I had dinner last night at Palena on CT Avenue NW and thought it worthy of reviewing here. Overall it was a very good meal, with a very innovative menu and relatively fairly priced. The four of us had a chance to sample a wide range of dishes, since we all came hungry and most of us ordered three courses plus dessert. My selection was among the best, if I do say so myself. As a starter I had a beet and lobster salad, which was a surprisingly good combination, though rather light on the lobster (no surprise). My middle course was the least successful--a boudin of pheasant with small pieces of Asian pear, apple, pearl onion and turnip. The boudin was fairly bland though nicely put together; my favorite part was the crunchy fruit and veg. My main course was grilled Muscovy duck breast and duck chorizo, which I had prepared as the chef prefers--which is to say medium rare, so rather red inside, as I like it. This was served on a bed of lentils, and was quite excellent--very succulent, richly flavored, and a good portion, too. Dessert was a wonderful chocolate-coffee torte with a warm ganache, truly excellent. For a wine we had two bottles of a 1997 Varaldo Barbaresco, one of not too many wines in my preferred price range of $50 or so. It was an excellent choice, and suited all of our meals very well.
My only complaint about the dinner was the service, which was fairly amateurish and slow. It took quite some time for us to get our orders taken, and then an almost equally long time to get bread on the table. When the waiter took our dinner order he failed to ask about a wine selection, so we had to call him back (he had earlier forgotten to bring the cocktails that we had ordered, too). As a result of the slow service, and of our enjoyment of the meal and company, we spent four hours over dinner.
Overall, a very good place, and if they remove the kinks in the service, could be excellent.