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Palena, 2007 James Beard Award Winner Frank Ruta Rocks Cleveland Park - Closed on Apr 26, 2014


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That's precisely how I interpreted it.

I used exactly the words I meant to use. The soup was terrible for the caliber of cooking I expect from that establishment, and the lemons were, as hillvalley confirms, inedible.

I don't believe in sacred cows. And, again, Heather is certainly entitled to express her opinion - I have no doubt it is unbiased. But, as I wrote earlier, I have dined at Palena over 100 times and, like Rocks, I have NEVER had ANYTHING that was "inedible" or "terrible." I'm sure I've ordered that fry plate over 50 times and while sometimes I might prefer that the lemon slices were thinner or crisper there has never been one left over.

Also I can understand that the expected caliber of cooking can contribute to the level of satisfaction or disappointment, but I fail to see how it has anything to do with a qualitative assessment. If something sucks - it sucks - whether its from the French Laundry (and i've had dishes there that sucked) or the corner dive bar. And if something is great - its great - even if its a hot dog from a street vendor. Would that "terrible" soup have been "good" if it was from the diner?

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Thank you Frank.  And to the stranger at Tonic in Mt. Pleasant who, in January of 2006, upon overhearing my conversation of where to work next, kindly urged, without hesitation, "go to Palena.  It's t

So, all of this change made me sit here and think of all of the great times I have had at Palena over the years. While this is my own intensely personal point of view, I hope you enjoy reading it, I a

There is a lesson here:  Palena was an outstanding restaurant with a supremely talented chef.  This is a huge loss for Washington. For anyone reading this:  if you passionately believe and love a re

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Dinner tonite at the bar - sublime as always. I won't regale you with how perfect my chicken and my date's burger were - that's understood - they are DC's best. I started with the beet and lobster salad - it rivals Adour's lobster salad for top honors. But the real showstopper was a dish of tender, plump mussels with broccollini, tomato, and broccollini stuffed ravioli in a delicate broth - just amazing! We ended with a delicious chocolate coconut layer cake served with coconut sorbet. For me, there is no better cook - here or anywhere - than Chef Ruta.

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Score another one for Palena for our 22nd Anniversary. This has become our go-to place for our Anniversary and it did not let us down. We stopped in this past Friday on our way home from work. While it's been a while since we've been in and it was tempting to just order a burger, we fortunately decided to go for some other items from the back menu. While the service can be slow in the cafe area, it is always welcoming and friendly.

My memory fails me on most of the details* but we did both have the beet and lobster salad--first time for Mr. Squids, although I've had it before. The cumin is a great touch, but my salad had too heavy a hand with the lime, IMHO. Still tasted good, but just not as I had remembered. Since my choices were limited, I had an extra cafe salad, while Mr. S. had the gnocchi. Described as sublime, as usual.

The haddock dish that I had for my main certainly made up for any misgivings I may have had. I can't recall all the elements, but there were brussel sprouts, which I love. The fish was crispy on top, and sweet and oh so moist. This has got to rate as one of the best fish dishes I have ever tasted. Mr. S also had a fish dish--can't recall which one, but this one had artichokes. He liked his as well, but I think mine was the winner of the two.

Finished off with coffee and the chocolate coconut layer cake served with coconut sorbet for me, and some sort of almond/caramel thingy for Mr. S. Having not had out-of-this-world desserts from Palena since Ann Amernick left, I did not have high expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. The cake reminded me of a very moist german chocolate cake and while I wouldn't necessarily order coconut sorbet on its own, the sorbet was perfectly paired with the cake.

*My memory while not great, is even worse for items that I don't get to taste. Due to allergies, I wasn't able to sample any of Mr. S' dishes, although he got to taste mine :lol:

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It's not often that I eat something and it makes me rethink a fundamental technique, but tasting the Wood Pigeon Consume made me rethink what soup can be. I love how something so simple in appearance can attain such oneness; such depth. And to appear as nothing more than a bowl of soup....wow, just wow! Everything in that bowl completed the other, like a set of dominos......when you combine that with the great pastas, the chicken and fries, the gracious service, the wonderful calamari, olives and drinks we had at Dino beforehand, I had a wonderful early birthday dinner.

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If Frank Ruta had walked out of the kitchen after my meal last night, I would have stood up and raised his hand like the victor of a heavyweight prize fight (and most likely have been promptly kicked out of the place....). I have had at least 7 different burgers at Ray's since the last time I made it to Palena, some great (Aged cheddar, heck sauce, sauteed mushrooms), some good (foie gras), and one just OK (persillade and bone marrow). However, last night confirmed what I have been saying to my wife; Palena makes a better burger. This is not to impugn the work that Michael Landrum is doing; I actually think that if you are looking for a more traditional cheeseburger, that is the way to go. But if you are looking for a smoky, buttery slab of high quality beef (cooked to an always perfect MR) on a toasted yet still soft bun covered in *just* enough mayo, Palena is your place. I simply have never had a better hamburger in my life, and it is amazingly still only $11.

