2.01.2008

Palena

I went back this past wkd (June 20, 2008), and absolutely loved it. We ordered the lamb rigatoni, palena burger, and chicken. All three were delicious and very affordable. The lamb rigatoni was al dente with the perfect amount of sauce and ground lamb. The truffle cheese on the burger was the kicker..WOW!! The roasted chicken was the most tender I've ever had, and it had very subtle, tasty spices on it. I have to admit that our waitor wasn't very knowledgeable on the food, but I really don't care. The food speaks for itself!!!

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I’ve heard so much positive chatter about Palena Café in Cleveland Park the last few years, and I finally made the visit. I’m glad I did, and I will definitely return, as it left me wanting to try more. However, the evening was not a very smooth one.

The six of us didn’t actually get to Palena until 8:30pm on a Saturday night….bad move. I already knew that wait times there were pretty bad, especially on the weekends. We wanted to sit in the Café/Bar section, which doesn’t take any reservations. We were given a 1.5 hour wait time. No worries though…most of our group ate late lunches, so we were fine with waiting. Also, the hostess takes your name and number down so she/he can call you 10 minutes prior to your table clearing up. I wish more restaurants did this. Being in Cleveland Park, we had so many options to grab a drink somewhere. We walked across the stree to Alero, and had some sangria..and tried really hard not to load up on chips and salsa.

Our table was finally ready, and I was super excited. We got seated right at 10 pm. Here is the part of the night that left a very bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). As soon as we were seated, our waiter informed us to please order soon, b/c the kitchen closes at 10. I was pretty livid. We didn’t even get a chance to look at the menu, nor were we ever told by the hostess when we arrived at 8:30 pm that the kitchen closes at 10. There must be a pretty big disconnect between the front hosts and the kitchen. Anyways, I made my points to the waiter, who apologized profusely. Ok, fine…I just let it go, as I was too excited to eat anyways. He ended up being perfectly fine the rest of the evening.

On to the menu....the great thing about sitting in the Palena Café portion of the restaurant as that it gives you the flexibility to order from both the café menu and a la carte from the main dining room menu. I don’t see why anyone would even choose to sit in the main dining room, as the café menu has a lot of great choices not to be missed out on. Well, one of the main things I wanted to try from the café menu was the Palena fries w/ dauphine potatoes, fried lemons, and zippy mayo….and they were all out!! They were also out of two other items we wanted to order: the quill shaped pasta with lamb and the sablefish. They still had the famous roasted chicken, but the waiter informed us that it took 45 minutes to make, so we didn’t bother. I was pretty disappointed, but we ended up ordering other items that turned the night around. We ended up with the below items. There were a few other dishes that others at my table ordered, but I did not try, so can’t vouch, but everyone was happy with their food.

- Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi- the gnocchi was extremely light, fluffy, and just melted in my mouth. It was the most perfect textured gnocchi I’ve ever had. You could tell a lot of care was taken with the rolling of this gnocchi, as there was not the slightest hint of overworked potatoes. However, the dressing/sauce that accompanied it was flat, and tasteless. They change the preparation up constantly, so I’m sure others fare better.
- Sturgeon & Shrimp- Very simple and incredibly flavorful and moist.
- Roasted Squab with curry spiced sauce- Excellent. The squab was incredibly tender and flavorful. It didn’t have any hint of gaminess. The accompanied sauce was also delicious, and had flavors of India. It was delicious.
- Selection of Perfectly Matured Cheeses w/ Tyrolean almond bread- Cheeses are of course delicious, but the bread that accompanies this was so soft, warm, and flavorful.

We also had two great bottles of red wine, one from Montalcino ($45) and another from Montepulciano ($54). I didn’t get to see the wine list, but I was more than happy with what was ordered. Our waiter was also very precise about pouring our wine. He gave us all equal amounts and poured little by little. I often find that at some restaurants, waiters will pour the bottle very quickly and over generously, in an effort to make you buy more.

Desserts were the sleepers of the night. We ordered 3 desserts for the table, so I think it’s a decent sampling to generalize that desserts are not their strong point. Next time, I’ll just get the cheese course for dessert. We ordered the following desserts:

- Coconut Chocolate Layer Cake w/ Coconut Ice Cream- the chocolate was bland and the coconut icing between the layers was almost dry and not creamy at all. The coconut ice cream was decent though.
- Baba au Rum Cake w/ Pineapple Ice Cream- This way too much rum and way too much pineapple syrup. All I could taste was pineapple. The flavor was just too overwhelming for me, and then served w/ pineapple ice cream on top of all that syrup….just too much of what should be a good thing.
- Rhubarb w/ Cinnamon Ice Cream- This was better than the other two, but not great. I know rhubarb is naturally tart, but this was really really tart. However, the cinnamon ice cream complimented the tartness well.

Portion sizes are on the small side for the price you pay, but I think it’s worth it. These aren’t dishes that you can easily make at home. They are very innovative, yet possess a simple, fresh quality. The dishes change very often, and the menu see on line are not their current offerings.

The restaurant is fairly sized. I didn’t get to see the main dining room in the rear. But, the café/bar portion is a good size with very comfortable seating. We were seated in a booth that fit the 6 of us very comfortably, and privately. The décor of the restaurant isn’t worth praise, but it isn’t distasteful either.

I can’t put this restaurant on my favorites list, because I need to try a whole lot more from the menu (considering most of what I wanted was out). Needless to say, I also need to get there a lot earlier!

Palena
3529 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202.537.9250

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