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Palena


tjaehnigen
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Welcome, Bakezoid!

Thank you for your kind words. You and Al_Dente described so well the Palena Cafe phenomenon - go in with the sincere intention of ordering 'just the burger'. Then immediately succumb to the siren song of the rest of the menu. :rolleyes:

Sounds like you need to plan another trip to DC soon!

We feel fortunate to live only a couple of Metro stops away from Palena, so we can go often...probably too often...oh well, life is short, carpe diem and all that.

In fact, maybe we'll drop in this weekend - for just a burger, of course :cool:

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I live near Palena and dine there about once a month - a great restaurant it could be but for one thing - the terrible wine list! I do not get that at all. Fortunately, I have an cellar full of aged wine at home and the restaurant permits me to carry wine in for a reasonable corkage fee, but I do not understand why that restaurant does not attempt to have a better list. I am certain DonRocks, Mark Slater, and a number of other "friends of the house" would be happy to help - indeed, I understand that some have offered. Now mind you - I am not asking for Mark's wine list - but there are about 50 restaurants in this town with much better lists but next to none with better food.

Ok, I have finished venting. I want to add that the porcini/reggiano, etc., salad that is on the menu now incorporated many of the flavors of my recent trip to the Piemonte (including white truffle) - and yet was superior to most of the food I consumed there. And don't miss the jerusalem artichoke soup with mushroom froth and crispy sweetbreads.

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I live near Palena and dine there about once a month - a great restaurant it could be but for one thing - the terrible wine list!  I do not get that at all.  Fortunately, I have an cellar full of aged wine at home and the restaurant permits me to carry wine in for a reasonable corkage fee, but I do not understand why that restaurant does not attempt to have a better list.  I am certain DonRocks, Mark Slater, and a number of other "friends of the house" would be happy to help - indeed, I understand that some have offered.  Now mind you - I am not asking for Mark's wine list - but there are about 50 restaurants in this town with much better lists but next to none with better food.

Ok, I have finished venting.  I want to add that the porcini/reggiano, etc., salad that is on the menu now incorporated many of the flavors of my recent trip to the Piemonte (including white truffle) - and yet was superior to most of the food I consumed there.  And don't miss the jerusalem artichoke soup with mushroom froth and crispy sweetbreads.

You've already discovered the best way to enjoy great wine at Palena, but I do agree -- their wine list needs help.

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  • 5 weeks later...

If my friends thought I was obsessed with Palena before, they'll think I've totally lost my mind about the place now. Went last night. Ate gnocchi. Can die happy. I'm totally serious.

I had a version similar to the one described here:

The latest version is Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with butternut squash, sage and creamy Castelmagno cheese (a type of blue cheese from Italy) served with a  butter sauce. One bite will make you roll your eyes with pleasure. Then you will eat the rest of the gnocchi very slowly, so as to make it last as long as possible. 

The version served last night featured a dice of sweet potato, not butternut squash, was simply incredible. I can still taste it and I swear, if Palena were open on Sunday night, I'd be back for another go at this dish. The portion was small, but just right for I had started with the minestrone (loved, loved, loved it). $12 for the gnocchi and worth every penny.

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Yet another scrumptious soup from chef Frank Ruta: Jerusalem artichoke soup, served with crispy sweetbreads, mushroom flan, a dollop of mushroom foam and fried parsley.

Other dishes we savored for my husband’s birthday dinner last week: :wub:

Terrine of foie gras and pheasant. Apples and quince were also involved. A wonderful way to start a celebration.

Astoundingly tender venison, served with housemade pancetta, red cabbage and a croquette of potatoes and parsnip.

Gnocchi with butternut squash, sage and Castelmagno cheese, served with butter sauce, a dish that Ms. JennyUptown referenced earlier. I’ve come to accept that I cannot resist the gnocchi at Palena, no matter what else I'm ordering. Perhaps I need some sort of twelve-step program, but for now, I see no reason to resist.

Wholewheat ravolini stuffed with braised oxtail served with chestnut Bolognese sauce. I don't know if it's still on the menu, but it would be a perfect dish to order on a bone-chilling day such as this.

I’m going by memory for the descriptions, so apologies if there are any inaccuracies.

Thanks to Carolyn and Kelli for excellent service and wine pairing suggestions.