Appetizers of the Roasted Beets and Maine Lobster and the Big Eye Tuna "Pastrami" were similarly outstanding. Those beets are so goddamn good they almost outshine the lobster, which was good enough to make me think about the exceptional dish I had at Citronelle a couple months back. I wasn't sure if the tuna dish was actually supposed to taste like pastrami, but it did not. It had the texture and taste of something smoked, but I didn't detect any pepper or coriander flavors that I associate with pastrami. No matter, this was still a delicious dish with the perfect accompaniments of white beans and a lightly dressed salad. I cleaned my plate of all the sauce with the (still) great bread.

Fry plate was finally legit, as the fries are long and crispy and the little dauphine are wonderfully crunchy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside. Lemons were a little stringy, but I still love the flavor enough that there were none left by the end of the meal.

Two cocktails, two glasses of wine and I still have not spent more than $100 for 2 at Palena. If I lived in Glover Park I don't think I would go to nearly as many restaurants in the metro area because it would be a hard sell to travel anywhere due to the proximity and excellence of this place for what I look at as a bargain price.

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Went to Palena last night for the first time in over a year with a couple of business contacts from LA. We all really enjoyed it - we had 2 courses + dessert which was the perfect amount of food after a conference cocktail/hors d'oueveres reception.

Here's a second vote for the Wood Pigeon Consomme. It's a nice sized bowl of perfectly seasoned broth with a couple of pigeon raviolini and slivers of foie gras, and fall vegetables. The bites I was able to steal of my dining companions' tuna pastrami and gnocchi were similarly good - I've never had a better textured gnocchi anywhere.

The guinea hen main course (can't recall all the accompaniments but seem to remember mildly curried potatoes and carrots) was even better. The meat was juicy and just slightly gamy, and the skin was crisp and delicious.

Almond caramel custard for dessert which was very good but the cinnamon ice cream with bread pudding and poached pear garnered much more rave reviews.

Service was very good although the red wine came out a touch too warm and when I asked the server to chill it for just a few minutes (it was a half bottle) he disappeared long enough that when he came back, it was now a little too cold. Minor complaint - sometimes things you wouldn't notice are amplified when everything else is perfect. Overall a great meal... hoping it's not another year before I return.

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I hadn't had a Palena burger since Central and Rays (HB) opened, so I'd somewhat forgotten just how good they are. I've had no complaints about Central burger's enormity or Ray's bun and structural integrity, but wow, Palena is really a whole different level. And still only $11. Is there a better spent $11 meal in town?

* no roast chicken on the cafe menu last night.

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Here's a second vote for the Wood Pigeon Consomme.

I'll go ahead and third this. This soup is just amazing. It looks so light, but it's really rich in flavor. I also had a very good grilled swordfish with fall vegetables off the cafe menu. Unfortunately, the night I went, the roast chicken was not on the menu (which is what I had intended to get) and they had just run out of burgers. I hope the chicken isn't permanently off the menu...

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Hi folks,

My very first post here!

I've finally tried a Palena burger after waiting for my next business trip to DC to roll around (it's been over a year since I've been to DC). I use to come out quite regularly from Santa Barbara, but this last year my business travel has been much less frequent - which I don't really mind at all.

Anyway, I found the burger refreshingly simple and direct, just a fantastic burger cooked to perfection accompanied by some delicious homemade pickles (I really like the pickled cauliflower). I can't imagine a better burger, especially for $11!

I've got another trip scheduled in early December - I'm going to comb thru the postings to see where I might want to try next...

Regards from Santa Barbara,

Randy

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But like so many places I've seemed to frequent of late, Sushi Yama is a decent, respectable, but somewhat tired neighborhood restaurant. One of my companions has finally mutinied, and I have to say I'm ready for a change as well: something really, really good - either down-home and dirty, or upscale and refined - we'll see where the wind blows me.

The Palena Function

f (Lime Marinated Seviche of New Zealand Sea Trout with parsnips and shaved Burgundy truffle

Juniper Scented Terrine of Wild Scottish Hare, pickled eggplant and radish, green tomato mostarda, mustard glazed endive

Wood Pigeon Consommé with wood pigeon raviolini, slivers of foie gras, cabbage, and tender vegetables.

Local Sunchokes roasted with dates, a lightly smoked black trumpet mushroom flan, and lemon zest in a silky sunchoke velouté with an almond froth) = !

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I'll go ahead and third this. This soup is just amazing. It looks so light, but it's really rich in flavor. I also had a very good grilled swordfish with fall vegetables off the cafe menu. Unfortunately, the night I went, the roast chicken was not on the menu (which is what I had intended to get) and they had just run out of burgers. I hope the chicken isn't permanently off the menu...

I had whatever the current variant is of this tonight. My gosh, Frank is the man when it comes to broths and consommes. I think there was even a hint of what, fenugreek? in it tonight.

And I finally tied the chicken. Why did I wait so long. It is amazing, and a head and shoulder better than the burger (and I love the burger!).

There was also a chicken liver and foie and gelatin thing with red-beet picked onion slivers on top and these barely hard boiled egg thingies. Phenomenal.

