Some of the scariest words for anyone who eats out regularly are “Let me explain the concept,” which is how dinner begins at the two-story Provision No. 14. A menu that requires translation is a list that needs to go back to the drawing board, and the document here on 14th Street NW is no exception. It begins, oddly, with large “Communal” plates and segues to appetizer-size dishes gathered in a “Collection.”
The format, says my server, “lets you be in control, and it’s more fun that way!” Except it’s not, because “the food comes out as it’s ready,” my server adds. Once again, I’m at a restaurant where the interests of the kitchen trump those of the diner.
Provision No. 14 replaces the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Diego and comes to Washington’s buzziest corridor from the three owners of the fresh Social Restaurant Group. No sooner did the trio throw open the doors in April than the mint-colored Provision filled with customers intrigued by the idea of cocktails served in wine bottles and coffee presses.
The space is meant to evoke “an experience,” says principal owner Mike Bramson; “provision” refers to “supplying food and drink for a journey.” Thus, the suitcases and trunks above your head and the orange oil drums rethought as bar stools.
The menu, written by former Driftwood chefs James Duke and John Leavitt, embraces familiar fare (kale salad, pork belly, a hamburger) while introducing a few novelties. One is Hens in a Blanket, in which pheasant sausage fills puff pastry stubs brushed with a fruity glaze. Another is a hot pocket pairing a dense, slightly sweet Filipino-style roll with lamb sugo, akin to ragu. Both dishes are more fun to read about than to eat.
The same is true for the hamachi tartare: The flavor of the fish is muzzled by pickled daikon remoulade with the slickness of cream cheese. A salad of Brussels sprouts, apple and bacon is served with what smacks of gravy, and the aforementioned kale salad doesn’t taste like much despite strawberries and cashews in the mix.
The least offensive plate holds lamb breast braised in miso and lager and a cucumber salad. Unfortunately, the entree’s couscous tastes as if it had been pulled from the refrigerator just before joining the plate.
Hugged by an outdoor patio, the corner restaurant includes a glam, couch-filled upstairs space where diners are encouraged to relax after dinner. If recent excursions are a sign of what’s ahead, however, Provision is not a trip I’m eager to repeat.
2100 14th St. NW. 202-827-4530. www.provisiondc.com. Sandwiches and shared entrees, $16 to $32.