While milling around Cleveland Park on a weekend walking tour, I ducked into the recently expanded Palena Cafe and Restaurant and spoke to general manager Sarah McCarty. She was nice enough to let me snap a few photos and tell me more about the changes at the newly opened space.
While the cafe has expanded to more than 100 seats, the formal dining room has been reduced by six spots in an attempt to improve focus and flow. The cramped kitchen has been moved upstairs and expanded; the booths in the old cafe space have been re-upholstered; and the antique flooring inside the old MaGruder’s space has been unearthed and given a new life.
The most interesting change? Frank Ruta‘s famous brined and roasted chicken is now cooked in an oven burning a mix of oak and other woods. Those who’ve ordered Palena’s bird have treasured its consistently juicy meat bound by its crispy, flavorful skin. It will be interesting to see how a change in cooking technique affects the dish that’s applauded more than Springsteen in Asbury Park.
My favorite D.C. burger is receiving some oak as well; Palena is now firing the patty over a wood-fired grill. I’m interested to see if the change is for the better. If you’ve checked out the new Palena, let us know what you think.
More pictures of the new space are after the jump.
Above you: Cedar slats and suspended lighting. In front of you: a smooth oyster-marble bar
The sub-floor buried at the old Magruder’s turned out to be historically significant terrazzo tile banded in copper.
The main kitchen has been moved from the basement to increase capacity. The old kitchen now handles bread operations.
The original cafe space has been updated with new carpet and upholstery, but the layout is mostly unchanged.
The new dining room with six fewer seats.