100 Best Restaurants 2010: Palena / Palena Cafe
No. 18: Palena and Palena Cafe
Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Cynthia Hacinli, Ann Limpert, Rina Rapuano, Kate Nerenberg
Comments () | Published January 2, 2010
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.

Cuisine: You won’t see chef Frank Ruta crisscrossing town to hit his other restaurants (he doesn’t have others), or hawking his book (he hasn’t written one), or doing publicity events (he claims shyness). Almost without fail, Ruta stays in his kitchen, a subterranean lab where he churns out an array of French- and Italian-inspired dishes for his restaurant and casual cafe that ride the border between lustiness and elegance.

Mood: This is two restaurants in one, so it depends: The one in the back, more formal, conjures a drawing room, all faded elegance. Up front is the cafe, a casually elegant setting where diners feel free to carry on and pass plates.

Best for: Jaded palates.

Best dishes: An Asian-spiced roast chicken; truffled cheeseburger; any of the exquisite and wholly original soups; any pâté, terrine, or sausage that appears on the nightly menu; the rotating roster of pastas, ranging from a simple and immensely satisfying pappardelle with ragu to more intricate and refined arrangements; cookie plate.

Insider tips: On Mondays, Ruta combines his cafe and restaurant menus, making for interesting high/low eating full of variety and affordability; diners can, if they wish, have a burger and a delicately roasted turbot, too.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 01/02/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews