I finally made it to Palena on Saturday night. I lived in DC for about 4 years and ever since I moved to California I lamented the fact that I never made it to Palena. So my weekend trip to DC had to include a trip to Palena.
We didn't have a reservation, but we were seated immediately in the front (cafe section) once all of us were there. The service was erratic for the first 20 minutes. We sat there waiting for water, waiting to order our wine, waiting for bread. We informed a nice woman (sommelier?) that we were ready to order wine and she helped guide us through our selection. I sensed that another table was annoyed by our waitress, but the service did improve as the night progressed.
I guess the benefit of sitting in the front is that you can order from the café menu and from the formal dining room menu. I ordered a fresh mozzarella salad (from Naples or Naples-style) with truffles and ham. The ham looked homemade house-cured. The highlights of the night were many. I ordered a simple sautéed cod served with a crayfish sauce and my friend had a corn blini with crab meat. The blini was spectacular and they ran out of the dish by the end of the night. The prices were reasonable at the café - $12 for the blini, $10 for the salad. The burger looked good too. Other friends shared the cheese plate, which they enjoyed.
The desserts were also stellar. We ordered a cashew daquiose served with chocolate sorbet and a plum confit I think this was the favorite dessert. The blackberry shortcake could have been a tad sweeter. We also ordered the cookie plate, also wonderful. The caramels were the best. Overall, Palena deserves the praise it has received on this board.