I finally was able to get myself to Palena Cafe and during yesterday's rainy evening, it was perfect timing.
Let's get the elephant out of the room: It was incredible!
I went along and got there at about 5:40, right after opening. There was a couple at a cafe table but I was the first to pull a stool to the bar.
The bartended was friendly and very professional. A tall gentleman with dark hair who seemed to be rather full time. He went and retrieved a menu for me and upon learning it was my first time there, he brought the menu back with a full "learning." His explanations were thorough but concise. He explained the cafe menu and the possibility of ordering ala carte from the tasting menu.
After much anticipation (and to satisfy why I drove all the way up there), I had the gnocchi ($14). It was unbelievable! The puffy little dumplings melted in my mouth and were bathed in a garlicky olive oil. There were two types of gnocchi, the classic white and a sweeter green dumpling whereas the dough was mixed with nettles. They just melted in your mouth. In the bowl were some ramps, scallions, garlic, and some wild mushrooms. I didn't recognize the name of the mushrooms. The name was quite long and the mushrooms themselves were very small and put into the dish whole. There was also a bit of a pecorino cheese sauce "for some bite." The dish had all the spring flavors one could ask for. I wanted more!
For my dinner, I should have had a soup or salad since the carbs were really filling. Instead, I went for the cheeseburger ($12) everyone raves about. I had it medium rare. It was peppery and juicy. Though I am not a cheese expert, I think it was provolone (?) It was really great and the soft bun was wonderful. There were also some pickled spring vegetables (onion, beet, cauliflower, cucumber) which were creative and nice, though not for everyone.
Also, I had the fry plate which was great even though I am not generally a fry lover. The bartender convinced me to have a half plate and it was a good decision. The half fry plate ($5.50) was plenty for one person. It has shoestring potatoes, pommes dauphine (incredible "upscale tater tots" that looked like fried mashed potato out of a pastry bag), onion rings, and fried lemon slices. They were accompanied by a "zippy mayonnaise" which tasted like salsa on mayonnaise.
After tip, it was $42 for this great meal. I was very pleased with that.
If you have never tried Palena Cafe, GO! It is incredible. Though the menu online looks like it leans adventurous, there are lots of options on a daily basis for more traditional fare. If you want ramps, it looks like the next few days are going to be the best bet.