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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Palena, Part Deux

 This Part Deux revisits one of my favorite spots in DC, Palena, with Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.

The Vibe

Normally, we wouldn't talk about the vibe in a Part Deux, but it's not often a place renovates in between our two visits. The old space remains, but the restaurant has overtaken the storefront next to us, creating an expanded Palena Cafe. The space is packed with tables and a little busy, which combined with the music overhead (Rilo Kiley), causes a little bit of noise. A slight open kitchen is in the back of a slightly raised part of the dining area, where half booths and Pier One style furniture makes up the seating.

The Food

The restaurant was nice enough to split each dish into two portions so we made our own sort of tasting menu. First up was a ceviche of striped bass, topped with radish, pickled kumquats, and almond. This dish was fantastic, with lovely contrast between the soft and subtle bass and the pinch of the sweet-sour kumquat. Part of the reason it worked so well was because the almond flavor mellowed out the whole dish; only the radish stood out as maybe a bit unnecessary, a little raw and sharp for my tastes. All the same, it was a beautiful start.

Second was potato gnocchi with sweet potatoes, shimeji and shitake mushrooms, creamy and crumbled goat cheese, and aged balsamic. Normally I'm sort of dubious of gnocchi, as it can quickly fall into doughy and heavy territory. But this was wonderful, light bites that were reminiscent of the "pillows from heaven" at The Inn, and meshed well with the creamy and luscious flavors of the different sides. Overall, I personally wanted just one more dimension (a protein?), but it was otherwise very good.

For the main course was the real reason I had brought Texas to Palena: the chicken. I've written about it before, but the chicken at Palena is superlative, Asian spices with meat that just melts in your mouth. The perfect balance between fatty and lean, with a lovely unctuous flavor. Again, superlative.

The Verdict

Great, just great food, no matter which side you sit in.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)

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