Friday, October 19, 2012


Do you want to win $100 toward your dream dinner at Palena? We thought so!  Read on....

Palena is James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Ruta's homage to "cucina genuina" or genuine cooking.  The Cleveland Park restaurant is really 3 spaces in one: 1) the Dining Room (fine dining prix fixe menu); 2) Palena Cafe (more casual a la carte experience); and 3) the Market (featuring imported and artisanal products used in the restaurant, as well as coffee, and ready-to-eat sweets and savories). 

The folks at CityEats recently gave us $50 toward our meal in the Dining Room at Palena. I logged on to CityEats to make our reservation and check out the menu. Palena requires a credit card to confirm the reservation and charges a no-show fee if you don't cancel your reservation 24 hours prior, so make sure you either stick to it or cancel!

If you're not familiar with CityEats, it is an online reservation site that works in collaboration with the Food Network to bring you a one-stop site for your dining needs.  In addition to booking reservations and checking out menus, you can read professional and user-submitted reviews, browse drool-worthy food photos, and get the inside scoop on each restaurant before you book. 

When we arrived for our 8:00 p.m. weeknight reservation, the bar and Cafe area were bustling, but the Dining Room was quiet and sufficiently walled off from the noise next door.  The Dining Room has two menu options:
  1. $75 menu where you select 3 courses from about a dozen options and get to choose a dessert from a list of a half dozen choices; and
  2. $95 set menu of 5 courses plus dessert.  You get the five courses and dessert listed on the menu and you can't substitute things from the 3 course menu to mix and match (we heard a fellow diner ask if he could).
We were impressed that the wine pairing for the 5 course menu is $51.  That's a steal compared to many wine pairing prices around town.  We also loved that they offer half bottles of wine and we were pleased with the one we ordered, but the prices on the half bottles were steep (I think the cheapest was around $55).

For maximum flexibility we ordered from the 3 course + dessert menu.  I had the Fall Salad (butternut squash, mushrooms, greens, cheese); medley of mushrooms (mushrooms, polenta, cheese in a rich tomato sauce); duck breast (with juniper sauce); and the dark chocolate torte. B had the consomme (oxtail broth, mushrooms, vegetables); lobster roe saffron pasta; cod (which he pronounced perfectly cooked but too salty); and a pear dessert.

With the addition of complimentary items including two amuse bouche, a bread basket, a pre-dessert sorbet, and a selection of sweets with the check, Palena put us into a completely blissful food coma. 

Second Thoughts From B

It was certainly a treat to be able to take advantage of CityEats' generous offer at one of the few places that remained on our DC bucket list. At the same time, it is a challenge to provide an unbiased description of our experience.  If we're too complimentary, then people will think we were bought out.  Too harsh and we must be over compensating...

As I sat there enjoying the refined atmosphere and thoughtfully constructed plates of food, I debated how I would characterize my experience.  I apologize to our non-sports loving readers out there but in my mind, Palena seems to be a "professional hitter."  Let me explain.

The title of professional hitter is given to a player who goes to bat with a plan and executes it well.  He knows his strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the other team.  He thinks about the game situation (outs, runners on base, inning, score, etc.) and determines the best approach.  Even if he fails, he makes the other team work during his at bat.

While it may seem that being a "professional hitter" is high praise, it is also somewhat of a backhanded compliment.  Professional hitters sacrifice bunt, allow a runner to steal, hit the ball to the opposite field, or hit a scoring fly ball.  Superstars don't need to do that.  They just hit homeruns.

On this night, I don't think Palena was a homerun.  A month from now, I don't know that I'll remember anything in particular about my meal with the possible exception of the pear dessert.  It was, however, a lovely evening of good food and excellent service that provided the perfect mid-week escape. 
Palena on Urbanspoon

$100 to Palena can be yours!
Now that you've had a chance to check out our thoughts on Palena, it's your chance to win your dream dinner in the Dining Room.  Check out the menu on CityEats here and leave a comment on this post or tweet us (@twodc) by 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, October 23rd a description of what you would order at Palena.  We'll choose a winner and announce it on TwoDC next week!  CityEats will give our lucky winner $100 credit toward their meal in the Dining Room (listed as Palena Fine Dining on the CityEats site).


Rose said...

Oooo, the lamb!

MaryShu said...

I have been wanting to try Palena for so long! You make it sound so tasty and tempting. If I just had a gift card to ignite my dinner there... Pick me! Pick me!

Dre said...

Terrine and Maryland Soft Shell Crab. Both sound delicious!

DCFoodDiaries said...

Yum! I would definitely have the Terrine, followed by Soft Shell Crab and the Red Snapper. My mouth is watering. Got to go.

Rachel said...

I'm a sucker for their burger! But in the Dining Room, I guess you could twist my arm to eat the Beef Cheek Terrine or the Sucking Pig "en Porchetta" :)

Laura said...

the terrine, soft shell crab, and snapper! what a great giveaway!

Mitra said...

I would like to try the soft shell crab and the suckling pig.

Amanda said...

The menu looks amazing and I can only imagine what the current one will be... From what I see though, I would love to try the Bolognese and the Lamb.

Gabriel Bayley said...

love your blog, it gives me so many great date night ideas. our anniversary is coming up and hope that you select us.

the link takes us to the Summer menu - and it sounded like you ordered from the fall menu

G would order the Terrine, Bolognese and the Lamb.

M would order the Summer Salad, Crepinette and the Snapper

thank you and keep the blog going!!!

Jackie said...

Hi! It would be a dream to have anything off the menu having never been to Palena, but the Terrine, Maryland Soft Shell Crab and Nova Scotia Halibut off this menu sound particularly appetizing!

October is MD Seafood month after all!

This is what Ruth Reichl tweeted after her visit: "Skin crisp, golden. So crisp. Flesh soft, sweet, slick, fragrant. The simplicity of great roast chicken. Last night. Palena. DC."

Shannon said...

The lamb sounds mouth watering!!!

Adam said...

Decisions? My dream dinner at Palena involves zero decisions other than wine pairing or no wine pairing. It would be me, my fiance, 2 proposed meals, and maybe a wheelbarrow to help get us out the door and back home.

jill said...

Bolognese...yum! Reminds me of my Italy trips.

Melinda Contreras said...

Definitely the lamb! There is nothing I like more than meat and potatoes!

B said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments, both here and on Twitter! To us, you're all winners. But the winner of the $100 gift card to Palena is Gabriel Bayley. Your comment put a smile on J's face and allowed you to advance to round 2 where the random number generator smiled on you. Shoot us an email with your contact information and enjoy your time at Palena!