmly lit space, designed by Natalie Park (also behind Dupont Circle’s Anju), provides plenty of opportunity to splurge. Seafood towers—small and grand—will parade from a custom, walnut-and-brass raw bar. Diners can indulge in homemade breads, composed charcuterie plates, and cheeses to start. Or opt for caviar service—either classic or a more playful (and less expensive) “chips and dip” version with trout roe, a creamy ranch-style custard, and butter-fried potato chips. Being a cheffy brasserie, of course there’s a $70 fancy chicken for the table: a brined, spice-rubbed bird served feet-on with wood fire-roasted breasts, a pot of confit thighs in rich chicken-fat sabayon, and crispy fried legs.

An early version of the roast chicken dish with wood-roasted breasts, confit thighs, and crispy legs. Photograph by LeadingDC

Dinner will launch the restaurant, with lunch and brunch to follow. A ticketed omakase counter is also slated to open in the coming week. It will serve a seafood-centric menu of 18-to-20 bites (pricing is TBD but Baker says it’ll be comparable to the chef’s counter at Gravitas, and in the $150-plus range). Seafood gueridon (cart service) will also start rolling soon for tableside presentations.

Baker says he’s learned a lot in the six years he’s run Gravitas, which he calls a “small mom-and-pop fine dining Michelin [starred] restaurant.” Does he have stars in his eyes for Michele’s?

“When we opened Gravitas we’d never talk about the accolades like Michelin or Washingtonian top 100,” says Baker. “If we do our job, the accolades will come, and that’s how we’ve always handled our business.”

Michele’s. 1201 K St., NW

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.