Palena’s Farewell

3529 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Sadly, last week’s scuttlebutt about a Saturday closing for Palena was accurate. From a press release:

“After a very long and notable run in the Cleveland Park, the venerable Palena Restaurant closed this past Saturday. James Beard award winning Chef Frank Ruta opened Palena in 2000 to much fanfare and critical acclaim. The restaurant expanded and created a market concept for the vacated Magruder’s grocery next door in 2011, at which time it also relocated its more casual café. This year it added a coffee shop featuring its pastries. Not able to fully utilize and attain the benefits of the expansion space as intended, Palena and its Landlord, Federal Realty Trust, endeavored to reach an accord but were unable to come to terms, contributing to the decision to close.

The tight knit group of talented chefs, managers and servers that surround Ruta at Palena, and the many disciples of Chef Ruta cooking in kitchens throughout the region, celebrate their success, appreciate the devotion of their patrons and welcome the future. A note from Ruta to customers reads:

Palena will be closing its doors this weekend after 13 years. We have had a great run serving the Cleveland Park neighborhood and the Washington, DC area and are sincerely grateful to the many that have supported us.

While we are proud of the high degree of critical success Palena has achieved over the years, we take even greater joy in your patronage and that we have been able to share life’s special moments with you. Cooking is what I love, and hopefully I will find a way to serve you at another venue in the future.

I want to especially thank my remarkable and loyal staff who has given Palena its special ambiance, and my equally loyal pool of investors who have been steadfast through thick and thin. Without either, Palena could not have been possible.

And finally, a heartfelt “thank you” to all who have dined with us over the years.

Frank Ruta

Working with Federal Realty to facilitate a smooth transition, Chef Ruta doesn’t rule out a return to the neighborhood. Speaking from his kitchen in Cleveland Park, Ruta says, “I’m going to miss this place.”


I stopped by on Sunday and it was like a wake. People just kept going up to the doors and reading the note and shaking their heads.


28 Comment

  • justinbc

    I never had a meal at Palena that lived up to its constantly touted “high acclaim”. Three separate occasions were all rather disappointing, especially the one where we tried their famous burger which always seems to make its way onto DC’s top burger lists and yet was wholly boring and unoriginal. I think it must have been one of those things where it was good at one point, so everyone kept telling everyone how good it was, without any of those people actually going to try it. Most of these list making sites in DC just seem to crowd source their data anyway, so it’s not really a surprise.

    • Unoriginal? I can’t think of any other place in DC that serves a burger made with dry aged steak, and truffled cheese on a homemade brioche bun for less than $15 bucks. It was awesome. Sad to think I’ll never have another.

      • justinbc

        And yet when it arrives on your plate it’s impressively bland, despite all that.

        • I understand that you don’t like it. But that doesn’t make it unoriginal.

          • justinbc

            As others have stated below, I guess it might have been 10 years ago when it became famous, unfortunately I missed that heyday. Perhaps if they still prepared it with the same zeal as then it would have left a better impression … the combination sounds great on paper, it just doesn’t deliver.

      • clevelanddave

        You mean served. Hey, chef, how about all of us who were given or who gave gift cards to Palena to friends? You know, your loyal customers who felt so highly of your place that we gave others the gift of your food, a gift now denied? I suspect we’re all SOL. Read on PoP that there are staffers who remain unpaid. Kinda leaves a bad taste in ones mouth in terms of an ammicable ending for all and a return in the near future…

    • Tell me, what makes a burger awesome and interesting to you?

      • justinbc

        It’s kind of hard to distill that easily, but here are a few typical guidelines I evaluate on:
        #1: Properly seasoned and properly cooked patty (this was my biggest complaint about Palena’s burger)
        #2: Not overly “topped”, meaning choose the right complement of toppings and use them to accent the seasoned patty, not overpower it.
        #3: Appropriate bun selection … obviously varies based on the type of burger you’re going for. This was the best thing Palena’s had going for it.
        #4: Not mandatory, but a nice side to complement the burger definitely adds bonus points. Much like a wine or beer adds depth to what you eat after, so can a nice side of fries, coleslaw, etc when taking bites in succession.
        #5: There are (imaginary) points given for “premium” ingredients, sure, but only if they are actually used without bastardizing the original flavor (see: Roquefort, foie gras, truffle anything, top quality beef cuts like Kobe / Wagyu, etc)

    • Of all the food made of 13 years you chose the burger. There will always be a detractor/contrarian and sadly you are in the severe minority.

  • Justin, I totally agree… It’s “the emperor’s new clothes” phenomenon.

  • I ate there once and it was OK. Defintiely not a destination restaurant anymore. I think they just never adapted and were coasting on a previous excellent reputation from 10 years prior before DC had so many good and competing places to eat.

  • NOOOOOOOOO. Come to Van Ness.

    Palena was my favorite restaurant in DC b/c it never failed me. No idea what the previous commenters are talking about. By far and away the best spot for dinner in that neighborhood. Sigh.

  • Sooooo, I guess the $100 gift card my wife and I just received for our wedding is of no value now!?!?!

  • Restaurants in CP are nice, but honestly there are just too many on that strip… I think it could use some local/boutique retail to fill out the space between the eateries. I can’t speak to Palena’s quality, but it seemed a bit expensive for me to want to pop in for a bite.

    We need a bike shop in Cleveland Park/Van Ness/Woodley (basically somewhere along Connecticut) really badly. Maybe one of those vacant store fronts made by Lavandou, Dino, and now Palena can get a real neighborhood need?

    Also if someone suggests replacing Palena with a Panera/Cosi/other cafe chain I will throw bread at them. I’m already irritated that I like Firehook 😛 There’s a lot of disposable income in the area and it could healthy support some local business.

    • maxwell smart

      A bike shop would be awesome! Considering the loss of PR and the lack of bike shops on the Connecticut Corridor – maybe even something like a Bike Bar.

  • My better half has been suggesting Pelana for about a year now after reading about their burger on some “best of” type list. Upon reading on PoP that it was closing, we finally went on Friday night.

    I bread we bought was really good. Happily will pay $3 for a bread basket that brings such goodness.

    Had the baked provalone as an appetizer and thought it was good.

    Burger was ok. Best I’ve had in DC…no. I’d take a Goodstuff with a fried egg over it. If you include Arlington, I’d probably take Rustico’s over it (though Rustico can never seem to get temperature right-when cooked right it has better flavor).

    Pasta dish was bland and uninspiring. The one mixed drink we got from the bar was amazing.

    It seemed odd that they had a teaming cafe area and also did more formal dining in the same restaurant with a pre-fixe. Given the improvements in dining options in DC, I wonder if the pre-fixe portion was the big problem?

    Glad we went to try the burger, but cannot agree it is the best in town. It was fine. It was ok. It was good. I probably would not have got it again.

    • It wasn’t even the best burger in the neighborhood.

      St. Arnold’s > Dino > Palena. Maybe 6 years ago, best burger in the neighborhood. Palena’s had the most varied and interesting cocktail menu in CP, though.

  • Well hopefully this opens up a space for The Cereal Bowl to repoen and rise like a CP phoenix!

  • This is a huge loss. Palena was one of the best restaurants in DC. I’m talking about the original dining room, not the expanded cafe with the burgers etc. Here’s hoping Ruta opens a place east of the park.

  • If I’m understanding the comments in the previous thread about this correctly, Frank Ruta — known to be an incredibly talented chef — outsourced the management of Palena to the same outfit that ran Red Sage and a few other places into the ground.
    If so, I think there’s a valuable lesson here for those of us who own small, independent businesses: It’s your business and it’s your hard-earned reputation at stake — run your business and don’t entrust those things to anyone else.

  • orderedchaos

    I proposed to my wife at Palena — it’s a strange feeling for me that the restaurant is no more.
    The staff were terrific that night; I’d arranged with them to bring out the ring in a custom box with dessert. As you can imagine I barely noticed the food that night, but my wife said it was delicious. 🙂

    • saf

      The place we had our rehearsal dinner closed a few years back. I still miss it. We expected it to stay. Sadly, things change.

  • With all this talk about blandness I wonder if he’s got a future with Paul Ruppert’s next project?

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