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Palena


tjaehnigen
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My wife and I are planning on going there in a few weeks and I'd like to get some recent opinions on the place. We opted to go to Palena since we've never been and we'll head to Tosca at some other date (this time to sample the full menu, we've previously eaten there twice during restaurant weeks).

TIA

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I was at Palena a few months ago when we spontaneously ended up dining out.

Our reservations were late and things were winding down - Thus the service seemed a bit slow...

But the food was very good - You can get a 3 or 4 course meal (w/ or w/o cheese plate) sitting at the main dining area. I was a bit disappointed with the desserts tho, but maybe it was just a bad night.

There is also a bar menu where each plate is $9 - I have not experienced this menu, however.

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I was at Palena a few months ago when we spontaneously ended up dining out.

Our reservations were late and things were winding down - Thus the service seemed a bit slow...

But the food was very good - You can get a 3 or 4 course meal (w/ or w/o cheese plate) sitting at the main dining area.  I was a bit disappointed with the desserts tho, but maybe it was just a bad night.

There is also a bar menu where each plate is $9 - I have not experienced this menu, however.

The desserts were not so good, huh? I though, what is her name, Ann Americk, was the pastry chef and that the desserts were supposed to be great... Man I hope it was just an off night.

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It's not that they weren't good, but as you said, she's a pastry chef and I guess I was just expecting something more.. Inventive.

But again, we were among the last people to dine that evening and I'm sure the staff was tired and things maybe were not as fresh as they might have been earlier in the evening :) I will still go back as I believe the main courses were excellent.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm intrigued by something you wrote Cadmia, why did you expect something more inventive? Was the "cuisine" which preceeded the desserts inventive and if so, how?

From your next comment "It's not that they weren't good," we are supposed to take from that that the desserts were good, right? Which ones did you try?

Do you recall how many apps, entrees and desserts you ordered and what your check came to? Did you get Ann's very nice little caramels as a petits fours?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Steve:

I got a cake of some sort, unfortunately, I can't really recall the details.

The cake was good, but it just seemed to me to be, well, a cake. I had read the Ann had a pastry shop and was quite known for pastries and desserts and I guess I was expecting a bit more.

I believe when we went there was an option of a three or four course meal: app., entree, optional cheese course, and dessert - It was based off the entree price if I recall correctly (my boyfriend generally pays, so I don't always have the best recollection). I think it was fairly reasonable, maybe $150? With wine?

The one stand out I had was a gnocchi (am I spelling this right?) - That was really fantastic, great texture, great flavor, and a nice introduction to something I was not very familiar with.

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Thanks for that response Cadmia, but without a better recollection of your meal or any real specifics all we really have to go on is what you conveyed, which is too general and vague to get us anywhere. We'd benefit knowing more of the what and why of your experience and at this late date that's not possible.

But I can tell you one thing--pastry shop desserts and restaurant desserts are two different animals. Ann has been the most well-known pastry chef in this city for years, getting several Beard nominations for best pastry chef nationally over a long career. I think you have to evaluate her wedding cakes and her work at the pastry shop apart from the restaurant plated dessert work--just as you might evaluate what a chef does in his restaurant versus his line of takeaway products for sale in a market.

The first questions I ask as a diner--this being a pastry chef myself--is 1) are the desserts good and 2) do the desserts follow the food in an appropriate style? And that's where I called you on your use of "inventive." There are many good pastry chefs who work in a traditional style who aren't inventive. Taking the opposite tack, a pastry chef who might lean toward being inventive is not good because he's inventive--he's good because he's good and happens to be doing interesting, creative work.

And in terms of the overall experience--as long as the food and the desserts match up in terms of style--be it traditional, interesting, creative, conservative, inventive--I think that's what is ultimately important.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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What I am hoping for when I go to Palena this week is a great dining experience. And yes, this will most definitely include dessert. What I choose for dessert depends largely on how stuffed I am after the main part of the meal. Sometimes, I eat lighter during the main meal and I want a big dessert, other times it is the other way around. I hope to find desserts that range from dense and decadent monstrosities to light and perfect Napoleons and fruit-based desserts. I wouldexpect, given this pastry chef's reputation, for the desserts to be extremely well executed, or inventive (ie different from your typical run of the mill desserts in the sense of flavor combinations & presentations) or, better yet, BOTH (droooool).

I am definitely looking forward to dining at Palena. heh heh

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What I am hoping for when I go to Palena this week is a great dining experience. And yes, this will most definitely include dessert. What I choose for dessert depends largely on how stuffed I am after the main part of the meal. Sometimes, I eat lighter during the main meal and I want a big dessert, other times it is the other way around. I hope to find desserts that range from dense and decadent monstrosities to light and perfect Napoleons and fruit-based desserts.  I wouldexpect, given this pastry chef's reputation, for the desserts to be extremely well executed, or inventive (ie different from your typical run of the mill desserts in the sense of flavor combinations & presentations) or, better yet, BOTH (droooool).

