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Cheap Eats 2007: Palena Cafe
Comments () | Published July 13, 2007
100 Best Restaurants (2010)

Palena Cafe
Address: 3529 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202-537-9250
Neighborhood: Upper Northwest, Cleveland Park
Cuisines: Modern, Italian, American
Opening Hours: Open Monday through Saturday 5:30 PM to 10 PM.
Nearby Metro Stops: Cleveland Park
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Upscale Casual
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Needed
Best Dishes Fried lemons, onion rings, and potatoes dauphinoise; house-made hot dog with German potato salad; roasted chicken; cheeseburger; raviolini stuffed with duck or oxtail; corned brisket; gnocchi; charcuterie.
Price Details: Cafe menu, $10 to $14.

“Would you like to let the wine mature, or shall I pour it right away?” Not what you’d expect to hear at a place where the star of the menu is a burger.

But this is the relaxed, no-reservations front cafe attached to Palena, Frank Ruta’s elegant dining room. In the cafe you get all the trappings of four-star dining—a proper fish knife arrives when you order a lemony cut of sturgeon—and casual doesn’t mean careless.

The rich spring-green aïoli next to Ruta’s terrific rabbit sausage is the best sausage-and-onions in town. A lovely poached guinea hen terrine comes with a mini chicory salad and no fewer than three kinds of pickled fruits and vegetables. And that burger? Its sesame bun, mayo, and pickles are all made in-house, and it’s sheathed with luxurious black-truffle-infused cheese.

While much of the ever-changing menu, be it a sharable plate of cod fritters or that dainty guinea hen terrine, hovers around $14 a dish, a cocktail and dessert will bump up the tab. Still, this is a chance to sample the cooking of one of the city’s most talented chefs without having to really splurge.

Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

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Posted at 11:48 AM/ET, 07/13/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Restaurant Reviews