Chef Frank Ruta Puts His Heart into Soulful Food
- The cocktails are amongt the best in Washington, especially the Maker’s Mark Manhattan with preserved amarena cherries.
- The Tavola di Perpetua e Felicita is a $65 per person, six person minimum head-to tail family-style feast that showcasees locally raised beef. It’s a showstopper meal and requires 24-hour advance reservation.
- The Saturday and Sunday brunch (11am to 2:30pm) is known amongst the cogniscenti as one of DC’s best, offering just the right mix of breakfast and lunch items.
- On Sunday nights, Ruta widens the pizza offerings from the wood-burning oven.
Good to Know
- There is a small pay parking lot next door to Palena (not associated with the restaurant; no validating); otherwise, you’re left to find street parking. Showing up right at 6:30 pm Mon-Fri is your best bet.
- Table 50 in the Café, a semi-circular banquette that seats two-to-four, affords the best view of the room and a glimpse at the kitchen action.
- Facing the bar in the Dining Room side of Palena, tables 20 and 21 are cozy, semi-circular, upholstered banquettes perfect for side-by-side seating.
- Palena Market, in the front of the Café, features artisinal items and carefully-chosen imported foods (local honey, Fee Brothers bitters, pasta, olive oil, coffee) as well as irresistable baked goods. Gift baskets are available with 48 hours notice.
- The noise level is the kind of huzzle-buzzle you’d expect in a popular café, but well-spaced tables allow conversations to remain audible and private.
·Fritto misto of spring onion, vegetables, lemon slices, panisse, fish and seafood
·Vitello tonnato with poached egg and pert mixed greens
·Lobster roe tagliatelle with lump crab, Calabrian chilis and lrmon toasted breadcrumbs
·Gnocchi with fava beas, pancetta and goat cheese
·Roast chicken with lemon braised greens
·Palena cheeseburger (get an order of frites with harissa mayonnaise)
Best Bottles (wine list changes often)
·Granbazan Albarino "L'Etiqueta Verde" 2011
·Domaine Baudry-Dutour Chinon Rosé 2011
·Colosi Nero d'Avola 2010
Don’t expect to see Frank Ruta swanning around the dining room or the country, as other chefs seem to do these days. He’s a nose-to-the-grindstone type of guy who concentrates all his effort on producing remarkable, thoughtful food prepared with uncompromising integrity and skill.
Starting as a dishwasher and working his way up, Ruta, 54, entered the food business in the late Seventies. He landed a spot in the American Culinary Federation’s apprenticeship program and then came up through the ranks of the Pittsburgh area’s restaurant scene, eventually becoming the chef at a country club.
Then the White House came calling. He worked there as an assistant chef and personal chef for the Carter, Reagan and Bush families from 1979 to 1987, when he left to do an 18-month stint at Andrea restaurant in Merano, Italy. He then returned to the White House as sous-chef, leaving in 1991 to work for Yannick Cam at Le Pavillon on Washington, DC. By 1993, landed his first chef job, making a name for himself as a talent to be reckoned with at the River Club.
In 2000, Ruta opened Palena in Cleveland Park. The food world embraced the fluidity with which he blended high-style, technique-focused French and Italian cooking. When, in 2003, Ruta turned half the restaurant into a café, the public quickly availed itself of his more accessible rustic-but-refined cooking.
In 2010, Ruta took over the space next door, expanded Palena’s Café and menu and added a retail Market in which a wide range of bakery items are sold, along with products used on Palena’s menus.
Ruta’s well-deserved accolades include Best New Chef Food and Wine 2001, Washingtonian Restaurateur of the Year 2002 and Best Chef Mid-Atlantic James Beard 2007. His plans for the future do not involve reality television.
A reservation will now earn you: 200 Reward pts.
For every reservation that you make and honor (you actually show up at the restaurant and have a meal) on CityEats.com, you will earn 200 CityEats Rewards points. If you then write a review of your dining experience, you will earn an additional 200 points. Once you have collected 2,500 points, you can redeem them for either a $25 gift certificate or a charitable donation in the amount of $25.