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We went to Palena Cafe tonight, and found out that this was their first open-on-Monday night in two years. We hadn't realized that they had stopped being open on Mondays. So, lucky us. They had an "extended cafe menu" which was sort of a hybrid of the regular cafe menu and the prix fixe menu. We ended up ordering old favorites--gnocchi and roast chicken. And started with a terrine of juniper-scented Scottish wild hare with pumpkin mostarda and belgian endive. Which was just flat-out fabulous. I am utterly gobsmacked by Ruta's genius at charcuterie. The gnocchi was featherlight and served with braised beef cheeks, fresh tomato and basil, with some paper-thin shavings of turnip and golden raisins. And the chicken was brined very subtly--we tasted hints of tarragon, clove and lemon, but mostly it tasted intensely chicken-y, which is not anything to complain about. The only down note of the meal was the chocolate-coconut layer cake, which was very cold and had little flavor, the texture suggesting that it had resided in a refrigerator for a few days.

We were previously at Palena a week ago and I had the famous consomme. Enough people have waxed poetic about this dish--especially Michael Landrum, who has the final word on this soup in my estimation-- that I didn't see the point in posting about it. I'll merely say that it was as good as it had been cracked up to be.

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We went to Palena Cafe tonight, and found out that this was their first open-on-Monday night in two years. We hadn't realized that they had stopped being open on Mondays. So, lucky us. <snip>

DOH...I should've swung by Palena to check! :P

Driving home last night, neither of us felt like stopping off at the grocery. Mr. S mentioned as an extended birthday celebration if RTC was open maybe we could stop there for a bite, or even possibly Palena....but I told him that both were closed on Monday evenings. Even worse, now he's catching the cold that's going around, so he certainly won't be feeling up to going out anytime soon. Sigh.

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Last night we had the Chestnut Soup and the Mixed Grill. The soup was excellent, with creme fraiche, trumpet mushrooms and octopus (!), the chestnuts lent and almost meaty quality to the soup. The mixed grill consisted of a generous rabbit sausage link, one shrimp and a grilled wedge of excellent tuna with the most perfect grill marks I've ever seen. and oh yea, we also had the goat cheese cheesecake with stewed apples, raisins, figs and prunes. Yum.

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We went to Palena Cafe tonight, and found out that this was their first open-on-Monday night in two years. We hadn't realized that they had stopped being open on Mondays. So, lucky us. They had an "extended cafe menu" which was sort of a hybrid of the regular cafe menu and the prix fixe menu.
Monday nights at Palena, where Chef and his staff have a bit of fun with the menu and the atmosphere throughout the restaurant is a bit more relaxed, is back. Old favorites, such as the artichoke and fontina panini (which I don't think has been on the menu since that wonderful summer of '04 when they served brunch) and the frito misto were back, along with a number of dishes where the chef is clearly having fun. The restaurant was about 80-90% full the entire evening.

All that was missing was a bar full of board people sharing their food.

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All that was missing was a bar full of board people sharing their food.

Say hi next time. :P

Everyone must, must, must try the "Italian-esque" sandwich. It's an Italian coldcut sub that takes everything (including Shakespeare and the Hubble telescope) to a new level. I know the sandwich sounds ordinary, but just get it and you'll see what I mean. The three-page, expanded version of the cafe menu is awesome, and I suspect it's only available on Monday nights. Go! Go! Go! And get the Italian-esque!

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I really want to like this place, but after Thursday night's experience, I don't know if I will return. I'll start with the good. My swordfish was particularly juicy and fresh. My mother in law enjoyed her pasta dish. The fry plate was crisp and I liked the extra touch of fried lemon slices. The only disappointing item was the burger. The meat was obviously top notch, however the bun was oversized and too dry. The condiment and cheese also didn't add any moisture to the burger. I heard amazing things about Palena burgers, but I have to say Ray's beats Palena by a large margin.

The service on the other hand was terrible. When we arrived around 6:50 PM, there were two empty tables of two, but they weren't adjacent to each other, so they couldn't put the tables together. I was told it was going to be a 40 min wait and they'll probably give us one of the booth since the people sitting there have already received their food. There were no place to stand near the front door, so they had us waiting toward the back, right by the server station. It was just tacky. We waited, waited, and waited. Meanwhile we got at least three "your table will be ready soon" from various hostesses. Fastward, we waited for a total of 90 minutes and didn't end up getting a booth. They scooted two tables together and sat us. All the parties from the booth lounged for over an hour after they finished eating :P (I never lounge and I can really appreciate Ray's put their no lounging rule right by the front door ). It was really a misjudgement on the hostess part and we could have gotten our table alot sooner if they decided to put together two tables from the start. We didn't get anything complimentary or an apology from the management.

The server was also unpleasant. She spoke with a heavy accent which made it very hard for us to understand. She couldn't make any cocktail recommendations when I told her that I don't want anything too sweet or bitter. When I inquire about getting something not on the cocktail menu, she said "no, we don't make anything else". The worse was when she try to sell us salads after we already ordered. She slipped "would you like to start with some salads?" after we already placed our order. The salad she was refering to was not a starter at all. It was an $11 cafe salad that comes on a large plate, so we declined except for my mother in law who probably thought it was a small salad that couldn't have cost more than $5 or $6. She only finished half of it. The lack of clarity and the effort to up-sell was just tacky.

I am not a picky girl. I am happy as long as the food is delicious and the service is prompt and efficient. What I can not stand is when a place pretends to be fancy (multiple sets of silverwares, pretty decorations and lighting, trendy geometric plates, or dressed up hostesses) but still treats customers badly.

