Have you been feeling a strange, magnetic urge to head to Uptown recently? You might be getting pulled in by the same tractor beam that brought a constellation’s worth of culinary stars to the newest supernova in our restaurant world, Scena Tavern. Owner Paul Dzubnar of Green Mill, Crooked Pint Ale House, and Town Hall Brewery, has gathered a dream team of food and beverage folks to collaborate on his new, most ambitious venture.
Chef Marc Paavola (Union, Sea Change, The Afton Inn) is joined by consulting chefs Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone, who will be opening their own restaurant, Brut, in the coming months. The bar program is by Bittercube, and lucky for you, founder and cocktail guru Nick Kosevich and his crew will be behind the bar. Bill Summerville, longtime sommelier at La Belle Vie and then at Spoon and Stable, is the guiding light behind the wine list.
Scena sits on the corner of Lake St. and Girard, part of the Walkway building (you know, the one with the see-through hot tub that hangs over the street). The space is beautiful. The two-story dining room is a convivial mix of classic glamour and modern hip.
As you enter, the first thing you notice is lots of curves. The main bar, which sits in the center of the room, is round, and it’s echoed in the shape of the landing of the second floor. The large open kitchen gives diners a view of the action, while a wall-length fireplace anchors one end of the main floor. While the restaurant is expansive, it still manages to feel intimate. And the food? The food is Italian, and since you’re wondering, yes, there is crudo, as well as piadini, pasta, and Mediterranean inflected main courses. And there’s a bread program that will make even the most diehard Paleo devotee come over to the carb side.
If you wanted to describe to someone what the sea tastes like, you could do it by feeding them the crudo at Scena. The scallops with isot pepper, lardo, and shallots practically melt in your mouth, with the sweetness of the scallops put into high relief by the contrasts with the other flavors. The red prawns with citrus, oregano and black olive sea salt will spoil you for ever eating this crustacean in any other incarnation.
The piadini, kind of an Italian cross between flatbread and pizza, feature toppings like manila clams with white wine, parsley and chilies; and a favorite at our table, scrambled eggs with the Italian pork sausage cotechino, Sunday gravy, fontina and pecorino. Pastas are made in house. The pappardelle with veal tongue Bolognese and bucatini with n’duja (a kind of spreadable sausage), egg yolk, garlic and herb breadcrumbs are dishes you’ll dream of long after you finish every last noodle. Main courses include a mammoth-size bistecca served with lively salsa verde; grilled swordfish, its lushness complemented by olives, herbs and chilies and a sausage-wrapped pork tenderloin.
The cocktails here are given as much attention and respect as the food. There are no fewer than three bars at Scena, the main attraction on the street level, one on the second floor and yet another at the crudo bar. Sitting at any of the bars and watching as the drinks are carefully crafted is mesmerizing. Drinks are stirred and shaken, sure, but then they are also hit with seemingly magic potions dispensed via eye droppers or ornate atomizers that add flair, drama, and a bit of mystery to your evening. There are some drinks, created to pair with specific crudo dishes, that you’ll only be able to get at the crudo bar. And gin lovers, take note: Scena has over 100 different options, second only to Whitechapel in San Francisco.
Christmas will come early for Twin Cities foodies when Scena opens on Dec. 9.
2943 Girard Ave. S., Minneapolis