Palena adds a coffee shop to its menu

October 24, 2013

Hot news for food lovers in Cleveland Park: Palena is turning its original, 30-seat cafe space into what chef-owner Frank Ruta is calling a "coffee shop." Beginning as soon as Oct. 29, customers will be able to sit down for fresh croissants, bagels, scones and coffee beginning daily at 7 a.m. As morning segues into afternoon, the choices will switch over to savory items including ham turnovers and quiche.


Palena Cafe will service breakfast goods every morning from 7 a.m. (Matt McClain/For The Washington Post)

Previously, baked goods were sold in Palena’s small front food shop. With the change, the market will carry only ingredients used by the kitchen (olive oil, pasta) or made in-house (pickles, chocolates).

Meanwhile, a crisp air of efficiency infuses the restaurant, where the service now matches Ruta’s sophisticated, Italian-leaning cooking. Credit for the enhancement goes to Sean Mulligan, 32, recently promoted from captain to general manager at the combination cafe, formal dining room and market.

Born in Tahiti to an Irish father and a French/Swiss mother, he was raised in Japan, Paraguay, France and New Zealand. A graduate of hotel schools in Switzerland and France, Mulligan speaks French and Spanish. Before Palena, he worked at db Bistro Moderne in Miami.

On the top of his to-do list, he says: improving the wine program and making the 13 year-old Palena a more “interactive” experience for diners.

Mulligan replaces long-time manager Kelli Walbourn.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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