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I really want to like this place, but after Thursday night's experience, I don't know if I will return. I'll start with the good. My swordfish was particularly juicy and fresh. My mother in law enjoyed her pasta dish. The fry plate was crisp and I liked the extra touch of fried lemon slices. The only disappointing item was the burger. The meat was obviously top notch, however the bun was oversized and too dry. The condiment and cheese also didn't add any moisture to the burger. I heard amazing things about Palena burgers, but I have to say Ray's beats Palena by a large margin.

The service on the other hand was terrible. When we arrived around 6:50 PM, there were two empty tables of two, but they weren't adjacent to each other, so they couldn't put the tables together. I was told it was going to be a 40 min wait and they'll probably give us one of the booth since the people sitting there have already received their food. There were no place to stand near the front door, so they had us waiting toward the back, right by the server station. It was just tacky. We waited, waited, and waited. Meanwhile we got at least three "your table will be ready soon" from various hostesses. Fastward, we waited for a total of 90 minutes and didn't end up getting a booth. They scooted two tables together and sat us. All the parties from the booth lounged for over an hour after they finished eating :P (I never lounge and I can really appreciate Ray's put their no lounging rule right by the front door ). It was really a misjudgement on the hostess part and we could have gotten our table alot sooner if they decided to put together two tables from the start. We didn't get anything complimentary or an apology from the management.

The server was also unpleasant. She spoke with a heavy accent which made it very hard for us to understand. She couldn't make any cocktail recommendations when I told her that I don't want anything too sweet or bitter. When I inquire about getting something not on the cocktail menu, she said "no, we don't make anything else". The worse was when she try to sell us salads after we already ordered. She slipped "would you like to start with some salads?" after we already placed our order. The salad she was refering to was not a starter at all. It was an $11 cafe salad that comes on a large plate, so we declined except for my mother in law who probably thought it was a small salad that couldn't have cost more than $5 or $6. She only finished half of it. The lack of clarity and the effort to up-sell was just tacky.

I am not a picky girl. I am happy as long as the food is delicious and the service is prompt and efficient. What I can not stand is when a place pretends to be fancy (multiple sets of silverwares, pretty decorations and lighting, trendy geometric plates, or dressed up hostesses) but still treats customers badly.

Well I was there Thursday night as well, but did not share your experience. Admittedly, I have been there over 100 times - not that such patronage curries special favors at Palena - an attitude I have come to appreciate over the years. It was totally jammed when we walked in at 8 and we waited a good 45 minutes before being seated - something I'm thrilled to see in this economy. I spotted your group of 4 near the server station as I lingered at the bar waiting for some seats.

First the food. We shared a half order of the fry plate at the bar - always sensational. Alongside we each had a cocktail - Scott is an underated mixologist - the Manhattan he made for me was the best I have had in a long while. When we sat, my date had the burger - as awesome as ever. I won't draw specific comparisons to other top burgers in DC other than to say it is outstanding (and I adore the homemade brioche bun and pickles), though clearly reasonable palates can differ on such things. She also ordered the consomme, which is the finest consomme I have ever had anywhere in the world. We shared the pork loin tonatto as an intermezzo, and for Frank fans who have not had this dish you should not miss it. I ordered the cafe salad, hardly too much as a starter, and my beloved chicken - again the finest I have ever had anywhere.

As for service, ours was crisp. I can understand your frustration at the 90 minute wait, and at the faulty estimate by the hostesses, but there was some serious lingering going on at the bar (where I prefer to sit) and at the booths. That stuff sometimes happens and it really is not the restaurant's fault. Palena, like most restaurants, does not have a no lingering rule - and though it pains me sometimes as a guest (and restaurant owner) I personally agree with that policy. But how can you blame the hostesses for not anticipating people hanging out at their tables for an hour after paying their bill? I saw your waitress and can confirm that she is a newbie, so perhaps that explains her lack of familiarity with the cocktail program. You are a frequent restaurant patron. Having been told they make no cocktails other than what was on the list - which obviously should have seemed like an error to even the most neophyte of restaurant patrons - did it not occur to you to ask for a manager? Kelly, the GM, was in the front room, and less than 10 feet from your table, most of the night.

A few other comments. First, your "tacky" comments. I dont understand how it is "tacky" for a restaurant not to have a comfortable waiting are. You could have taken a walk (as another 4 top did), or waited 2 deep at the bar as 6-8 of us had. Instead, a few of you actually had seats while waiting. This criticism seems really unfair to me. Next your comment that "the lack of clarity and effort to upsell was just tacky." The cafe salad is definitely not an entree, except perhaps for the anorexic models that Rocks brings there. The price of the salad is clearly displayed on the menu - so why in god's name would you or your mother in law have "thought it was a small salad that couldn't have cost more than $5 or $6." Being asked if you would like to start with salads, especially on a busy evening when it might take a while to get hot entrees fired, hardly seems like the horrible blatant upselling you characterize it as. I have never had this waitress, but can assure you that since the day Palena opened I have never once been upsold, and your comment, which makes it seem like a course of conduct by the restaurant, is truly unfair. Finally, I am bewildered by your comment that Palena "pretends to be fancy." That is just absurd. The cafe menu has only items in the $10-$14 range. The cafe is hardly sumptuous or fancy, neither in its decor, nor in the dress of those who frequent it. The hostesses are not dressed in fancy duds - just professionally. Yes, they use Rosenthal china - which I love - and they change out silverware between courses - which everyone should love, but all of that is irrelevant to whether Palena "treats customers badly." No place, not even a diner or bar, should do so, and in my experience and that of countless others, Palena does nothing of the sort. You can claim that you are "not a picky girl," and you can claim to "really want to like this place" but when I read your post it sounds like one from a woman who is searching for reasons to be critical of one of DC's great restaurants.

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when I read your post it sounds like one from a woman who is searching for reasons to be critical of one of DC's great restaurants.

To me it just sounded like somebody who was really miffed by a long wait and let that mood carry on through the entire meal.

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Respondeat superior. I've never once asked for a manager's help at a restaurant. If I'm not satisfied with the service I received, then that reflects poorly on the restaurant's hiring policy and training. On that basis alone, I can withhold my patronage and I will blast the restaurant. It isn't a client's job to monitor the staff, it's up to the restaurant to make sure its staff is knowledgeable and well trained. If I had to wait 90 minutes for no reason (as is this case since they ended up with the same table they could've have right away), who's fault is it if not the restaurant's?

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Well I was there Thursday night as well, but did not share your experience.
I was there as well, although I actually had a somewhat disappointing experience and therefore would recommend ema give it another chance. The waits at Palena can be frustrating and the small bar space makes them a bit challenging (I think you can go to Dino and have them call you when your table is ready as an alternative), but I think ema might have been there on an off night. My friend and I both had burgers that were overdone and had the same waitress as ema. I don't have anything bad to say about her, but I am usually impressed with the service here and have never previously been less than wowed by the burger and can't say that I was either on Thursday. ema, if waiting for a table and not having a seat while you do so troubles you, maybe Palena isn't for you, but if the overdone burger and the server you happened to have that night were your main concerns aside from being agitated after the wait, you should give it another go. And you should take Mark's recommendation and have a manhattan while you wait. Any Carpano Antica Formula manhattan is a good one, but the delicious little cured cherries at the bottom of this one put it over the top.
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It isn't a client's job to monitor the staff, it's up to the restaurant to make sure its staff is knowledgeable and well trained. If I had to wait 90 minutes for no reason (as is this case since they ended up with the same table they could've have right away), who's fault is it if not the restaurant's?
Monitoring is one thing, but I think you're also saying that it's not your job to complain. If you were working, and you did a bad job would you want someone to tell you what you were doing wrong so you can remedy it or would you prefer them to just fire you straight away? And if you're so competent and perfect that you NEVER EVER make a mistake and would never be in that situation, kudos to you. You're magnificent. (Though you might want to learn that it is whose and not who's.)

I can see how it would have been an ire-raising situation. The management should have been aware of the situation, but it sounds like it wasn't. And I know some people are shy or don't want to cause a scene, myself included. It didn't do you any good to hold back. Yes the delay was their fault, but both parties are still culpable for the end result. That's like saying I got trounced in a fight, but I didn't think it was my duty to punch the guy back and the police should have pulled him off.

It usually benefits everyone to say something... unless you're in a Chinese restaurant, because boy are most of my people ornery...

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Monitoring is one thing, but I think you're also saying that it's not your job to complain. If you were working, and you did a bad job would you want someone to tell you what you were doing wrong so you can remedy it or would you prefer them to just fire you straight away? And if you're so competent and perfect that you NEVER EVER make a mistake and would never be in that situation, kudos to you. You're magnificent. (Though you might want to learn that it is whose and not who's.)

I can see how it would have been an ire-raising situation. The management should have been aware of the situation, but it sounds like it wasn't. And I know some people are shy or don't want to cause a scene, myself included. It didn't do you any good to hold back. Yes the delay was their fault, but both parties are still culpable for the end result. That's like saying I got trounced in a fight, but I didn't think it was my duty to punch the guy back and the police should have pulled him off.

It usually benefits everyone to say something... unless you're in a Chinese restaurant, because boy are most of my people ornery...

Complaining takes time and effort and subjects you to further aggravation. If a restaurant can't hire good help, then that's enough cause for me to not bother going back. Why go back if you have to have a talk with the management to get good service? Especially at high end restaurants, they get one shot to make you happy and develop some goodwill. BTW, no amount of complaining is gonna get you 90 minutes of your life back.

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I was comparing Palena to similarly priced restaurants. For example, when I was in Rasika, we sat at the lounge and ordered a couple of app and two mains (the atmosphere was more trendy, but the entree was in the $12-22 range and the cocktail in the $12 range). One of our entree didn't came out even after we finish the first entree. I asked the server about it and said I would have prefer if the two came out together (I thought they were doing this on purpose since the lounge table was crowded). A few minutes later, the management came and apologized, asked me if I still want the entree, and offered to comp half of my meal. That was really unexpected since I didn't even complain, but still a nice touch that showed the restaurant cares about customer satisfaction and payed attention to any glitch that can occur.

I have worked as a hostess for several restaurants (around Palena's price range) during college. Its the job of the front desk to make prediction about wait time, decide which seating arrangement would be the most efficient, and come up with backup plans, etc. In this case, I contribute our long wait to their misjudgement. Maybe I would have gotten seated 40 min sooner if I complained or made a scene, but that's not me. I never actively seek compensation or apologies, it's just nice when it happens. When I review a place, I think its fair to make distinctions between everything is perfect (Brasserie Beck), the management notices and try to make things better when a glitch came up (Rasika), and the management didn't notice or did nothing when a glitch came up (Palena).

