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« I don't know what to write about so I'll just post a picture of my son | Main | Fava Beans - A How To? »

Fri, Apr 14 2006 at 02:09 PM

Palena - Epiphanies can be Motherf**kers

Posted by Jason, Apr 14, 2006

Thursday night, I think I finally got Palena.

For the first time while dining at Palena's more casual bar, I was completely fullfilled and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that my friend and I ordered the chicken and dessert. In my prior trips to Palena I always left hungry and wanting more.

Our dinner started out fairly uneventful.

Some wine and beer.

(complaint #1 - no beers on tap. Don't they call this Palena Bar?)

Bread and butter.

(complaint #2 - Is it so hard to leave butter out for a little bit before bringing it to the table? Major pet peeve of mine)

(end complaints)

Our first course consisted of the Palena fries and nettle gnocchi. As usual the gnocchi, on a bed of butter and cheese and mixed with fava beans, had its pillowy-soft texture which I crave daily and use as a basis for comparison whenever I eat gnocchi anywhere. The Palena fries were, well...fries. The fried lemon slices were especially good in the spicy "mayonnaise" that came with them on the side. When we were done, my friend and I were like, "Yeah, that was pretty good. Next course."

After a little wait, our entrees came out. My brined organic chicken looked like it had been tossed in a fire for 30 seconds and taken out. It had this charred (but not burnt) look to it and was fairly crispy on the outside. I smelled aromas that reminded me of the tandoori chicken that you'd find at an Indian restaurant -- but didn't look anything like it. However, it was 50x better than any chicken I'd ever tasted. Perhaps the tandoori chicken thought popped into my head because my friend and I were talking about Indian food just before the food was brought over to the table, but there are definitely Indian spices in this chicken -- cardamon, curry, etc. The moans coming from my mouth were enough to convince my vegetarian friend to try it himself.

I had just a little taste of my friend's pappardelle primavera (sans pancetta) to tell me that I should continue eating my chicken. While it was good, it didn't hold a candle to my chicken and I felt bad for my dining companion -- which brings me to my next point. Palena's menu (at least this version of the bar menu) isn't terribly vegetarian friendly. While I'm not one to usually sympathize with the plight of the dining vegetarian, I felt kind of bad for dragging my vegetarian friend to Palena. Perhaps this is an issue everywhere though.

(OK, maybe that's half a complaint as well)

Our meal still hadn't peaked. When it came time to order dessert, I knew we had to get some due to the pastry chef being Ann Amernick. One look at the menu and my friend and I knew we had to order the goat cheesecake. "Goat cheesecake??" I asked. I also ordered the espresso ice cream sandwiches.

They put the goat cheesecake down in front of my friend. Lucky bastard. The ice cream sandwiches were good and probably better than most desserts I've had, but the goat cheesecake was heavenly. It was topped with creamy lemon meringue which added a sweet yet tart flavor and complimented the goat cheese. The texture was perfect - not dry, lumpy, or too soft, but still smooth, creamy with just the right amount of cakiness. This was SOOO GOOD! And the meal reached it climax...wait for it...now.

Our server was very professional and courteous the entire time and despite the warning of the 45-minute wait for the chicken, I really didn't notice that our entrees took long to come out. My wine glass was kept full the entire time - every time our server came by, if my glass was empty, he'd notice and ask me if I wanted a refill.

Three glasses of white burgundy, two beers, gnocchi, fries, chicken, pappardelle, cheesecake, ice cream sandwiches and coffee cost us about $95 before tip. A seriously good value for the quality of food we ate. Sigh. I need to go back.

Two hours later, I returned home to Amy. The first thing she asked when I came in the door: "Where's my gnocchi?"

Whoops. I forgot! To the dog house with me.

On a related topic, there's an entire thread at DR.com on how to duplicate the top secret recipe of The Palena Chicken. I might need to join in myself.

Categories: Cleveland Park, Foodie Experiences, Italian, Restaurant Reviews
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Laura

My husband and I have been saying that we have to go to Palena (actually we mentioned that just today), and it sounds like its worth it for the desserts!

But, Jason, what I really want to know about is that cheese steak in your recent photos. Where is South Street Steaks?

anon

SSS is in College Park.

I left DC

Just a word to the wise: avoid the main dining room at Palena. We had depressingly mediocre food for quite a lot of money, along with some of the most aggressively bizarre and unpleasant service in memory. Sounds like the bar is good, though.

DU

I would agree about skipping the dining room and going to the bar. I recently ate in the main dining room after hearing all the rave reviews, and was severely disappointed. The food was lacking in creativity in presentation and flavor, and the service was dreadful. However, the bar area is fantastic, especially for the price. I think the overwhelming positive review for Palena are based on the bar section, and not the dining room. At least, I hope so, because if not, the reviewers should be shot.

Jason

I think it's pretty clear that this review is about the bar section, but if not, then now you know.

nikki

2nd visit - food so good. got sick the next day both times. a few months ago we ate in the dining room, had a lovely friday evening meal with fantastic service. the next day, we were both very, very sick. we just chalked it up to not having luxurious meals very often (though we eat out all the time - varying pricepoints). last night my boyfriend was in the mood for a cheeseburger, so i suggested we give the cafe a chance. LOVED my food - the lamb rigatoni, was great! this morning....my tummy such great shape. not sure what's happening, but i think i'll have to steer clear!

Jason

Definitely not food poisoning if it's not happening until the next day. Look into some digestive aids or just lay off the wine a little. :) The food at Palena can be a bit rich sometimes and taxing on the digestive system.

SB

Just went this past wkd and got the the current squab offering...delicious. It was so tender, barely any fat, and dressed in a very flavorful curry spiced sauce. Try it b/f it's off the menu.

nikki

thanks, jason. i did have wine. i will heed your advice. because the food was SO TASTY!!!

JW

Food and service (and price!)in main dining room disappointing, to echo "I left DC" and DU above. My wife and I went about a year ago for our anniversary. Palena had come highly recommended from a fellow foodie. truthfully I share the blame because I ordered a bit too adventurously. got the three course fixed price. mistake-way too much food. (i'd had the two course at Black Salt a few months before and it wasn't enough so...) first course chestnut seafood soup was a meal in itself - huge, and too rich actually but I finished it. mistake. I don't like chestnuts so who knows why i ordered it. but as part of a three course meal it should have been half the size or less because, if you're like me you're either going to finish it or have a confrontation with the waiter about boxing it up (and that's what it would have been with this waiter plus i feel foolish asking to box soup), because it IS loaded with amzing chunks of fish and I am paying ALOT for it.

Second course was salt cod (sensing a theme here?). i tried the sauce and it was incredible.. a little salty but ok, i get it, SALT cod, ocean. unfortunatley the cod itself was saltier. unbearably salty. but i ate over half of it. mistake. should have sent it back. did they forget to soak the cod to leech out the salt?

final course, sable. now, i love smoked sable. when it's good it is sublime. so i figured i would like unsmoked sable. mistake. i don't, at least the piece they gave me. it comes out and it's this disk of fish 2.5 inches in diameter and 2 iches tall. it looked like the section just before the tailfin (does anyone know more about sable?) The flavor was kinda dirty. If they were trying for something it was lost on me.

Service was, yes, agressive and annoying. there were a few things that were divine... my wife had some soup and some ravioli(?) that were amazing ( not sure, it was a year ago) and the salt cod dish would have been great with less salt in the cod. But I was jealous of the folks eating burgers i saw on the way out. I had a stomache ache that lasted until the next day.

As I said, mea culpa in large part, but there were mistakes on Palena's part and the service was unpleasant. I may try eating in the bar someday.

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