Not-So-Sweet Excess

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 6, 2007

1/2 star Posh

730 11th St. NW


Open: lunch Tuesday through Friday noon to 2 p.m.; dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 6 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. All major credit cards. No smoking. Metro: Metro Center. Valet parking at dinner. Dinner prices: appetizers $7 to $18, entrees $21 to $30. Full meal with wine, tax and tip about $90 per person.

Posh? It strives to be. But more often than not, the downtown supper club brought to us by the Bethesda-based RLJ Companies -- founded by Robert L. Johnson of BET fame -- is a study in splash, an example of excess, a lesson in more as less.

Some of that largesse is welcome. An enthusiastic voice on the other end of the phone at Posh takes my reservation, as if I'm her sole task for the day. Then she asks, "Can I help you with anything else?" (I briefly flirt with the idea of asking her to pick up my dry cleaning, but think better.) That evening, when a gregarious manager stops by my table, he informs my friends and me that Posh is much more than a place to eat. "You should come on the weekend," he says, extending an invitation to the Friday and Saturday night fever that includes a live DJ and tables cleared for dancing around 10:30 p.m.

Across the board, Posh, which replaces the tropical Ortanique, swells with generosity. The booths hugging the perimeters of the restaurant -- a cavernous space that features a small stage in one corner, a bar with a big projection screen and a second-floor balcony overlooking the main dining room -- resemble upholstered Tilt-A-Whirls. The seats are big and comfortable. The shrimp cocktail that passes by my table one night is just big, served in a cocktail glass the size of a bird bath and trailed by a fog of dry ice. Posh could not be faulted for being stingy, what with the amuse-bouche that starts the meal, the house-made confections that end it, and the service that, much like Sally Field accepting an Oscar, really, really wants you to like it.

So why do I keep looking at my watch and wishing I were home?

Maybe it's the decor. Oh, the aquarium in the lobby, a holdover from the original restaurant here (BET on Jazz), is quietly entertaining. But venture further inside, and you'll find swoops of gold fabric competing with purple paint, and clashing with sconces of bulbs and metal that appear to be icy branches. Playing up its role as a nightspot, Posh broadcasts on that screen above the bar an endless loop of theater curtains opening and closing on the restaurant's name. The result is a cross between a Las Vegas showroom and a high school gym that's been dressed for the prom.

As conscientious as the service is, I wish everyone here would stop asking diners if everything is all right and just make sure that the cocktails show up before I start collecting Social Security and that the wine list matches the contents of the cellar; not once in multiple visits to Posh was the first wine I wanted available, either by the glass or the bottle.

I can forgive the look of the place. I can overlook a missing wine or plates landing in front of people who didn't order them. But, ultimately, restaurants exist to serve food, and Posh isn't cooking to my heart's content, or even close to that. The warning signs appear early on, with a gift from the chef: an ordinary wedge of pita bread topped with a bit of smoked salmon and a freezer-cold dab of hummus one night, and an oily slice of mushroom scattered with arid lobster crumbles another visit.

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