100 Best Restaurants 2012: Palena Café
Gnocchi. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Comments () | Published January 12, 2012
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.


If we had to choose one chef to prepare a meal, it would probably be Frank Ruta, whom other chefs call a "chef's chef." That's a nice way of saying he doesn't do publicity, doesn't make the rounds of the dining room, and pursues his craft with fanatical devotion. Ruta's profile might suffer as a result, but his diners don't.

Palena is two restaurants under one roof: a softly lit dining room with some formality and a casual cafe where the smell of the wood grill fills the air. The former is a stage for Ruta the exacting artist, weaving French and Italian influences into a cuisine that resembles no other. The latter showcases the chef's pastas, expertly roasted chicken, and cheeseburgers.

What to get: In the dining room, coddled egg with smoked shoat and trumpet mushrooms; any soup; chicken ballotinewith mustard sauce; halibut with grapes and celery; beet ravioli in goat-cheese sauce. In the cafe, meatballs in abruzzese sauce; fritto misto; Sicilian-style braised swordfish; the area's best gnocchi.

Dining room open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Cafe open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to very expensive.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 01/12/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews