WINE & DINE COLUMN: Palena Delivers a Premium Experience


Chris Parente

By Chris Parente

Where do you bring a top prospect when the dining experience has to be perfect? What’s the right restaurant when you want to reward your top salesperson with a super night out? It should be a place where the quality doesn’t ebb and flow, a reliably high-quality performer.

That’s the kind of performer Palena has been in Cleveland Park for almost a decade. The restaurant of former White House chef Frank Ruta expanded its location two years ago, making its café area larger in the front of the restaurant and tweaking its more formal dining room in the rear. The ambiance is different but the food is vibrant in either setting.

My wife and I were recently at Palena celebrating my birthday. Dinner started in the dining room with two amuse-bouches. The first was an asparagus panna cotta bite with a single, red pickled onion on top. The second was a tiny cup of sunchoke (an artichoke relative) and ramp soup. Both were delicious and hinted at the attention to detail shown to our courses to come.

In Palena’s dining room you have three courses plus dessert. I started with a bean, artichoke and frothy mozzarella salad, while my wife had softshell crab over arugula and asparagus. Second courses were broiled fluke and goose egg ravioli with a perfect texture and flavor.

The main courses were salmon with al dente trumpet mushrooms and halibut and shrimp in a lemon reduction with vegetables. Everything we had was beautifully presented and incredibly flavorful.

We were also introduced to an excellent Pinot Noir. Initially I had been interested in having the waiter match up wines with each course, which Palena offers to do with every meal. However, when I told him we both prefer red he strongly suggested we get a bottle of Pinot Noir, and recommended the Cameron Dundee Hills 2009 very highly.

It was a delicious wine with our dinners. It was an Oregon pinot, with a big bouquet for the varietal. It was light bodied but multi-layered, with cherry and raspberry fruit along with some earth and spice. There was a touch of creaminess, some subtle vanilla carried along by silky tannins. It was a great recommendation that really helped make the night.

Service was old school elegant with the same attention to detail as the kitchen. There were multiple replacements of silver and crumbing. The only slip was the wrong course being brought out for my wife, but our server intercepted the expediter almost as soon as the plate arrived and whisked it away.

An expense account can come in handy when the bill is tallied, but Palena really delivers a special experience. Bring your next celebration there, professional or personal.


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