Palena

April 16, 2010 - Our first stop of the evening was Bardeo, a small wine bar in Cleveland Park.  Bardeo is part of a well-known group of DC restaurants that I frequent and enjoy.  If you subscribe to the theory that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should not say anything at all, it’s hard to figure out what to write about our quick visit to Bardeo.  Outside of the very reasonably priced and quick valet parking and a friendly bartender, the visit was a total dud.  I was excited to make it in time for their happy hour special--$5 off of their wine flights.  My friend Cheryl and I each ordered a flight of three wines.  That’s where it went downhill—the wine glasses were a bit dingy—definitely no one was using lint-free cloths to polish them. Several of the two ounce pours were so bad we were unwilling to drink them.  Luckily, Palena is just one block away!  We quickly paid our bill and walked into Palena and found two bar stools right away. 

 

Owned by former White House chef, Frank Ruta, Palena has two different dining room concepts.  The main restaurant offers a set price menu offering two, three, or four courses with dessert for diners to select from.  The bar area, however, is where I almost always settle because they offer both the aforementioned menu and a café menu of gourmet bistro food.  One of the bistro items that receives rave reviews is their burger—and I can attest, it is the best in DC!  But on this visit, we decided to split a variety of items from both menus to taste a wider sampling of the chef’s creations. 

 
We stated out with a Romaine salad which they billed as “Caesar.”  Palena makes sharing dishes so easy—they evenly split the portions onto two plates, while still ensuring an artful plating.  In this case, we each received a wedge of romaine thoroughly dressed in a lemony vinaigrette.  I think the fried capers which accompanied the salad made the dish—the light crunchy bursts of salty flavor really brightened the salad. 
 
Next, we shared a goose egg ravioli dish with earthy morel mushrooms and a smattering of greens and house-made sausage.  The pasta had a light texture and mixed well with the mushrooms and sausage flavored butter sauce.  The actual pieces of sausage; however, overpowered the dish and I thought unnecessary.  I was unable to discern a specific "goose egg" flavor in the pasta --although the raviolis were a pretty yellow color. 
 
 
For our main course, we shared the shoat from Pipe Dreams Farm, an organic farm not far from Washington, DC.  Shoat (a term I had to look up!) is a young pig.   In this case, we each had a small piece of the pork loin served with wilted greens and a few potato slices.  The pork was tender and flavorful with a small sprinkle of larger grained salt on the outside crust.  It was definitely one of the best pork dishes I have ever had.  I inquired with our waiter about the cooking method—it appeared to be cooked using a sous-vide method based on the even doneness throughout the piece of meat.  Unfortunately, the waiter said the chef likes to keep his methods secret!  
 
 
We paired the shoat with the famous Palena fry plate—a collection of fries, little potato dumplings, onion rings and fried lemon slices.  They serve the fry plate with a mayonnaise sauce topped with Asian sriracha sauce. 
 
 
Of course, we also had a few glasses of red wine—I started with a glass of Barbera d'Asti and Cheryl choose a California Zinfandel.  I wanted to try something different for my second glass and ended up with a French wine from the Languedoc region.  I should have stayed with the Barbera because I have discovered that I can smell a strong gamey bouquet from some Bordeaux wines and the Languedoc wine have strong smells of hay (and a bit of manure!).  Regardless, the wine was so much better than our selections at Bardeo.  I was a bit disappointed with the wine glasses—they were almost like footed beer glasses and had thicker rims than I prefer.  Also, the number of options by the glass were fairly limited.  One nice touch—Palena offers half-glasses which is great when you want to try a few different wines. 
 
We ended the evening with a cookie and caramel plate full of 20 or so bite-sized cookies—a fun sweet finale.   From nut bars to jam thumbprints to meringues, I enjoyed almost every cookie.  By far, the best nibble was the caramel made in-house.  
 
 
Needless to say, we were very full when we headed back to Bardeo to retrieve our cars. 

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