Palena Cafe (Closed)
3529 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Neighborhood: Upper Northwest, Cleveland Park
Cuisines: Modern, Italian, American
Open Monday through Saturday 5:30 PM to 10 PM.
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Nearby Metro Stops: Cleveland Park
Price Range: Moderate
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Needed
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.
Cafe menu, $10 to $14.
Special Features: Wheelchair Accessible, Kid Friendly
“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.