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)
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.