I was irked about the salad because the server didn't state it was the cafe salad. I knew it was the cafe salad because there weren't other salads listed on the menu, but it was not the customer's job to second guess the menu. She should have stated clearly that it was the cafe salad and suggested that maybe two people could share it as a pre-entree salad. If we all said yes to her question of "would you like to start with some salad?", we would have just ordered $44 worth of ettuce and dressing. Since she was new, I think maybe she was just inexperienced and not purposely try to up-sell.

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I was also there Thursday night. It was my first time at Palena, a restaurant that I have wanted to visit for years, just working up the road at Intelsat. My friend and I had a terrific time there -- great cocktails, great service and wonderful food. I thought an artist had made the food--so much thought had gone into the taste, the seasoning, the texture. I can't wait to go back. Sorry that emu had a rough time that same night and I'm not disbelieving her for a moment--just wanted to balance it with my extremely positive experience.

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I don't get why people get all defensive when their favorite restaurant receive bad reviews. Even the best restaurant in the world can have glitch, it doesn't mean my negative review is less valid than the 50 positive reviews posted by others. The people who still want to see if Palena have the best burger in DC can still decide for themselves. I am simply posting my honest opinion of the place and the verdict was it didn't live up to the expectation. I am not against giving it another try, but there are still so many other places in DC to visit. With so many competition in the restaurant business, you could say that sometimes restaurant only gets one chance to please their patron.

Please spare me the condescending PC talk. English isn't my first language and I am guilty of speaking with an accent and making grammatic mistakes too. It shouldn't prevent anyone from try to speak clearer or slower when others can't understand them, and no amount of "English isn't my first language" could excuse being uninformed about the menu.

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I go to Palena EXPECTING to get poor service (it makes the evening much easier to deal with when things actually DO go wrong). If I had chosen to stop going after my first experience there (easily in the top 10 for worst experiences I've had in my life!), I would've never come to appreciate the genius of Chef Ruta's culinary mastery! Over the years, I've experienced great service. During those visits, I write down the server's name and request them every time I go. When they are not available, I know my evening will be unpredictable. But that doesn't stop me from coming down from Howard County to enjoy one of the best meals in DC.

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I've never...NEVER..had bad Service at Palena. Not perfect service? Every once in a while. A little slow? Sure, it happens. BAD service? Never.

It should be noted that 90-95% of my experiences are in the back dining room (I believe I have been to the front cafe part about 3-6 times total over the years).

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I went for the first time on Tuesday. I sat in the bar with a friend of mine. I had the lamb and barley soup and a housemade pasta with beef cheeks and pork cheeks. Those descriptions might not be exactly accurate, but it's the best i can remember. Anyways, my friend had the fry plate and the burger. everything we had was really good. the fry plate was as good as advertised. i especially like the fried slices of lemon.

The real story of the night was the people next to us at the bar. there was a couple who sat next to us at the bar. from the moment they sat down they were a pain in the ass. they started off by complaining that the salad was not cleaned enough. they refused to have it fixed, instead they decided to lecture the bartender on how gross of an error they had made. then after they mentioned that they needed the food fast because they were waiting on a babysitter, but they wanted to make sure their food wouldn't be undercooked because they were rushing their order. after complaining a couple more times about how long the food was taking, they finally got their food. less than a minute after getting their food, the woman complained that her food wasn't warm enough. when the bartender asked to fix it, she said she'd rather take it home and do it herself. then she went on another lecture about how disappointed she was with everything. but that wasn't it, her final complaint was on how her credit card was handed back to her. instead of putting the card and receipt directly in her hand, the bartender placed it on the bar in front of her. at this point, i really wanted to say something. if you are in a rush for time, don't go out to eat. or don't pick a restaurant that is completely full at 730, prime dinner time. i can understand if you are in a rush, but you need to have a little bit of patience.

anyways, i wrote this in case any of the managers at palena read this. whoever the front bartender was on tuesday, feb 3, did an excellent job. if u recieved a complaint from this couple they were crazy. also, for other diners, please be patient and although a restaurant should do everything possible to cater to your needs, try to realize that you aren't the only diner in the restaurant.

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A belated thumbs up and warm thanks to the Palena crew.

For my birthday I asked for one thing--dinner alone at Palena on a night when I didn't have to rush home. (I like Mr. BLB's company just fine but we have an almost 2 year old at home. What I crave is ME time... Preferably with a good book. Not on a night where I have a board meeting and 100 pages of documents to read...) He arranged everything.

I don't think I had been in an almost a year--we had dinner there for my birthday last year and then a dinner at the bar with a friend in Feb.

