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I love solo dining. at a table, not the bar. My opportunities are limited and the dining landscape has changed in the 12 years since BL-7th grader arrived and my time became less my own. A few weeks ago I tried at Duck Duck Goose but they won’t take reservations for solo diners and refused to seat me without a reservation in an empty dining room. An hour plus later I had eaten mediocre Ethiopian, cried and their dining room was still 75 percent empty. I have another window this Wednesday. I will be in DC, with car. Looking to dine around 6 pm. If you miss Palena and Frank Ruta’s cooking and hospitality, where would you go?
They opened the night before Thanksgiving to a packed house. The staff still seems a little shell shocked from Wednesday but they reported that Friday and last night were much better. At 7:00 it was packed. It should be noted that I am an unabashed fan of Palena so I do have a bit of a bias. But on to the details.... Going to the new space tonight was like going home to the house you grew up in after your parents have remodeled. It's warm and familiar, and the people are the same, but nothing is where you remember it. Those who worked at the old Palena are clearly enjoying their new home. It's fun watching them walk around in this mix between "Holly Shit, it finally happened" excitement and a sort of fog of "we are still Palena but we can't always find the champagne glasses because they are in a new place." The service isn't perfect and kitchen isn't yet up to speed and they know it. But they are in better shape than I've seen at other restaurants who are three days in. And the old timers on the staff are having a great time sharing their new digs. The menu is still a Chef Ruta'esque menu but there are signs that Jonathan Copeland is running the kitchen. Deviled eggs, duck rillets and one other item start the menu. The deviled eggs are a perfect example how good basic American food can taste when made with farm fresh ingredients. The main menu has a number of choices which are familiar: the burger, roasted chicken, gnocci and Caesar salad. The fries are there too, but it's only the shoestring, not the lemon or anything else you would find in the cafe (which is still operating in its regular manner). New additions include a pate, an antipasti which includes buratta, a veal dish and a steak. Finally, there are about half a dozen vegetable sides which I think are all $7. Seasonal veggies are of course the highlight. I had cauliflower ragu with a small, round pasta. It's warm and comforting with Chef's classic tomato ragu with black olives.. The pasta to cauliflower ratio was higher on the pasta side than I would like though since it's a vegetable side dish. For a main I had the gnocci with meat ragu. The soft pillows of gnocci are the same ones found in the other two dinning rooms. The final big new item is that there is a head to tail beef dinner which will be served family style. There is a minimum of 6 people and you have to give at least 24 hours notice but it only costs $50. I don't have any other details but already have plans to go. --- Click here to read Palena Cafe posts written before Thanksgiving, 2010 (interspersed with the main dining room thread since it previously offered both menus). And, had you not randomly met some guy sitting next to you at the bar many years ago, this website might not exist.
It's almost Thanksgiving. Xmas is approaching. Time for a fun post about something simple, delicious and increasingly available. I've noticed recently a "new" baked delight popping up in more than a few local outlets. Called "Zeppole" or "Zeppoli" in Italy depending on whether northern or southern versions, the much-loved Italian donut deserves a bit of spotlight here on DR.com. I've had them recently at Palena Coffee Shop (where, despite the Italian/Meditrerranean emphasis of the menu, they label them "donut holes," I guess to be more "coffee shop" like). And, this week they were one of two dessert options at pricey Del Campo. I saw them at one other place recently but can't recall where. I know that Casa Luca also sells them but I haven't tried those yet. Zeppole are basically what we Americans know as "munchkins" or "donut holes" but as, with so many things that have been "imported," what Dunkin Donuts did to the zeppole surely must be seen as criminal. Real zeppole are light, small, slightly crispy and may be filled with all manner of ingredients, ranging from ricotta to fruit and sweets, depending on the region of Italy and the occasion. Personally, my favorite zeppole are simple, without any filling, and served with excellent coffee. I've had them in Italy, where they often come in paper cones and are sold on the street during festivals and other times. They're also a popular gift. Locally, I'm not sure if my recent spottings are indicative of a ful-blown trend focused on the specialized donut but thought it might be fun to start a topic since, well, when made well, they are good and less overwhelming than full-sized donuts, cro-nuts (egads!), beignets or what have you. But, let's get down to business. First, there's a real history to Zeppole and they have the obligatory Wiki page. The Festival of St Joseph (March 19th), celebrated nationwide in Italy, and Feast of Saint Gennaro (Sept 19) are focal points for zeppole, where they are sold, given and consumed as a central part of the celebrations. There's even a more-or-less-agreed-upon founder: Giada has a recipe and, though she is a beautiful mega-star whose culinary chops are often questioned, the woman does know a bit about Italian cooking, right? Surprisingly, there may be a Big Market Opportunity ("BMO") for a well-researched book, simply titled "Zeppole!" The exclamation mark on that would be key along with the right photo (which can be conveniently chosen from the two I've attached below). Go ahead, type the word into Amazon's search window and you'll see. Nothing. Just a bunch of big Italian or baking themed cookbooks with zeppoles tragically relegated to page 242 with nary a word beyond a recipe. Surely the history and cultural aspects of the small Italian donut could support its own tome. An author would just need to do the requisite primary research traveling from Sicily and Sardinia to northern Italy, preferably in summer and with real focus on Naples and Rome, to do the right kinds of interviews and taste testing. If such a would-be author reads this and wants an assistant, please PM me. Zeppole seem like a very fun and easily made component for end-of-year holiday parties and dinners. And, because they are supposed to be fried in olive oil, they're surely even healthier than Big Donuts (capitalized like Big Oil for effect). Personally, I really like zeppole and it never occurred to me as a child that the "munchkins" on offer at northeast Dunkin' Donuts had any distant relation to something that was, well, really good and almost magical when in the right cultural context rather than scooped up twelve for two bucks along the Mass Pike. Though like many I'm growing a bit tired of the various incessant hot and quick-buck food trends (cupcakes being just the best example), I'd welcome a first Zeppole shop in greater DC if they were made true to the original recipe and paired with a high-quality coffee roaster. Then again, this was pithily attempted in New York's East Village and that didnt go well. Guess it really is all about location. 14UP anyone? So, in closing, go sample some good Zeppole. Bake Zeppole! Give Zeppole! And a very Happy Thanksgiving to all.
I generally think that a restaurant should not post a menu outside unless it's accurate. On the other hand, I can't identify with someone arguing over $2 for a burger, especially if that person then says the customer service is "shitty." This isn't a customer service issue per se - the restaurant is simply charging what's on its inside menu. I'm not sure that a restaurant is "bound" by its outside menu? Were there fine prints not mentioned? Why was the manager inexcusable? I was surprised that so many of Tom's chatters came out for the writer. The way he tells it (for some reason I'm pretty sure it's a he), he pushed back ten or more times. Dude. It's two bucks. Ask about it once, maybe twice, and if you don't like the answer, leave and tell them why. Reading his diatribe, I was half expecting him to move on to waterboarding if the manager hadn't capitulated. Incidentally, after making that much of a stink, I was amazed that he actually stayed and ate. Palena should have agreed that they made a mistake and charged him the $12 from the get-go, but their staff should get a freaking medal for providing him with "not rude" service after that. Sounds like pretty non-shitty customer service to me.