Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant in Darien has been serving top notch, modern interpretations of Italian cuisine under the direction of Executive Chef Eben Leonard for close to 3 years. It is one of three restaurants owned by brothers Vicente and Kleber Siguenza (a fourth is schedule to open in Greenwich later this year) including Cava Wine Bar in New Canaan and 55 Degrees Wine Bar and Restaurant in Fairfield.
Chef Leonard traces his culinary passion to his early childhood in Chatham, New York when he prepared monthly dinner menus for his mother. As a teenager, Chef Leonard met his first mentor, Chef Urs Bieri, at the Elm Court Inn in Massachusetts, when Bieri hired him to work as a “chef” at the age of fifteen, teaching him many aspects of the professional kitchen. His aspiration was further enhanced as a line chef, “I loved the adrenalin, chaos, and speed. I loved creating the plates, making them perfect.” After attending the New England Culinary Institute, Chef Leonard worked with Todd English at Bonfire in Boston and Olives in New York. In describing choosing his perfect career, he told me, “I was lucky to find something that I loved and was good at so young. There is a good chance I would be working at a DMV or living as a ski bum out west if I hadn't gotten that first dishwasher job.”
Chef Leonard joined Scena as its opening chef in 2009 and continues to oversee the menu of delectable antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas and entrees. The wine list is extensive, comprised primarily of California and Italian choices, with over 200 labels and prices starting at $38. The decor is relaxing, the atmosphere is high energy, and guests can enjoy seasonal al fresco dining.
During my visits I enjoyed many of Chef Leonard’s creations.
My favorite of the antipasti choices was the steak tartare accented with shallots and a touch of truffle oil. A quail egg sat atop the tartare, which itself sat in a pool of truffle paste, and served with parmesan crostini and shaved parmesan cheese. The tartare was outstanding with the rich flavors of the beef the focal point with just a hint of the shallot. When combined with the raw quail egg and black truffle paste the three created a luscious textual dish. The meat was ground to a consistency that allowed for a great textural balance. Another delicious antipasti was the salmon tartare that was served at lunch and included chopped salmon sitting atop a small portion of guacamole. This tartare included cucumber and red pepper and these additions allowed the fresh flavor of the salmon to maintain the focus of the dish while adding a nice texture variation.
For a lighter and more refreshing summer choice I enjoyed the watermelon salad. The dish contained cubes and slices of red and yellow watermelons plus arugula, pistachios, a touch of saba vinaigrette and topped with grated goat cheese. This was an extremely refreshing dish with the two melons delivering a slight variance of flavor, the pistachios added a little saltiness, the arugula a peppery background and the saba vinegar was a great complement to the sweetness of the melons. This was an incredibly delightful way to start the meal on a hot summer night.
I also enjoyed two very different pasta preparations. My favorite of the two was the summer corn ravioli with mushrooms, fava beans, English peas, parmesan shavings and chives. The filling consisted of summer corn, shallots, garlic and charred corn with the addition of cream and a stock created from the corn centers. The fresh mushrooms, fava beans and peas complemented the pasta and added a light sweetness and crunchiness to this delicious dish. The second pasta was a taggliatelle with a Bolognese sauce. The house made taggliatelle was perfectly prepared and the Bolognese had a surprise ingredient, cinnamon. This addition may not be for everyone, but I found that the addition of this ingredient added an enjoyable flavor differential from the other Bolognese sauces in the area.
For entrees, I thoroughly enjoyed the seared scallops with poached lobster, potato gnocchi, heirloom tomatoes, and finished with thin slices of cucumbers and radishes. The U10 scallops were delicious and when I asked the source I was told that one of the owners travels to Hunts Point Market and personally hand selects all of the fish for Scena. They were perfectly seared and the thin slices of the cucumbers and the radishes added a great crunchiness while the heirloom tomatoes added a touch of sweetness. While the lobster added a level of elegance, the scallops worked so perfectly with the other ingredients that I think the dish could easily be served without the lobster.
The other outstanding entrée was the hangar steak with spigarello greens (from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, N.Y), potato hash, soft egg, balsamic and a red wine sauce. Hangar steaks are one of my favorite cuts of beef and Chef Leonard’s version was delicious, an incredibly creative dinner version of steak and eggs. The large portion of hangar steak was perfectly cooked to medium rare and its deep and rich flavor was perfectly complemented by the spigarello greens, which have a broccoli-type flavor. The potato hash included extra crispy chorizo and corn with a soft egg on top. The steak was marinated in red wine, smoked paprika oil and soy and quickly grilled. I loved every aspect of this dish and enjoyed Chef Leonard’s modified breakfast classic as a delicious dinner entrée.
Overall, Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant is an excellent choice in Darien and I look forward to more visits to enjoy more of Chef Leonard’s delicious creations.
Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, 1077 Post Rd., Darien, CT 203-662-3226