I was greeted warmly--my server (Drew?) immediately removed the candles from my booth, remembering that I have a thing about them. I started with a glass of sparkling wine and a Bronx and that set the mood perfectly. I followed that up with the tomato-bread soup with the coddled egg. With the BLToddler's egg allergy, I don't get a lot of eggs lately. This was a luxurious treat--rich and flavorful and indulgent. Then the papperdelle with a type of meat that I've since forgotten--beef checks? But absolutely perfect. If there is ever a choice, I always come down on the side of Frank's fresh pasta dishes. Then the roasted guinea hen with parsnips. And that proved to me that I really just don't like parsnips. Because if I don't like them when I cook them and I don't like them when Frank makes them, am I ever really going to like them? It was a fine dish in all other respects though. I finished up with the goat cheesecake though I could only manage a few bites and I took the cookie plate home with me.

Now if only my birthday came more than once a year. It was exactly what I wanted and needed!

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Reading Seitsema's and Kliman's chats lately, there has been much discussion about keeping restaurant web sites up-to-date. Last night at the cafe we overheard a conversation that exemplifies how important it is to update menus on the web.

We got to Palena at literally 5:37 and were faced with a one hour wait, that turned into closer to an hour and a half. Not a big deal to us, we walked around the neighborhood and then got a drink at the bar. BTW- if anyone is ever looking for fresh duck fat, that little grocery store (not the organic one) in the strip mall a few doors down from Dino has it! But the long wait clearly disgruntled the couple who were ultimately seated next to us. They sat down and looked at the cafe menu and were very upset by the "boring and un-creative" food on the menu. One would have thought that during their nearly two hour wait they would have looked at the menu. To quote "cheeseburgers, roasted chicken and minnestrone!?!? I can make this at home." (uh, yeah right) They were ready to get up and leave. Then they order the roast chicken and when informed it would take nearly an hour, they were again ready to get up and leave. They complained to the waitress that the menu offerings weren't as "interesting" as they were expecting. I give her a lot of credit because she offered them several selections that they could order ala carte off of the tasting menu all of which sounded wonderful and interesting to me. They were still unhappy and again the female diner suggested that they leave. Ultimately, they ordered the "boring" cheeseburgers and the fry plate. While waiting for their food they both continued to bitch and moan about the menu and how disappointed they were. Their food came and they literally almost licked their plates clean and ate every drop including dessert. But it was clear from listening to them that they never planned to return because they were still so pissed about being tricked by the online menu.

Oh well. More seats for the rest of us.

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But it was clear from listening to them that they never planned to return because they were still so pissed about being tricked by the online menu.

the online menu may not be up do date, but there is nothing tricky about it. it provides a fairly good idea of what to expect. i don't understand this complaint.

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the online menu may not be up do date, but there is nothing tricky about it. it provides a fairly good idea of what to expect. i don't understand this complaint.
Perhaps they confused the cafe menu with the dining room menu? Of course, the website has a note saying that items from the fixed price dining room menu can also be ordered in the cafe, so that doesn't make sense either.

ETA: The dining room menu appears first on the page, so it's possible for someone looking quickly (and not too carefully) not even to notice there's a cafe menu. That's the only reason I can think of for people to be surprised that the menu includes cheeseburgers and roasted chicken.

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date='Feb 15 2009, 04:37 PM' post='129455']

Last night at the cafe we overheard a conversation that exemplifies how important it is to update menus on the web.

<snip> They sat down and looked at the cafe menu and were very upset by the "boring and un-creative" food on the menu. <snip> To quote "cheeseburgers, roasted chicken and minnestrone!?!? I can make this at home." (uh, yeah right) They were ready to get up and leave. Then they order the roast chicken and when informed it would take nearly an hour, they were again ready to get up and leave. They complained to the waitress that the menu offerings weren't as "interesting" as they were expecting. <snip> Ultimately, they ordered the "boring" cheeseburgers and the fry plate. While waiting for their food they both continued to bitch and moan about the menu and how disappointed they were. Their food came and they literally almost licked their plates clean and ate every drop including dessert. But it was clear from listening to them that they never planned to return because they were still so pissed about being tricked by the online menu.

You've got a couple of significant factors other than the online menu going on here. First and most significant is that this encounter took place on Valentine's Day, or what is sometimes referred to by restaurant industry folks as "amateur night." The two complainers headed to what must have been in their minds a "fancy" restaurant, but went without a reservation, since Palena Cafe does not take reservations. And clearly without previous experience at Palena Cafe, or they wouldn't have been surprised by the presence of hamburgers and minestrone soup on the menu. They may have been enticed by the relatively low cost of the cafe menu that they read online, but expected that they would be getting an upscale dining experience at a bargain price. Secondly, the description of their behavior suggests that these are the type of unpleasant people one can unfortunately encounter in many situations: they are angry, projective and almost impossible to please. To go to all kinds of trouble to try to make them happy is wasted effort--whether or not they are conscious of it, they are looking for opportunities to discharge their rage.

They should have gone to Benihana.

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You've got a couple of singificant factors other than the online menu going on here. First and most significant is that this encounter took place on Valentine's Day, or what is sometimes referred to by restaurant industry folks as "amateur night."

Your comment made me remember one of the best parts of their conversation. They went to Palena as a compromise. He had already gone bird watching with her earlier in the day, and had clearly not enjoyed it. Dinner at Palena was something special they were doing for him. FWIW, he wasn't the one who complained and wanted to leave. It was his bird-watching companion who wasn't willing to wait 50 minutes for the boring roast chicken.

