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H Street Life

September means that the kids are back at school and Halloween is right around the corner, but don’t count out summer just yet. One of my favorite annual traditions is attending the H Street Festival, the largest of the District’s neighborhood festivals, and a draw for visitors from across the region. But if large crowds aren’t your style, there are more intimate ways to mark the seasonal transition, from a night out at a buzzworthy new restaurant, to learning how herbs can help prepare your body and pantry for fall and winter, to some chilling frights on the big screen.

At Gravitas a Serious Passion for Food in a Former Ivy City Tomato Packing Factory
The original plans called for first-time restaurateur Chef Matt Baker to open Gravitas (http://www.gravitasdc.com, 1401 Okie St. NE) in the winter of 2016. A series of delays, including a collapsed wall at the former Pappas Tomato Factory, held things up. Gravitas may have opened a bit behind the original schedule, but in other ways it arrived right on time when it welcomed its first diners in early July. Not far north of the H Street NE Corridor, Ivy City is a neighborhood on its way up in terms of both dining and nightlife. Buzz about the area has been building for a while, due in no small part to Douglas Development’s remaking of the iconic Hecht Warehouse building and a number of local distilleries that call the neighborhood home.

While Gravitas joins a number of other restaurants and bars that have sprouted up recently, its refined approach and tasting menu format set it apart from its neighbors. The food menu at Gravitas is organized into four categories: light beginning, indulgence, hearty, and sweet. Tables choose from between four ($78) and seven ($110) courses, and individual diners make their selections from the menu with the caveat that one course must come from the dessert menu. This last requirement is no hardship, as not a crumb of the three different deserts my table tried (the coconut cake with marinated peaches, milk chocolate ganache, and saffron “cheesecake”) could be found even after four other courses. The vegetarians in our party were delighted that Gravitas offers menu selections where vegetables take center stage. The slow-braised beet with cauliflower puree, horseradish chip, and mag beet jus was a table favorite. Our waiter reminded us that Gravitas can also accommodate vegans and diners with food allergies, however, they ask that you give them 24 hours notice.

Do you have a serious appetite for exploration? Then choose a trusted companion and reserve Gravitas’ chef’s counter where the two of you can watch chefs work their magic up close and personal. The experience, priced at $240 per person (includes food and beverage pairings), consists of fifteen courses and lasts roughly two and a half hours. Only one seating is offered per evening Tuesday through Saturday.

The Red Boat Viet Fusion Sets Course for H Street NE
It’s about to get a lot easier to secure a steaming bowl of phở or sink your teeth into the salty, spicy, sour, and sweet delight of a bánh mi sandwich. The Red Boat Viet Fusion Restaurant (https://www.theredboatfusion.com/) will take over 500 H St. NE, formerly home to Micho’s Lebanese Grill. The original Red Boat is located in downtown Baltimore, and this is one of a handful of new outposts in the works. In addition to the familiar standbys of bánh mi and phở, Red Boat offers noodle, rice, or salad bowls, and fusion tacos (filled with lemongrass chicken or pork, bulgogi, or fried tofu). Go a little crazy with the K-Town Dog (a beef hotdog topped with kimchi, bulgogi, and toasted seaweed) or the Saigon Dog (topped with bánh mi fixings and lemongrass pork), either of which can be finished off with nacho cheese for a small upcharge.

Chileheads can feel the burn at the National Arboretum’s Chile Pepper Celebration. Photo: Elise Bernard

Sip, Taste, Smell, & Burn with the Diverse Offerings at the National Arboretum
The National Arboretum (3501 New York Ave. NE, or 24th & R St. NE) launched their new “Herban Lifestyles program series in August, and it offers a terrific introduction to fun and interesting ways to enjoy the benefits of herbs in your daily life.

The Arboretum will host Botanical Brews Sept. 15 (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.), a beer tasting in the National Herb Garden and a toast to hops and other botanical ingredients employed by brewers. The $40 ticket includes substantial hors d’oeuvres and a private tasting of custom creations from local breweries, including some small batch exclusives. Partners for the evening include Right Proper Brewing Co., Heurich House Museum, 3 Stars Brewing Co., Free State Cooperage, Bluejacket, Rayburn Farm and Supreme Core Cider. What better way to spend a relaxing and educational evening after an afternoon out at the H Street Festival?

Those looking to spice things up are advised to head to the annual Chile Pepper Celebration from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. Arboretum staff and Herb Society of America members will present chile peppers in all their mouth-scorching glory. The event is free and no registration is required, so stop by and find out if you really can take the heat.

Seeking less fiery means to boost your immune system? You can join herbalist Whitney Palacios who will teach you how to fortify and nourish your body for the upcoming cold and flu season using herb-based teas, syrups, and other healthy preparations Oct. 20. Learn how to make fragrant incense cones and powders from herbs you harvest yourself during an Oct. 27 workshop. Both events run from 10 a.m. to noon and require registration and a $35 fee.

Hitchcocktober once again haunts the Angelika pop-up this October. Photo: Elise Bernard

Hitchcocktober Returns to the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market
Don’t forget the popcorn when you settle in for a whole month of classic Alfred Hitchcock thrills and chills. Snag tickets to the five films screening this month at the Angelika pop-up (https://www.angelikafilmcenter.com/dc, 550 Penn St. NE) as part of Hitchcocktober. Every Thursday in October you can catch a different treat from the Master of Suspense. This year’s selections include Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, and The 39 Steps. The series culminates in a special Halloween night screening of Psycho. Tickets for each show are $10.50, and you can choose your seat.


For more on what’s abuzz on, and around, H Street NE, you can visit my blog at http://frozentropics.blogspot.com. You can send me tips or questions at elise.bernard@gmail.com.

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