100 Best Restaurants 2011: Palena and Palena Cafe
Comments () | Published January 18, 2011
100 Best Restaurants 2012 100 Best Restaurants (2011) 100 Best Restaurants (2010)

Palena
Address: 3529 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202-537-9250
Neighborhood: Upper Northwest, Cleveland Park
Cuisines: Modern, American
Opening Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday 5:30 PM to 10 PM.
Nearby Metro Stops: Cleveland Park
Price Range: Very expensive
Dress: Upscale Casual
Noise Level: Intimate
Reservations: Recommended
Best Dishes Roast chicken; truffled cheeseburger; any of the soups; any pâté, terrine, or sausage; pastas; cookie plate.
Price Details: Three-course menu, $57; four-course menu, $66; five-course menu, $75.

Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.

Good news for anyone who’s spent an hour waiting his or her turn for a truffled cheeseburger at the no-reservations cafe that fronts Frank Ruta’s Cleveland Park dining room: Expansion into a space next door means 100 extra seats devoted to his more casual—and less expensive—menu. Although not much in the cafe tops $20, Ruta makes his cooking there feel just as important as the five-course meals offered in the chandeliered back room.

Terrines, such as a silky rabbit version with sweet mostarda, are as well crafted as you’ll find. His freshly made gnocchi and other pastas are always excellent. And his soups, whether a rustic minestrone or foie gras pot-au-feu, emerge complex and comforting.

The same principles apply in the dining room, where the ever-changing menu offers three choices for each course. There, the gnocchi get more refined, made with sweet potatoes and served in a skillet with Calasparra rice and Parmesan. Ruta’s fish dishes tend to be restrained—meats, such as a cut of tender young pig over sunchokes, and pheasant with foie gras are often better bets.

Accordingly, there’s a new feature in the cafe: a $50-a-person nose-to-tail dinner, which requires a day’s notice and is served family style for six or more.

Also good: Fritto misto with oysters, lemons, and rockfish; deviled eggs; aromatically seasoned roast chicken; monkfish persillade; tagliatelle with shrimp, chilies, and bread crumbs; cookie plate with caramels; pear-custard tart.

Dining room open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Cafe open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

>> See all of 2011's Best Restaurants

 

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 01/18/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews