Where to go for a perfect date

If you’re struggling to find a romantic restaurant, a visit to Palena in Cleveland Park will allow you the opportunity be seen as a great date with great taste. Palena offers patrons the opportunity to sample the masterful work of well-traveled executive chef and owner Frank Ruta. Chef Ruta’s background began in Pittsburgh and includes stops in Arlington, Italy, and most notably, the White House, where he worked as personal lunch and dinner chef to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. 

One of the best parts about Ruta’s Palena is that the rarely matched quality of food is disguised as a neighborhood gem.  Regulars pack the front cafe and bar, order the hamburger with fries and engage in how-do-you-dos with other residents of Cleveland Park.  A brief and very informal survey showed that almost as many dining patrons came from the immediate proximity as beyond.

Palena offers two dining environment options: the aforementioned and oft-bustling cafe/bar with a casual dining menu, or the main dining room, which offers three-, four-, and five-course prix fixe options.  The prix fixe fare offers a wide range of choices, able to satisfy any taste for chicken, fish and veal. This diner found the main dining room’s soft-yellow setting to be warm and intimate, and entirely pleasant during this particular date. 

The yellowtail ceviche is a delicious way to prep the palate no matter how many courses your party ultimately decides upon. The fresh fish is finely cut, dressed with zesty orange and coconut, prompting a feeling as though one is taking the first taste right from the boat itself. Yes, you might need a moment to close your eyes and drift away, in order to focus all the senses on the delighted taste buds. Another wonderful choice is the mussel stew, settled in a broth of lemongrass and ginger. Should your date crave something other than seafood, we recommend the Yukon gold potato gnocchi, served with a meat ragu and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Now that you and your date have alerted your senses to the impending excitement, try the organic chicken leg. The freshness of the meal is readily apparent, even to those not used to organic fare.  The meal is plated with foie gras and mushrooms, and dressed in a red wine. But it is the andouille sausage that makes the meal most memorable. The garlic and the spice usually reserved for Cajun cuisine, such as jambalaya, can be found causing this leg to seemingly dance on its plate. The merluzzo, with articoke and squash, is also a great choice and one worth trying if you or your date is partial to the sea fare.

If you find it perplexing that someone would relinquish the opportunity to work in the highest kitchen in the land, Ruta makes his explanation crystal-clear on his website. “I could have made a good living at the White House, but cooking takes the second seat,” he wrties. “Guests come to see the president, not for the food. The food is important to me.”

The people of Washington can appreciate that.