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Wholewheat ravolini stuffed with braised oxtail served with chestnut Bolognese sauce. I don't know if it's still on the menu, but it would be a perfect dish to order on a bone-chilling day such as this.

Yes, this is still on the menu - it was the other pasta I considered ordering.

Another funny thing about Palena: the bartenders are good at getting me to try drinks I think I don't like. Derek got me into gin. Jeff snuck in some tequila (!!) on Saturday via a sweet margarita and guess what? I didn't mind it at all.

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quick question: i'll be driving into d.c. tonight to visit the in-laws; is it impossible to get a table in the cafe/bar area without a reservation or on this short a notice?  there are just two of us.  or do you think it's pointless to bother?

quick answer: They don't take reservations in the cafe. Try to get two stools at the bar.

Mark

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They said they're pretty booked-up in the restaurant tonight when I was hanging out at the bar yesterday, FYI. This usually means the bar will fill up, too. Try to get there early, like by 6:30pm. I prefer eating at the bar unless I'm with more than two other people anyway. It's not pointless to bother--you really want to eat here, it's one of the best deals in town. I eat out maybe three times a month on my own dime, and usually two of those three times are at the bar/cafe at Palena.

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excelente--630ish is exactly when i plan on arriving in town, leaving plenty of time for holiday traffic between here and there. and if we have the option we generally prefer to eat at a bar when there are just the two of us. so it sounds like a plan! thanks y'all.

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i bet y'all are wondering how things turned out, aintcha? turned out that there was massive traffic at a place i didn't expect in philadelphia; there was bad weather (though nothing like they had in the midwest), and we ended up not getting to palena till 8, which i assumed would be a 'game over' type situation. however, we walked in and they had a couple spots at the bar just opening up; as it turned out it was a very light evening overall. so that was good. after one of them pickled martinis, we had the salad; we also had the duck wings; we also had the roast chicken. a couple more glasses of wine (have i mentioned how great the bartender was? he really is), and suddenly that $10 bar menu turned into meal that ran nearly a hundred bucks including a good tip and parking--BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT.

i have more to say about palena, my in-laws, restaurant experiences, etc... but i'll have to do it later. christmas night, time for bed, etc.

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there will be no burgers, no chicken ... only question is: is my stomach french and my mind english?

It was the breast of times, it was the wurst of thymes,

Dickens Don.

'twas a far far better meal that i ate several days ago then ever i did eat. indeed, the meal celebrated the termination (surely the right word and not the common, accepted "commencement") of an unstoried university life. worse yet, it also signalled the end of rational thoughts concerning the pleasures of the palate, for this meal has shattered my ability to enjoy life; this meal has broken my heart, "beause there was something which he could not pass:"

a pheasant and foie gras terrine of the most remarkable smoothness, a smoothness that most butters aspire, and fail, to reach; not to mention the peach that had been preserved in the grandest of mostarda di fruitti styles;

a trio of lilliputian-sized fishes each presented with its own preparation, triangulated on the plate over lentils that... who knows that lentils could ever taste like that?

the aforementioned jerusalem artichoke soup (is this not the strangest name for a vegetable?) deserves the plaudits it's received. and i add my own voice to the cacophanous choir that genuflects in profound, if boisterous, reverence at the alter of the puissant, sacerdotal soup monarch, frank ruta. (a cursory glance at the clock reveals a sad fact, namely it being the time of my departure to see someone off on their departure, thus a terse ending is in store and i must glance over the myriad bites we had in the course of four hours.)

in the soup, there floats the most ethereally crisp, the most perfect, PERFECTLLY disc of sweetbreads. yes, a disc of sweetbreads, not those nubbly little buggers that, delicious though they are, never have been the most sleek, suave, svelte of offal. and this is why i end here, because this garnish attenuates all that places palena as my own personal restaurant paragon: a subtle manipulation that transports a dish from mt. everest "very good" into the stratosphere, past jupiter, pluto, off into the mote of space reserved only for the transcendent, the divine, the sublime.

to the cast and crew, my very deepest, profoundest thanks. you have broken my fragile heart because i know that i (knowing my personal tastes, as i should do) will have the considerable displeasure to live in the darkest penumbra of that night always recollecting what was (the saddest word) and not what is or might be, you have delivered me to a place beyond the sun and, in so doing, have vindicated and apotheosized the quote on my signature line.

and, shattered though i may now be adrift lone and lorn in my head of reminiscences, i am forever grateful for this.

sam.

there is no love sincerer than the love of food

- george bernard shaw

i feel like love is in the kitchen with a culinary eye, think she's making something special and i'm smart enough to try

- interpol

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Went for the first time last night. I've passed by it for years but never got around to trying it.

