Shamefully, I only recently visited Palena Café in the District. Why shameful? Palena is a restaurant veteran in the District and for someone who has lived in the area for over a decade, there is no excuse why I should not have visited in all this time. I think my reservations for stalling this trip came from the staples I heard about on the menu: chicken, the burger and the pasta. When I dine out, I rarely go for the roasted chicken on the menu mostly because it comes out dry and flavorless. Since I despise leaving a restaurant feeling like I just finished a TV dinner, I was reluctant to indulge in the roasted chicken at Palena despite the numerous rave reviews. Now I ask myself: why did I wait so long?!?
Palena’s roasted chicken is the juiciest, tender cut of meat that I have ever tasted in a restaurant. Slow roasted in Palena’s wood fired oven for about 45 minutes, you want to order this at the very beginning of your meal. I would suggest choosing a couple of appetizers to hold you over, but please save room for this chicken. The perfect combination of poultry seasonings base the chicken and seep into the meat reaching its core. I try to avoid using the word delicious in my descriptions of the food I taste (*it is like the anti-food writer thing to do…) and honestly using the word here would depreciate the experience.
Besides the chicken, the pasta is clearly prepared minutes before they bring it to the table with the freshness remnant of my recent trip to Italy. A menu that is based on seasonal ingredients, the gnocchi was tossed with fava beans, in house guanciale, marjoram and fonduta.
The beginning of the meal had me kind of shaky with our starter course of calamari. I expected the typical fried ringlets of soft squid and instead was introduced to soft squid in a sea of light tomato broth. Pleasant surprise where the tomato broth was light enough not to ruin the feast to come. Other dishes such as the lamb, which is a stuffed breast surrounded by balsamic flavored red sauce, have me confident that Palena’s does not serve a bad dish. Needless to say, I am the restaurants newest loyal customer. My only regret in this experience is…why did I wait this long??…