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Apr 27, 2012 06:52 AM

Palena vs. Palena Cafe.

Hello all,

I have to admit, I'm a bit confused as to how Palena and Palena Cafe differ. Obviously one is a prix fixe or tasting while the other appears ALC, and from what I gather the dining areas are seperate, but in terms of menus it seems that most of what one can get at Palena can also be ordered at Palena Cafe and that they share the same kitchen, as well - to the point where local ratings and guides almost consider them the same place.

So I ask, what is the difference? Amuses? Mignardises? Bread Service? Desserts? Service in general?


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  1. They are very different, in all the ways that you mentioned. Although I’m not sure I follow your logic for being able to order the Dining Room items off the Café menu…I don’t see much overlap there.

    The dining room is very formal, fine dining-esque and service that is much more refined. The café is far more “bistro like”. Amuses, Mignardises, bread service, are all attributes of the dining room which do not exist in the café.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gregb

      It's been awhile since I've been, but in the past you could ask for the dining room menu and order those dishes in the Cafe.

      1. re: Elyssa

        Not anymore. They switched to separate menus since the expansion in 2010. The cafe menu has expanded from the old days, however.

        Regardless, I still enjoy both.

    2. We live in Mount Pleasant and Cleveland Park is our usual dining destination when we decide to take a long walk our get out the car.

      You used to be able to order off the "restaurant" menu in the old Palena Cafe, but now they have separate menus.

      I would put the cafe as among the fine choices in Cleveland Park, but no longer at the top in particular. It is expensive for what it is. I think you do as well or better at, from closest to farthest, Dino, Ripple and Ardeo. Certainly Dino has surpassed the Palena's burger only if you love messy burgers. Ripple and Dino have far superior wine and drinks. Ardeo is much more attractive and "buzzy" a spot. I prefer Dino's brunch, with Palena a close second but much richer. Palena's brunch features great sweets and baked goods, while Dino's does not. That is how we decide.

      Palena Restaurant is a gem and should not be missed on a night where you want proper, formal service in an unpretentious atmosphere. The food sings of freshness and creativity. Again, pricey, but when compared to what you get elsewhere for much less polish and competence, a bargain on the dining scene. We always do 3 courses plus desserts not because we are big eaters, although the both of us having to buy our pants a waist size larger than last year may give lie to that statement, we are just a couple of boys who love to load up on the earlier courses. We also appreciate the quiet, and the reserved service.

      1 Reply
      1. You are can usually order anything from the Palena menu in Palena Cafe. But there are many dishes on the Cafe-only menu (which are also some of the best dishes that Chef Ruta cooks).

        I think the main difference is the service (excellent in both parts of the restaurant but different in casual vs. more formal) and the vibe/feel. The main dining room is a fine dining establishment---pre fix adds something special and different. The cafe is just that--more of a neighborhood cafe/bistro.

        You can't do wrong at either it just depends the type of night you want to have, how long you want to dine and what you are out to dinner for.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Elyssa

          After the expansion, this changed and there were two separate menus. Our first trips to the cafe we definitely were limited to the cafe menu. Since we have not been to the cafe much of late, this may have reverted back but I am not sure.

          Elyssa. have you ordered off the restaurant menu in the cafe since the expansion?

          1. re: wineo1957

            Not since the expansion. I was there for lunch awhile back and ordered from the cafe menu and a few times before that, also after the expansion. I actually didn't even ask for the other menu because I liked the cafe menu so much.

        2. I haven't been in a couple of years, but it used to be that you couldn't make a reservation for the cafe - you could for the restaurant.

          1. Thanks all. Going to give them a call today and see what the story is.

            Essentially trying to decide between the two following:
            Dinner at Palena one day, Brunch at Birch and Barley on Sunday
            Dinner at Birch and Barley one day, Brunch at Palena Cafe on Sunday.


            7 Replies
            1. re: uhockey

              Birch and Barley has a hard working kitchen that really care about its food but often overreaches. The KISS rule applies here. For that reason, I would say It should be dinner at Palena and brunch at B and B.

              1. re: Steve

                Nicely stated. Thanks. That is likely what I will do.


                1. re: uhockey

                  Also I'm pretty sure on Sundays Birch and Barley serves brunch all day long---even on Sundays. At least this was the case when I tried to make a reservation there a few months ago when my parents were in town. None of us really wanted brunch for dinner, so I still have yet to try it. But they have a great brunch deal---I think it's around $30 pre-fix for 2 cocktails, coffee, juice, an entree and donut holes. You can also of course order ala carte. All my friends love their brunch.

                  1. re: uhockey

                    Just remember that the restaurant is closed and the cafe is serving a short menu on Sundays.


                    FYI: I am not sure how up to date this menu is as it lists a few ingredients that are out of season.

                    1. re: wineo1957

                      I went last weekend on Saturday afternoon and had a pizza with ramps, asparagus, and some housemade salami. The gnocchi had garbanzo beans and guanciale (IIRC). The soups were asparagus-based if I recall. The pile of spring vegetables seemed to still be a few weeks ago. However, the bartender did tell me that she believed nettles had come and gone.

                      1. re: wineo1957

                        Yep. Reservation is made. 5/17 main dining room.


                        1. re: uhockey

                          Good choice. Dinner in the dining room at Palena is on a very different level than dinner at Birch and Barley.