Apparently there was some mix-up - hostess told us to wait at the bar for 20 minutes and then assumed we were going to eat right at the bar instead of a table in the bar area which we asked for. So we waited a bit. Well a little longer than a bit. They took care of us after realizing the mistake. I guess these things happen from time to time. No big deal. The food was defintely worth the extended wait.

We shared the fries which were excellent. The onion rings are especially wonderful. I had the salad, duck wings (awesome) and the chocolate torte (very, very chocolatey - super rich). My friend had a soup and a pasta dish. I'm not sure which. He really enjoyed both though.

I will be back soon. For $10 a plate food this good is a bargin!

Next time I'm going for the burger or the roast chicken.

Barry

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Looking for a quick trip to Italy without feeling the pain of the incredible shrinking dollar?

Go to Palena cafe and order the minestrone with greens and housemade sausage with fennel. Use chunks of bread to absorb every drop of the rich broth, which has a wonderful kick to it and is filled with vegetables, beans and, I believe, bits of pancetta. When you have finished your soup, sit back and sip your wine, as you eagerly anticipate your next course, which is the whole wheat pappardelle with Tuscan ragu. Twirl the tender noodles around your fork, and with your first bite, try to identify the different flavors in the delectable sauce. We’re thinking pork, beef, carrots, onions, maybe wine, perhaps a touch of cinnamon? With the second bite, give up trying to guess and just savor this dish for as long as possible. Ignore Connecticut Avenue and imagine the narrow streets of Siena. (Drinking wine throughout the meal will help with this part. :cool:)

Return home happy. Repeat as often as necessary.

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The soup is kick ass.  The ragu is, I believe, duck.

hmmm, if it was duck, so much for my ability to identify ingredients. :rolleyes:

in any case, i highly recommend this dish!

Who knew Whole Wheat pasta could taste that good????

I never would have agreed to share with Mr. BLB if I had known!

Another very nice evening, though marred slightly by a server who "forgot" to mention the cookie plate as a dessert option. We ended up sharing a lovely chocolate tart but were very sad to leave and see cookie plates on other tables. :angry:

Sigh...

Jennifer

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sadly when we went last Wednesday it was NOT. My friend was devastated - it's her favorite - until she ordered and tasted the chicken. All better now.

Last Wednesday's cafe menu was actually the briefest (is that a word?) I've seen in my six months or so of going to Palena. Minestrone soup, check. Burger, check. Fry plate, check. Chicken, obviously check.

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I finally made it to Palena for the first time the other evening, with mdt and the Busboys. The cafe menu seemed to have all the stuff on it that has been mentioned on this thread. There was the burger, the "hot dog," some pasta, pate. I had the chicken, the pate and the cheese plate. I won't go on about the chicken except to say that the previous descriptions are not exaggerated. The busboys split the hamburger and the hot dog (looked more like a big old brat to me). mdt had the burger and some boudin from the regular menu. Wine was poured and brain cells died. I'd definitely be incliined to return.

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Tonight was my first time at Palena. Service was friendly and professional.

My friend and I split the fry plate. Excellent! To me, I thought it was almost tempura like. The fried lemons were amazing! Who knew you could eat fried lemon slices? Loved the dip - does anyone know what it is?

I ordered the cheeseburger (med. rare) and my friend got the chicken. My burger rocked. It was the best burger I've had anywhere. It was perfect - juicy, perfectly pink in the middle with a crusty exterior. The cheese and spread complimented the burger well. :wub:

As for the chicken, honestly, it was a little too "herby" for my taste. Maybe I'm not used to the flavor of rosemary. However, it was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Very moist with a crispy skin. How the heck do they do that?

For dessert we got the chocolate toffee torte. Perfect! It wasn't too cloyingly sweet like some torts. Just the right amount of bitterness and the cream anglese was a nice touch. Loved the praline pecan on top!

It was a great experience and thanks to y'all for starting this thread - it was the reason I went! :smile:

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