Planning to try it next week, and have heard good things--any experiences to report?
I ate there a few months ago and was not impressed. For starters, the dining room is under a gym and there was an aerobics class going on during our dinner. The light fixtures shook occassionally and you could hear jumping above. The food was ok but I thought for what it was, it was overpriced. I'll be interested to hear your experience.
Must disagree with Winnie, I'm afraid. Had one meal there, in February. Best meal I've had within 50 miles of D.C. The five-course prix fix (approx. $55) changes from day-to-day. I ordered it and loved it; but you'd undoubtedly have a different array. Others at the table had various items off the menu. Everything was a hit, IIRC, including (but not limited to) the various Ann Amernick breads, desserts, savories. Could be a one-night fluke, of course -- but all my friends who have eaten there concur (although I think there's a consensus that's it not quite up to the standards of the very best NY and LA Italian).
It's a leisurely meal; don't go if you are in a rush. And, by all means, call ahead and ask to be seated in the back room. It's charming and even, some might say, romantic, if a tad eclectic.
Palena is consistently superb, in my humble opinion. I'm sure if I had had Winnie's experience of aerobics on the ceiling, I would feel differently, but all was serene on both of my visits. The appetizers are extraordinary, particularly the beet and lobster salad and crisply-seared scallops. All in all, this place offers fuller, clearer, richer flavors than can be found anywhere else in the city right now. Very pleasant, competent, understated service. Only quibbles: 1) desserts are very good, but lack imagination; 2) the wine list is a bit odd and rather limited, though relatively fairly priced.
I went there earlier this year and I must say I didn't fall in love with the place. We sat in the front room (a party of five) and I found the seating uncomfortable and the ambience somewhat precious.
As I remember, the menu was odd; I didn't find it easy to construct a meal from the various menu sections. (As contrast, it is very hard for me to make a choice from the menu at Kinkead's, no matter how frequently I go there.) I thought prices high, especially the wine list.
I haven't been back...but maybe it deserves another look.