Finally got to Palena on Tuesday, in the back room. Party of six. Got a very nice round table. The room is sedate, if a little bare. Kinda that European church basement look. And the linens need replaced. Not cleaned -- replaced.
Service started off a little rocky, and I had heard bad things, so I was a little nervous. But after sorting out the drinks and wine requests, he quickly found his grove, and apart from slightly long waits between courses, everything went fine. Btw, the place was only half full -- no surprise on a weekday in August.
Two wine lists. The first is a short but well informed selection of $24-$65. We were able to enjoy a nice 2002 Loche white burgandy for $35 and a 2000 Givrey-Chambertin for $65. The other is a reserved list, equally short and well selected, with offerings $115 and up.
First courses included a dish of heirloom tomatoes, a tomato and bread soup, and a salad of fennel and artichoke. The salad was great, with impossibly thin slices of vegetables, tossed with frisse, a hard sheepsmilk cheese, a spikey dressing, and two fresh, marinaded anchovies on the side.
Seconds included gnocchi in tomato sauce, skate, and a chicken ballotine(sp?). The skate was fantastic, boned, in heady broth of fish stock and herbs. The gnocchi were very light, as was the smoth, bright sauce.
Mains were a rabbit done two ways, a veal chop, and...sorry, forgot (third bottle of wine). Rabbit was perfect. Tenderloin wrapped in bacon, roasted to a moist, rosey, medium doneness. The other rendition a highly seasoned, course, rabbit sausage. The plate had a tastey, salty reduction sauce that brought everything together. The veal chops were nicely grilled medium rare, accompanied by creamy white beans and tomatoes. (I guess tomatoes are in season).
I'm not a dessert guy, but I saw plates with what looked like small blueberry tarts and cassis sherbert disappear before my eyes.
TOB (the other board) has a lot of talk about the front room or cafe/bar at Palena. I've reaad that the menu includes a perfect 1/2 roast chicken, the best burger in town, and fries to die for all at very, very reasonable prices. I did not know that this area was so big, seating probably 40-50 at tables, booths, the bar and outside. At 10PM when we left, at least half the seats were still occupied, and the meals I saw looked amply portioned and smelled delicious.