I am definitely looking forward to dining at Palena. heh heh

Tj,

When you go, Kelly is the lady to talk to. Ask for her. She runs the place and buys the wine. Tell her your friend Mark from Citronelle :biggrin: sent you. Ask her what her favorites are on the winelist.

Mark

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I went on Monday night for cafe. Had a bunch of stuff which was all quite good. Fry plate, haricot vertes, peach and honeyed eggplant salad, noodles with rabbit, roast chicken (killer) and cod with parsley-potato nage. Everything was well seasoned and cooked perfectly. All a value at $9 each.

I would expect it to be even better in the dining room. Wine list, albeit short, had quite a few things that I thought were bargains. Drank a '96 Vosne-Romanee, which after it was iced briefly (it was room temp) was delicious for $75 (producer forgotten). Good time, will go back for dining room shortly (haven't been for a few years).

Desserts: Cookie/caramel plate and blueberry-sour cream cake with anglaise which where both really simple and really good. I like her caramels a lot.

Look forward to your comments, tjaehnigen.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Patio as in outside?

It was raining like hell outside.

I really like the front area, can't wait for wintertime and Bordeaux etc.

I was the guy with the black-haired girl sitting closest to the back dining room.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Bill;

It's in the front of the place, I don't think they take reservations. I went on a Monday a few weeks ago and it was half full or so. I would just call before you are planning on going to see if it's busy or not. It's a good feeling on a Monday, the restaurant isn't open, so it's really mellow. Frank was there that night, I'm not sure he'll be there all the time, but I would guess that he would.

I would run and not walk there.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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But I can tell you one thing--pastry shop desserts and restaurant desserts are two different animals.  Ann has been the most well-known pastry chef in this city for years, getting several Beard nominations for best pastry chef nationally over a long career.  I think you have to evaluate her wedding cakes and her work at the pastry shop apart from the restaurant plated dessert work--just as you might evaluate what a chef does in his restaurant versus his line of takeaway products for sale in a market.

Steve -

that point was echoed in the Post's readers comments to a generally favorable Beattie review of Amernick, the bakery, last winter. There was little dispute of the high quality embodied in the pastry (one exception) at the bakery. Several people took exception to the atmosphere, help, and hours of the bakery itself.

A good dessert should complete and crown a fine meal, as you say. Or, perhaps, on its own, create a new memory. But, in Cadmia's case, the expectations and the experience diverged. Perhaps that's the curse of being so successful for so long that customers expect a surpassing experience every time out of the gate.

Based on this thread, I'll definitely add Palena (and perhaps a stop by Amernick) on my next DC visit...

Amernick by Beattie

Paul

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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  • 2 weeks later...

E. and I had dinner at Palena tonight. We each decided to get the four-course menu (Palena only does prix fixe, three four or five courses). We were seated at a table that I thought was surprisingly small for a restaurant that charges what Palena charges. There was a table almost exactly the same size right next to us that was set for three! I appreciated that I didn't bump against any other tables while walking to ours, but would have liked a little more space for our plates.

I selected the antipasto palanese as my starter, john dory as my entree, and the cheese course as my first three courses. E. chose pancotto col pomodoro, potato gnocchi, and then the john dory for his first three. Room temperature bread arrived, a rustic white Italian crusty bread and a similar whole wheat specimen, with (YES!) room temperature, rich butter. We snacked away and I sipped on a campari.

The antipasto and the pancotto arrived shortly. The antipasto had a large cloudlike ball of buffalo mozzarella at its center, surrounded by fresh springlike leaves of spinach. Three tiny heirloom carrots were tucked to the left. Three balsamic-glazed beets: red, pale yellow and one that looked surprisingly like proscuitto in color, were arranged on the plate. And a single cippolini onion graced the plate. Several shaved rounds of housemade fennel salami completed the plate. The salami was not as licorice-y as I'd expected; the fennel flavor was a nice background to the fat/salt/meat flavors and was cut with black peppercorns. The beets were perfect in their soft texture and earthy flavor. E. had a hard time keeping his mitts off my salty mozzarella. The pancotto, a bread and tomato soup, tasted of August tomatoes and was gently warm and comforting. It came topped with a poached egg.

E.'s gnocchi were absolutely perfect in every manner. It's so difficult to make gnocchi that aren't leaden, or waterlogged, or gummy. They came topped with a pesto-type sauce and sprinkled with red tomato brunoise.

The John Dory was crisply seared on top, set on a small puddle of oregano and olive oil. Pieces of chard leaves, dark and mineral-y, were scattered across the bowl, and there were several Manila clams gracing the dish. The clams were saline, tender, what I always hope I'll taste when I sample a clam. There were a few pieces of fingerling potato, which seemed a bit undercooked for my tastes. They were a little too chewy.

