Gravity also has a prime spot just a half-block off University Avenue. It's the site of longtime restaurant fixture Maddalena and the subsequent, quickly departed Melt Ultra Lounge.
Rob Fischer, owner of the Palo Alto Creamery, Reposado and others, opened Gravity in mid-December. "I've always wanted to do a wine bar that served really good food, not just charcuterie and cheese plates," he said.
"It's just as much about good beer as good wine. The food menu isn't long but it's all high quality," he added. "We've got a hot chef." Andy Phillips, formerly sous-chef at the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, is the exceptional talent in the kitchen.
Gravity's chic downstairs interior has hardwood floors, bar-high tables and chairs of wood and aluminum. Too-dim pendant lamps and small print make reading the menu difficult. Upstairs is the same motif, but more spacious, with lower tables and chairs, and exquisite windows in the front overlooking Emerson Street. It's sophisticated and inviting.
Each dinner, we were presented with an amuse-bouche from the chef while squinting at the menu. On two visits, it was a morsel of the eggplant caponada; another time it was slices of sopressata salami. Each amuse-bouche was accompanied with a taste of still or bubbly wine.
Steak tartare with quail egg ($10) was coarsely ground, perfectly seasoned raw beef. The tiny quail egg atop served to bind the meat and added a richness to the tasty appetizer. Another fine starter was pate de Champagne ($10): two generous slices of coarse ground pork pate. It had just-made lush flavors and came with cornichons, grainy mustard and toast points. No better way to start a dinner.
Appetizers can be tailor-made with both charcuterie and cheese-plate selections available in three sizes each, $6-$18.
Warm Brussels sprouts salad ($8) was dotted with pancetta and grapefruit slivers. The sprouts were, happily, cooked through. Al dente is fine for most vegetables but not sprouts. The citrus and bacon played well off one another.
The delightful fritto misto ($12) was crispy fried shrimp, scallops, calamari and lemon slices. The lemon balanced out the seafood and added just a touch of pucker to the dish.
Burrata ($7), a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, was just that: creamy, but not runny. With abundant flavor spread on accompanying toast points, it was like eating cheese pudding.
Gravity's entrees include filet and frites ($19), a fork-tender piece of meat. This was not steak frites, which is a less worthy cut of beef. This was filet, perfectly grilled to my request. The fries were hot and crisp and there were plenty of them.
Braised beef short ribs ($16) provided plenty of well-browned, long-cooked, fork-tender, juicy meat. Overcooked cuts of beef can be stringy — this wasn't. The creamy-sweet mascarpone polenta that accompanied highlighted the beef.
Duck confit is a preserved duck leg cooked in its own fat. Here, the duck was served with Umbrian lentils: a smaller, multihued, meatier, firmer-when-cooked lentil. These were quite different than the usual mushy green lentils encountered in soups and stews. The dish ($14) was sauced with a delicious cabernet-fig reduction.
Meaty and tender, the sauteed chicken thighs ($12) were served with a farro pilaf. Farro is slightly nutty in flavor, firm and somewhat chewy. The grain is very popular in Italy. At Gravity, it made a great textural contrast to the mahogany-colored, crisp chicken.
Grilled lamb sausage merguez ($12) was served with pickled cucumbers, onions and French fries. Merguez is a piquant but not overly hot North African-styled sausage. The toasted house-made bun made the dish a big hit.
For desserts, apple tart Tartin ($6) was excellent, not cloyingly sweet but scented and delectable. Chocolate pot de creme ($6) was pudding par excellence. Honey ricotta crostada ($7) with candied kumquats was seriously wonderful: flaky, creamy, savory and sweet.
The best panna cotta I've ever eaten was in Bra, Italy, home of the Slow Food movement. I've never had panna cotta quite as delicate as that, although throughout Italy the dessert is marvelous.
Local restaurants make panna cotta either too watery, too jiggly or too custardy. I'd never had one like in Italy — until now. Gravity's vanilla panna cotta ($7) was superb. It was feather-light and barely congealed, and melted on contact with the tongue. Then it filled the mouth with sweet vanilla-y cream. Just wonderful.
Gravity's wine list is not lengthy, nor does it include any high-priced, high-quality, boutique wines. Rather, the wines are approachable, complement the food, and won't stretch the pocketbook too far. Corkage fee is $25 for those bringing a special bottle from elsewhere.
At some point, the wine list will need to add some serious labels. The food coming from the kitchen far outshines what is currently being poured from the bottle.
Wines are sold by the glass, carafe or full bottle. Various wine flights are offered including a dessert wine flight. I stuck with wines by the glass and will quote those prices. The wines were relatively inexpensive, retail-wise, and the pours were generous, about 6 ounces.
Selections were global. I enjoyed a fruity Quinta de Cabriz Branco from Portugal ($9), a solid Iron Horse Chardonnay ($12) from Sonoma, an inky Tempranillo from Spain's Bodegas Volver ($10), and a sprightly Beaujolais Villages ($12) from France. Glasses ranged from $8 to $14.
Beers were American microbrews, along with some specialty European selections.
Gravity has a talented chef in the kitchen, experienced management, prime location, contemporary decor and top-notch service. I can't imagine anything but success for this operation.
544 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 4-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4-11 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: wine and beer
Outdoor dining: no
Party facilities: yes
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent