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Gravitas For Lunch; No Dinner Needed

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Gravitas seems to be doing its best to fly under the radar these days. With the high-profile departure of executive chef Jason Gould in August 2009, and owner Scott Tycer's recent decision to leave more of the day-to-day operations of Textile to others and focus his energy on the kitchen at Gravitas, it's no wonder. Who wants to draw attention to something that appears to be in a transitional state, unsure of the outcome?

The good news, as far as Tycer is concerned, is that whatever he's doing at Gravitas seems to be working. A recent lunch there confirmed that the solidly delicious and subtly inventive food is still packing the same punch as always, with only two minor missteps along the way.

The bread service was as reliably good as always. Fresh, soft chunks of Kraftsmen bread liberally dipped in olive oil and a melange of light spices will prime anyone's palate, as long as you take care not to fill up on the stuff. Our appetizer of venison chili served in a miniature cast-iron Dutch oven would have easily won any wild game cookoff if only it had contained a little less salt. The dish was otherwise perfect: thick chunks of venison in a rich tomato stew, topped with melting cheese, a dab of tangy sour cream and strands of green onions.

The blue plate lunch special that day was fried chicken. And although some people may have qualms about ordering such a definitively low-cost item at a somewhat high-priced joint (question for the day: does increasing the price of soul food remove its soul?), the reasonable $13 price tag and the luscious chicken will remove all doubt.

The blue plate special comes with four enormous pieces of chicken, green beans and a huge helping of potato salad. It was more than enough for lunch, and did excellent double-duty as dinner later than night. If there's anything better than cold fried chicken, it's spectacularly juicy and still crunchy cold fried chicken.

My lunch partner had the far better dish of the two, though. Yes, even better than fried chicken. The salmon sandwich hadn't appealed to me when described on the menu, but in person it resembled the sandwich of my lox-loving dreams.

Glistening strips of smoked salmon lay draped across the open-faced sandwich, its bed a thick spread of crème fraiche and several slices of avocados. On top was a wild tangle of salad greens and an abundance of Kalamata olives and capers. The flavors all melded together perfectly in one burst of tangy, fatty, creamy springtime exuberance. I'm not generally one to order sandwiches in restaurants, but this is one sandwhich that I'll not only be going back for, but recreating at home.

The only downside to our otherwise excellent lunch was the dour service of the waiter, who scowled at every table he visited, sulking around the sun-drenched dining room like a vampire who'd been forced into working daylight hours. But, hey, at least it wasn't just us he disliked.

Sorry to say for our waiter, but if the kitchen keeps turning out food like this, he'll have even more tables to contend with each day at lunch. Maybe he can move to the dinner service instead.

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