We Love Food: Policy

Light Fixture, Policy

"Light Fixture, Policy" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

Right from the start, you know something’s off at Policy. Standing in the luridly lit stairwell, a sickly yellow gleam gives everyone the look of a mental patient. Not even the most nubile twenty-year-old looks good in light like this. It doesn’t get much better inside. The whole place is lit like a lighting designer who hates his actors. I was originally going there to write it up for my usual We Love Drinks but, any cocktail menu that has a drink mixing my beloved espresso vodka with Red Bull is off my list. But the food menu seemed at least potentially interesting.

However, I had reservations about Policy the first night I walked by and saw they had valet parking. At 14th and T, I really wonder. What does that say? Your clientele is too scared to park their own cars? What are they doing in the neighborhood anyway?

After you get past the mental hospital stairwell, the dining room greets you with a look rather like the Diner From Hell. Ceiling tiles seem to drip blood all night. Awful lighting in your booth gives you a migraine. Bad club “hits” from a decade past pound away. Contrast the forced clever black-and-red motif here with the crazy kitsch black-and-red motif at Jimmy Valentine’s, and it doesn’t take Dante to tell you where the Devil would rather hang out.

Ok, I keep getting distracted, because all these things are actually not the worst part about a night at Policy. It’s the overpriced mediocre food. Another bad sign is when your server explains to you the “concept of small plates” because “not everyone gets it.” Um, right. 14th and T again, remember? We’ve got Cork and Bar Pilar already. Or is this explanation for the people who want the valet parking?

Right, distraction. Sorry. Here we go. We tried six dishes at Policy. Two were good. Four were disappointing. The Madras Curry Lamb Sliders may have had curry in them, but I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t in the title. The three little sliders for $13.95 were juicy, sure, but had no flavor at all. For lamb, that’s… odd.

Soft Shell Crab, Policy

"Soft Shell Crab, Policy" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

The Soft Shell Crab had a great tempura job, but again, was actually lacking in flavor. It also seemed to be all leg.

As for the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads – well, sweetbreads being one of my favorite things, I finished the plate, but again, there was no flavor to the breading. The artichoke garnish was possibly the worst thing I’ve tasted ever. Pickled or marinated within an inch of its life. Honestly, I gagged.

We sought refuge in a simple plate of Organic Mixed Greens, but it was sadly swimming in balsamic, totally overdressed. Supposedly there was blue cheese and strawberries in there. Needles in a haystack.

Finally we hit something with the side of Grilled Asparagus. So good it made me sad compared with the other dishes – perfect, crisp, well-seasoned. Same for the Bread Pudding dessert – dense yet moist, pretty delectable with candied apricots. “These are actually good! What’s going on here?” I protest to my friend. But he’s beyond giving it a second chance, having just waited in an interminable line for one of two unisex bathrooms. Do we dare hit the upstairs lounge with bottle service and the bad oldies house music? “We’re not going up there,” my friend says definitively after a reconnaissance mission. “Check!”

Sigh. Hit-or-miss at these prices doesn’t inspire confidence. And after this dinner, we needed a second dinner. Contrast unfavorably with the small plates at Cork or Vinoteca or Bar Pilar…

One thing I will say, we had an excellent server who took our comments back to the kitchen. So perhaps openness to improvement is a good sign. But right now, all I see is valet park and gouge wallet. The future of the 14th Street Corridor? God, I hope not.

Policy Restaurant is located at 1904 14th St. NW. Closest Metro stop: U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo (Green line). For more information, call (202) 387-7654.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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11 thoughts on “We Love Food: Policy

  1. I couldn’t get past the hideous decor in Policy. The lighting is horrid, the table tops are like bad 80’s formica, and the color scheme made my eyes bleed. I thought the food was decent but definitely overpriced. I don’t foresee ever going back there and will be surprised if they stay in business.

  2. I was sitting in Sbux a couple months ago grading papers and overhead the owner of Policy talking to his PR person. This was before the restaurant opened and he was explaining his “vision” for the restaurant. It was the most pretentious and least substantive conversation I’ve ever (over)heard. Sounds like the actual restaurant is the same.

  3. Am now particularly glad I did not accompany you. I can get the same wonderful company, but with hopefully much (much) better food at Eatonville.

  4. The last and only time I went was on a whim, it was one of those cool nights in DC where the weather was cooperative. I went to the second floor ordered a drink and immediately went to the outdoor area. We were allowed to mingle out there for an hour or two only to be ushered in by a very nice security guard who said “We’re still working out some neighborhood issues.” My Policy on Policy – not go do unless a friend is having a function there.

    I did see Joy Bryant there…she’s dreamy.

  5. Great review. I haven’t had the food yet, but am not so excited to taste it now. I didn’t mind the lighting downstairs, but the place definitely loses the 14th street feel. Not a great thing, but at least it offers “diversity” to the neighborhood.

  6. They charged $4 for a coke. So…no

    Food was eh, but small portions and overpriced. The table next to us was doing tequila shots and doing some heavy petting under the table. I can only assume they were from VA. I could deal with the decor, but the people watching was surprisingly bad.

  7. Thanks for everybody’s comments. It seems so far we have a consensus. And that consensus is eh to eck…

    My prediction? Look for an ABC controversy on this place sometime when the summer heats up. Neighbors will complain hard about the noise on the patio, the board will investigate, and find a bit of a discrepancy between their license and how much food vs. alcohol is sold.

    Just my hunch, anyway. I could be wrong, and mediocrity could prevail.

  8. Thanks for this review – any thought I had of visiting there has disappeared. So many better places to go to in the same neighborhood – Marvin, Bar Pilar, even Solly’s.

    I thought I heard somewhere that they only do bottle service? This is not New York. Another reason not to go.

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  10. I recently went there for my bday. Confirmed a table for 10 w/ bottle service and food for 9:15 multiple times with their event person. When I get there they tell me I am listed for 11pm. No one is apologetic and I have to show them an email confirming my reservation for 9:15 in order to get seated. This is not the type of service you would expect from a place that hope to be classier than the rest. I’ve hear that this reservation mistake happens frequently there. On a positive note, the food and music was good.