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Your comment made me remember one of the best parts of their conversation. They went to Palena as a compromise. He had already gone bird watching with her earlier in the day, and had clearly not enjoyed it. Dinner at Palena was something special they were doing for him. FWIW, he wasn't the one who complained and wanted to leave. It was his bird-watching companion who wasn't willing to wait 50 minutes for the boring roast chicken.

Oh that IS good---having to wait an excruciating 50 minutes, warm and dry, presumably with cocktail (sequential cocktails, even) in hand, in pursuit of a DIFFERENT sort of rara avis...well it was too too, for madame.

Happy Valentine's Day, monsieur, I see you've chosen well!

[at least, one assumes, the CHICKEN did not disappoint our hero; perhaps his new (for THAT seems inevitable) partner will better appreciate the concept of quid pro quo in all of its relationship-preserving glory...]

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Your comment made me remember one of the best parts of their conversation. They went to Palena as a compromise. He had already gone bird watching with her earlier in the day, and had clearly not enjoyed it. Dinner at Palena was something special they were doing for him. FWIW, he wasn't the one who complained and wanted to leave. It was his bird-watching companion who wasn't willing to wait 50 minutes for the boring roast chicken.
Ah. So it was payback. Can I suggest some sessions with a marriage counselor for those two to avoid more dyspeptic meals? Being a non-birder in a relationship with a birder is something I have considerable experience with--37 years worth. 1) she needs to go birding with other people who are as interested in birds as she is, not expect him to share her hobby if he doesn't enjoy it; 2) when they do go together, it should be to some location that has birds for her to find and some appeal to him as well, like canoeing on a lake or river, hiking in autumnal woods, etc. As a rule, I don't go chasing birds with Jonathan, but occasionally we'll go somewhere together where I can look around for wild berries or mushrooms while he scans the treetops. Or I'll visit the nature center and sit and read a book for an hour, while he checks out the mosquito-infested swamp to see if there are any good birds, before we go to the beach together. And then there doesn't need to be any passive-aggressive acting out during dinner. :P
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Had a nice dinner at the bar on Saturday night, although we had to wait an hour for a seat. (Maybe that is why it has been so long between visits. I think the key is to have an early dinner on the nights we decide to go here.) But that time was quickly passed with a drink up the street at Bardeo vacation planning.

We split the tagliatelle with guanciale and beef cheeks (?) to start and I had the striped bass and she had the roasted chicken. All was very good and I was glad that I was able to steal a couple of bites of the chicken. We were really impressed with the desserts, which in the past were always a bit of a disappointment. We had the ricotta cheesecake and the chocolate hazelnut cake.

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To the one-dollar bill taped to the wall behind the bar at Palena:

Dear President Washington,

I'm writing to let you know that last night, something came to my attention: You're tilting slightly, and there is an oxidative process occurring on your tape.

While I hesitate to appear disrespectful to the father of our country, it is my duty to remind you that you're there, watching over us; to remind you why you're there, and what you represent; to remind you of what is shrouded by your honorable visage, concealed from view but there nonetheless, directly behind you: the words, "In God We Trust."

Sincerely yours,

Don Rockwell

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To the one-dollar bill taped to the wall behind the bar at Palena:

Dear President Washington,

I'm writing to let you know that last night, something came to my attention: You're tilting slightly, and there is an oxidative process occurring on your tape.

While I hesitate to appear disrespectful to the father of our country, it is my duty to remind you that you're there, watching over us; to remind you why you're there, and what you represent; to remind you of what is shrouded by your honorable visage, concealed from view but there nonetheless, directly behind you: the words, "In God We Trust."

Sincerely yours,

Don Rockwell

Given this and the Goldoni post earlier, I can only assume that you're posting from the Road to Damascus (Rt. 270 to Ridge Road, I believe).

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Report coming from our meal there last night. All I can say is WOW!

My wife had --

-Bluefin Tuna and Basil Sashimi - With reggiano cheese bavaroise, toasted pine nuts and artichokes

-Strawberry Gazpacho - with Mediterranean red mullet in a sweet and sour marinade and a sliver of our coppo

-Oregon Porcini Mushroom Fricassee - with crispy fried testa and suckling pig loin, local broccoli dressed with walnut oil

-Wild Caught European Turbot Filet - pan roasted with lime, lavender and baby bok choy in a light jus of mousseron mushrooms

-cheesecake with strawberries (an understatement!)

I had the following --

-Antipasti Primavera - lightly smoked and grilled house cured salmon with an almond dressed spring vegetable salad and asparagus focccia (understatement! wow!)

-Consomme Printaniere - Spring broth with ramps, orels, asparagus, and arlington nettle, in a flavorful clear broth with goose egg raviolini

- Sweet Pea Ravioli - with our own guanciale, a coddled organic hen egg, and shaved Italian truffles

-California Squab breast - rubbed with special spices and pan roasted with the legs braised with Vidalia onion, foie gras and morel mushrooms...asparagus glazed with spring herbs

-Chocolate napoleon

This menu was so hard to just get it down to these 10 course, believe me!

WOW!

I will try to remember to add the (lousy quality) photos I took with my phone later.

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-Consomme Printaniere - Spring broth with ramps, morels, asparagus, and arlington nettle, in a flavorful clear broth with goose egg raviolini

I had this soup the other night and couldn't get over how good it was. Spring/early summer in a surprisingly complex, well-conceived bowl.

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