Palena Cafe: Cheeseburger. $12
Bourbon Steak: Oak-fired prime steak burger with pickles, cabot clothbound cheddar and secret sauce. $19
These were both very good burgers, making this a little more challenging than the chains division.
Both of the patties were tasty, juicy and clearly composed of high-quality beef. Both burgers have a nice simplicity, eschewing a mound of toppings for something simple. In the case of Palena, it's very simple: there are no toppings other than the cheese and sauce. For Bourbon Steak, it's cheese and shredded lettuce with sauce. I appreciate what Bourbon Steak is doing with their toppings: burgers loaded with big tomato slices and lettuce pieces can be annoying to eat, because they tend to allow everything to shift around in your hands and pretty soon you have a big mess. However, it's just a little too simple. The cheese is so mild that you don't really taste it and, if they're going to have only one vegetable topping, I bet they could come up with something more creative than shredded lettuce (caramelized onion jam? shredded pickles?).
Palena, on the other hand, presents its simplicity with perfect balance. The cheese, rather than succumbing to the patty's flavor, harmonizes with it, delivering its truffle-flecked flavor as a perfect counterpoint to the beef. Value-wise, Palena's $12 burger is by far the least expensive of the upscale offerings (it's even less expensive than two of the casual chain burgers), so you're really getting a good deal for the price.