The restaurant attached to the Eaton hotel along K Street NW has changed hands between two of D.C.’s most prominent chefs. Tim Ma, who opened American Son shortly after the hotel’s debut in the fall of 2018, recently left the property to focus on a slew of projects. Matt Baker, who oversees the tasting menus full of French techniques and Chesapeake ingredients at Michelin-starred Gravitas, expects to debut a new business there this fall.
Baker’s newest restaurant, Michele’s, will have a French-American theme that incorporates influences from New Orleans and Houston. He named it after his late mother, a New Orleans native who raised the chef in the Texas metropolis. The restaurant will have two main components: a dining room where customers can order shared plates fit for communal meals, and a raw bar dishing out 18-course omakase-style meals full of dishes that can be finished in one or two bites.
In addition to Michele’s, Baker will replace Eaton’s cafe, Kintsugi, with a location of Baker’s Daughter, the gourmet market he introduced in response to the pandemic last September. Washingtonian first reported details yesterday about Baker’s move into the hotel. The chef tells Eater he’s obligated to open Baker’s Daughter at the hotel by August 1. An incoming Chinatown location of the cafe — known for its global menu and hulking sourdough breakfast sandwiches — is “waiting on one piece of equipment to open,” Baker says.
Baker tells Eater he’s been formulating plans for Michele’s before he even opened Gravitas, which was beset with construction delays. “I had a plan of what the next 10 years would look like, and Michele’s was penciled in as the next step,” he says. “The boiler plate I give people is that it’s going to be like Gravitas’s baby sister. If Gravitas’s baby sister took a trip to Paris and France and came back as a Francophile with a lot of panache and a lot of charisma, that’s what Michele’s is going to be.”
Baker is already busy testing dishes for the Michele’s menu, including a head-on, foot-on chicken that will undergo five days of prep before it’s finished in the hotel’s wood-burning oven. The plan for the platter includes a brioche chicken confit stuffing, a chicken fat sabayon, and crispy panisse (chickpea fritters).
Homages to Cajun and Creole cuisines could include tasting menu courses of chargrilled oysters and barbecue shrimp. In terms of East Texas-style cooking, Baker says he’ll take cues from the wealth of diversity in Houston’s dining scene. “I don’t think people really understand how serious Vietnamese food is there, how serious Chinese food is there, how serious the Middle Eastern sections of town and the halal markets are,” he says.
Ma, meanwhile, has been tackling several new endeavors at once. An Arlington location of Lucky Danger, the well-received American-Chinese takeout operation he runs with chef Andrew Chiou, is weeks away from opening. Ma is a partner in ExPat Hospitality, a recently formed group that plans to build bars that around sports betting. The chef tells Eater the group has acquired a lease in the 2000 Penn development that houses anticipated Western Market in Foggy Bottom, taking over the 8,000 square-foot-space that used to be an outpost of Bertucci’s pizza. Ma says he’s also in the process of converting the fundraising efforts of Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate into a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“With all this, obviously, I’m really busy,” Ma says.