Owners Frank Ruta and Ann Amernick met when they were cooking at the White House. Ruta has had experience in French, Italian, and American kitchens; Amernick is recognized as one of the nation's best pastry chefs. The result of their combined talents at Palena is Modern American cooking in the best sense, using the freshest ingredients and borrowing from many culinary traditions.
The menu changes frequently, but diners can choose three, four, or five courses at $55, $62, or $69. A meal from the autumn menu might have started with a Jerusalem artichoke soup garnished with crisply fried veal sweetbreads, continued with a wonderful house-cured bacon, and gone on to Muscovy Duck Two Ways, the breast grilled and the leg braised. Amernick's dessert menu might range from a sophisticated cashew dacquoise to a homey plate of cookies with her house-made caramels.
Besides having a full dinner at Palena, there's the option of eating at the cafe in the front dining room, where you can order à la carte from the dining-room menu or from a casual menu, on which every item is $10 or $13, that includes half a roast chicken, a marvelous truffled cheeseburger, and a plate of fried potatoes, onions, and thin slices of Meyer lemon.
Palena, 3529 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-9250; palenarestaurant.com. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner in the main dining room, Monday through Saturday for dinner in the cafe.