For a long time now, I've been hearing about Palena's bar menu. The overall message has been that I needed have a glass of wine there and try the cheeseburger. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Palena's bar, there is an area out front at Palena by the bar. It consists of small tables and a casual atmosphere with a "cheaper" menu. Roberto Donna has done something similar at Galileo with Osteria del Galileo.
Early Saturday night, we walked down to Cleveland Park to visit Palena at around 6 pm. We had to wait briefly for a table, but only for about 10 minutes. While we were waiting at the bar, we had a glass of wine and perused the menu. Everything on the menu was $10 - even the plate of french fries. "$10 for a plate of french fries?" I asked Amy. "Those'd better be some damn, good french fries for $10." Some dishes were more than $10, but only a few. There's also the regular, prix fixe menu off which you have the option of ordering a la carte. Prices range from $10-$16 for appetizers and salads and $20-$30 for entrees. The gnocchi at Palena is some of the best I've ever had and I was happy to see they still have it. This time, it was being served with butternut squash...seems like a popular ingredient this time of the year.
Once we were seated, we ordered right away since we were pretty hungry. We decided to share an order of fries and each get a cheeseburger - and of course I ordered the gnocchi. Nothing very eventful happened while we were waiting for our food. We continued to order glasses of wine until the food started to come.
Soon our appetizers came out. My gnocchi was absolute perfection as usual, but Amy's french fries were...well, they were french fries. I'm not sure where anyone gets off charging $10 for an order of fries. Not that I was counting, but there were more onion rings than fries. I'd rather have some of Cafe Deluxe's shoestring fries than the fries at Palena in all honesty. I was glad I was eating my gnocchi and not the french fries. Amy was pretty disappointed. She was expecting something a little more.
Then the burgers came and I quickly realized that I should've ordered some more gnocchi. A $10 cheeseburger is the oldest cliche in dining, and I fell for it. Worst of all, this cheeseburger only came with some fancy mayo on the bun. No lettuce, tomato, onion. There were a few tiny mushrooms - and of all things...beets??? Enough said.
For dessert, we had the cheese selection which included gorgonzola, goats milk and a parmesian-like hard cheese. On the side, it came with a few slices of date bread and fig jam. The gorgonzola cheese was pretty strong - a little too strong for my liking, but that's just gorgonzola cheese. The goats milk was alright, but I found myself wishing I was at 2 Amy's having their goat's milk cheese. The goat's milk cheese at Palena was a little too dry and crumbly for me. My favorite was the hard cheese which I had no problem eating on it's own without the bread or jam.
When the check came, I was pretty unimpressed. for $87 we'd had 3 glasses of wine, a small bowl of pasta, fries and 2 burgers. I'd recommend skipping the burgers, hot dogs and other items like that and ordering off the a la carte menu. You'll enjoy it more and it wont cost you that much more.