A Bustling Scene With Classic Italian Fare
Written by Patricia Brooks
November 12, 2010 - Darien’s culinary landscape has been changing lately - for the better. And the convivial Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, a creation of the Siguenza brothers, Vicente and Kleber, who also own Cava in New Canaan and 55 Degrees in Fairfield, fits right into the general upswing.
Scena is indeed a “scene,” lively, bustling and - because of the hardwood floors - noisy.
A compact northern Italian menu offers considerable appeal and is executed with solid professional know-how. A delicious appetizer of crispy fried artichokes, which came with goat cheese, arugula and pumpkin seed pesto, was a light and enticing way to begin dinner. I was also drawn to a starter special of sautéed squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta. There were only three blossoms (at $11), but they were delicious - crunchy on the outside, sweet and ethereal within
Seven pasta dishes, made from scratch, are Scena’s pride and joy. I especially liked the shell-like cavatelli with charred octopus, olives, tomatoes and guanciale (pork cheeks), and the long, flat tagliatelle with broccoli rabe, basil pesto, parmesan and house-made fennel sausage. But don’t overlook the other entrees. The chicken Milanese was crisply battered and buttery, and the seared sea scallops, tender and lightly browned, were served with cauliflower ravioli, a generous portion of fresh lobster, toasted almonds and charred green beans.
Even desserts shine at Scena, notably a satin-smooth lemon panna cotta, embellished with polenta shortbread and Chantilly cream, and one of the most luscious tiramisus I’ve had in years.
The air in Scena hints of the wood-smokiness of a pizza oven, and there are five pizzas on the menu. Our table ordered two. The crust in both cases was mundane, but the toppings - mushroom (with portobellos, garlic, fontina and walnut pesto) and spicy sausage (tomato, piquillo peppers, mozzarella and green olives) - were appealing.
Lunch at Scena is as compelling as dinner and considerably quieter. It also features a special wallet-pleaser: three courses for a prix fixe $18. There was a choice of three starters, and my table delighted in each: a refreshing fig and arugula salad (with radicchio, red onion, pecorino and saba vinegar); lentil soup resonating with smoky bacon and garlicky croutons; and the above-mentioned crispy artichokes.
One of the lunch entrees was perfectly cooked roasted salmon, served with beet salad, herb pesto, red onion and orange segments. Grilled salmon, a dinner entree, was even better because of its accompaniment of artichoke risotto, which was seductive perfection.
In several visits to Scena I found very little to complain about. There was an omission - grilled calamari arrived with a pleasing salad of white beans, enlivened by lemon and parsley, but the beans were not the white bean hummus promised on the menu - as well as a few extra touches that were meant to be creative but were mere distractions. For instance, a superbly cooked duck breast came with tasty, sautéed escarole and corn-goat cheese crespelle. A grilled peach, part of the entourage, lacked flavor and was unnecessary.
Two twists of tough pizza bread, accompanying an excellent spicy salmon tartare (teased with lemon and jalapeño), were superfluous. The salmon (with arugula) was a pleasure by itself. Like so much at Scena, it was just as it should be and didn’t need enhancing.
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