For the cheese course, we were served plenty of cheese to satisfy us both. A wine-rubbed pecorino, a chunk of bra cheese, a very goaty goat cheese, a piece of truffle-infused soft cow's milk cheese, and an assertive roquefort were placed on a small dish between us. Four slices of Tyrolean almond bread, packed with dried fruit, accompanied the cheeses. The bra cheese was a special favorite for both of us, creamy and unctuous. E. was fond of the pecorino, a cheese that I was familiar with because it was on the menu at Ortanique and I'd cut it for cheese platters as part of my job there.

For dessert, I chose the cashew dacquoise while E. selected the chocolate-coconut cake. The dacquoise was shaped into two rounds with a rich cashew filling in between. A quenelle of bitter chocolate sorbet rested atop kumquat confit to the side. The dacquoise was extremely sweet, the sorbet extremely bitter, and the confit extremely acidic. I love flavors that take me to the edge of what I can accept, but these flavors were almost too much for me to take. E.'s cake was a rich, layered concoction with a coconut frosting. A quenelle of coconut sorbet to the side was topped with a small, dense rectangle of chocolate torte. I thought the sorbet was the best part of his plate; it was light and fresh tasting, while the cake seemed a little heavy. A cookie plate was also brought to us with our desserts: an amusing animal cracker (with pink frosting!), a chocolate chip cookie, a caramel, a diamante, and various macarons, almond cookies and French-style butter cookies were included in the plate. The cracker won major points for being both amusing and crisp-light. Ann Amernick's caramels are rightly renowned, buttery-rich and the right balance of sweet and bitter. We also liked the chocolate chip cookie, which was chunky and had a soft interior that melted against the crisp exterior. I thought a lot of the other cookies were too sweet and not easily differentiated. How many almond and butter cookies does one cookie plate require? More fruit, chocolate, nut flavors would have been a welcome addition to the assortment.

Would I go back? Absolutely. I was impressed with how fresh and perfect many of the ingredients were. And the chef clearly knows how to treat such good ingredients with respect. This was one of the better meals I've had in Washington.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Finally made it to Palena last night and nearly everything was very good (those same gnocchi Malawry descibes and the late summer salad with a dressing that included truffles and almonds) to excellent (the trio of pork - tenderloin, house-made bacon and a garlicky sausage was very satisfying and the sweet corn raviolini improved on the taste of the best summer corn on the cob I have ever had). The only real miss was the tomato and bread soup which tasted mostly of salt.

And the caramels that come with the cookie plate could turn me off forever to mass made caramel.

Looking forward to going back to try the bar menu soon.

Bill Russell

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Finally made it to Palena last night and nearly everything was very good (those same gnocchi Malawry descibes and the late summer salad with a dressing that included truffles and almonds) to excellent (the trio of pork - tenderloin, house-made bacon and a garlicky sausage was very satisfying and the sweet corn raviolini improved on the taste of the best summer corn on the cob I have ever had). The only real miss was the tomato and bread soup which tasted mostly of salt.

And the caramels that come with the cookie plate could turn me off forever to mass made caramel.

Looking forward to going back to try the bar menu soon.

How was the service? That is always mentioned as an issue.

Mark

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We were seated promptly and the waiter was efficient and friendly, if maybe a little more casual than you might expect in a place like this.

He claimed that they were having a bad night and brought us two extra glasses of wine to make up for it, but we hadn't noticed any problems.

Their Visa computer (I don't really know how the system works) was down, so it took a while to get our check back and we had a gift certificate from Open Table that he forgot to credit at first.

But all in all I thought the service was fine. But I'd take overly friendly to overly formal any day.

Edit: In thinking about this post I realized that I was maybe wrong in what I said. I would take PLEASANTLY friendly over ARROGNANTLY formal. Simple formality IS much better than the sit down at the table, flair wearing, "hey, how's it going" style you see all too often.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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  • 2 months later...
Now here this, now here this

Isn't this supposed to be "now hear this, now hear this?" (-5)

there's this organic greens / trunip / parsnip

What exactly is a trunip? A Gale Gand root vegetable? (-5)

This is a soup that you bow down on the ground for, and lick whatever the hell they tell you to lick
language (-10)
Not to dismiss such a wonderful sounding sandwich, but ... fuck the hot dog
language (-10)

Nice post Rocks. You get a 70.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Now here this, now here this

Isn't this supposed to be "now hear this, now hear this?" (-5)

there's this organic greens / trunip / parsnip

What exactly is a trunip? A Gale Gand root vegetable? (-5)

This is a soup that you bow down on the ground for, and lick whatever the hell they tell you to lick
language (-10)
Not to dismiss such a wonderful sounding sandwich, but ... fuck the hot dog
language (-10)

Nice post Rocks. You get a 70.

"A mind is a terrible thing to lose" - Dan Quayle addressing the United Negro College Fund.

Mark

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