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Palena, a small town located in the Provence of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of Italy, is the home town of Chef Frank Ruta's mother. The picturesque mountain town is located 2,300 feet above sea level where archeological remains date back 40,000 years. Palena is located in the Maielle mountain range, a string of dome-shaped masses which are part of the austere Appenine mountains. The Abruzzo of today is still mostly unspoiled and authentic.

Around town strawberries and raspberries grow wild. Prickly clumps of juniper dot the paths and untamed flora cover the hillsides. The environment influences the cooking wherein tradition still reigns. Local ingredients are commonly used in what is known as "cucina genuina" or genuine cooking.

Palena offers 2 distinct dining options. The Dining Room offers a price fixe tasting menu and a classic setting. While the Cafe offers dining a la carte and a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. All options feature the seasonal, innovative cuisine of James Beard award winning chef, Frank Ruta.

Palena Dining Room: Palena's Dining Room offers elevated cuisine in a romantic, classic atmosphere. The menu changes daily reflecting seasonal produce and meats. The Dining Room is the perfect setting to celebrate a special occassion. Reservations are recommended.

Palena Cafe: The Cafe offers inspired food with a frequently changing menu, reflecting our locally sourced products and highlights include items from our wood burning oven and grill.

Palena Market: The Market is open in the space adjacent to the cafe. It features imported and artisanal products used in the restaurant, as well as coffee, and ready-to-eat sweets and savories. Also, it offers gift baskets, bu orders must be placed 48-hours advanced notice. Custom Baskets are available.

Coffee Shop: Palena's Coffee Shop brings to Cleveland Park freshly brewed coffee and delicate, handcrafted pastries. Enjoy grabbing a cup on-the-go or settling into one of the cozy booths or tables in the newly renovated space that now offers free wireless internet. The Coffee Shop, a destination in the neighborhood for fresh coffee and delicious nibbles, is the latest project from legendary White House chef, Frank Ruta.

About Chef Frank A. Ruta

Chef Frank A. Ruta began cooking alongside his mother and grandmother early in life.

Frank began formal training at the American Culinary Federation's Pittsburgh chapter. After graduating second in his class in 1978, he apprenticed at the Lemon Tree Restaurant in McKeesport, PA. His first formal position was sauce cook at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. After one year, Frank became a chef at Lincoln Hills Country Club in Irwin, Pennsylvania.

The White House hired Frank as assistant chef in 1979. By 1982, Frank had progressed to the dual positions of personal lunch and dinner chef to the Reagan and Bush families and executive Sous Chef. Frank resigned at The White House in 1987 to accept a chef position at Andrea restaurant, a two-star Michelin restaurant, in Merano, Italy where he studied under Andreus Helrigl for 18 months. At the personal request of Nancy Reagan, Frank returned to the White House in 1988 as executive Sous Chef. He stayed through the remainder of the Reagan administration and 15 months into the Bush presidency.

In 1991, Frank moved on to the world-renowned Le Pavillon, as Sous Chef, under Yannick Cam. Upon the closing of Le Pavillon, Frank took the grill chef position at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Arlington, Virginia, for one year before teaming up with Cam again at Yannick's in Alexandria, Virginia.

Eighteen months later, Frank joined the Capital Management Group to take his first executive chef position at The River Club, an upscale supper-club, in Georgetown. The restaurant quickly became known for serious fine-dining, and was Frank's first opportunity to introduce his own menus.

Palena opened in 2000. Since it's opening, Palena has consistently earned rave reviews and ratings from critics and diners alike. Palena has continued to grow to include more recent renovation/additions such as a new kitchen, and a market and coffe shop.

Accolades Frank has received over the years include:

  • Best Chef, Food and Wine Magazine, 2001
  • Restaurateurs of the Year, Washingtonian Magazine, 2002
    (Along with Ann Amernick, then co-owner and pastry chef)
  • Chef of the Year, The Washington City Paper, 2007
  • Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, James Beard Foundation, 2007

Business Hours

  • Dining Room:
    Dinner - Tuesday - Saturday: 5:30 PM - 10:00 PM
  • Palena Cafe:
    Lunch - Tuesday - Saturday: 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
    Dinner - Monday - Saturday: 5:30 PM 10:00 PM

Editorial Reviews

Tom Sietsema on enhanced Palena: Dining Room shines, enlarged Cafe loses a pinch of luster
Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post | February 13, 2011

"We moved from Logan Circle to Cleveland Park to be closer to Palena."  If the stranger had invoked the name of just about any other restaurant in Washington, I would have smiled and quietly dismissed the statement as hyperbole. But there he and I were, sitting just a table away from each other at the newly expanded establishment in question, our significant others in tow and some uncommonly beautiful plates of food in front of us. Yes, I found myself saying to the stranger and his wife, I could see myself relocating for more dates with chef Frank Ruta's cooking, too.

Frank Ruta of Palena, the best chef you've never heard of
Jane Black, The Washington Post | October 19, 2010

Ask Frank Ruta why after 10 years he finally decided to expand Palena, his jewel-box restaurant in Cleveland Park, and the chef will tell you it's an opportunity to explore his repertoire and offer dishes he simply can't turn out in his cramped basement kitchen. Only when pressed, firmly, will he acknowledge that doubling the number of seats might generate more income, too.



  • Attire: Dressy
  • Parking: Street Parking
  • Average Price ( Per Person ): $30 - $60
  • Family Restaurant: No
  • Alcoholic Beverages: Full Bar, Specialty: Wines
  • Carry Out: No
  • Outside Seating: Yes
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
  • Has TV: No
  • Takes Reservations: Yes
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, Diners Club

Restaurant ID: 426

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