A new Italian restaurant raises the bar in Darien
Fig and Arugula Salad
photographs by gus cantavero
A cousin to the popular Cava in New Canaan, the new Scena Restaurant and Wine Bar in Darien is aptly named. When you step into the clubby space next to the Darien Playhouse, you enter a lively scene—literally, a place to see and be seen. Even on a Wednesday night, the Italian restaurant draws a Saturday-night crowd, flocks of couples as well as women gathered for girls’ night out. This congenial atmosphere may come from the restaurant’s founders, brothers Vicente and Kleber Siguenza, who also own Cava and hired Chef Eben Leonard to head the kitchen at Scena.
The brick-backed bar area with high tables is separated from the dining room by a glass partition, so you feel a part of the action whether you’re savoring a dinner for two or meeting friends for wine and starters.
Scena’s wine selection, as you might expect, is rich and expansive. The list landed on our small table with a thud and barely fit next to my place setting. At a recent dinner—one of several meals I’ve enjoyed at this new eatery—we settled on a house Barbera, versatile enough to pair with a range of dishes.
Long banquettes span either side of the restaurant, and while I love built-in seating, in this case, with tables in arms’ reach of each other, it makes for snug quarters. If you need to have a private conversation, this is not the place. Our neighbors, who were more than pleasant, could easily chime in about what we were eating and vice versa, and the noise level is fairly high.
An upside of this situation is that we could spy what others ordered and preview the options. One insalata that lived up to its bright, fresh presentation is the Fig and Arugula, greens adorned with hefty pecorino shavings, prosciutto, figs, and red onion with a very light dressing. It’s a lovely and well-balanced salad. You can order the house-made pasta dishes as appetizers, and we followed our waiter’s recommendation to try one of the chef’s specialties, ricotta gnocchi. Like little clouds of flavor, the pasta was velvety with a creamy ricotta and set on a bed of rich beef bolognese—luscious and lighter than I expected.
Another waiter-prompted order was the grilled shrimp starter, which was perfectly cooked and paired with a sweet potato cake with a lightly crunchy coating and topped with slivered apples and cilantro. It was tasty, but its Asian sensibility seemed a bit out of sync with the rest of the menu. The only appetizer I wouldn’t order again is the salmon tartare with jalapenos (a special available both times I’ve eaten here). I was lured by the potential spiciness, but a strong raw-onion flavor dominated the dish.
For our mains we stuck to Italian and country-style entrees, Scena’s strong suit. A mouth-watering case in point: the Seafood Pappardelle, which successfully weaves wide strips of homemade pasta with peas, grape tomatoes, shrimp, and lobster in a light, slightly spicy red sauce. Slices of garlic add a rustic touch and make the dish particularly robust. Another tasty entrée that’s long on seafood is the Pan Roast, which is laden with clams, mussels, lobster, tomatoes, and broth, all over rice, in a less zesty sauce.
Hearty winter fare abounds on the menu. The Long Island duck breast with its crispy exterior and tender meat inside, served with roasted Brussels sprouts, pear butter, and a hint of maple, is comfort food extraordinaire. Ditto the braised lamb shank with mint gremolata, very meaty and savory and sized generously enough to ensure leftovers.
While we were busily devouring dinner on both occasions, the service was speedy and attentive, impressive in light of the busy dining room. My husband pointed out that virtually the moment he turned his head, the waiter was standing at our tableside. So, the waiter appeared again, in short order, to tempt us with the dessert menu.
After ordering coffee, we were lured by the Tiramisu Parfait, a rich confection served in a glass sundae dish with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top of the drunken lady-fingers. If you’re looking for a taste of dessert that can be shared by the table, consider the Cookie Plate. Though I liked the chocolate biscotti and the slightly sinful lemon canolli, my favorite from the cookie trio is the pistachio ice cream sandwich, a luscious scoop wedged between two crispy cookies. Based on this small sampling, I will definitely try more of the gelato or sorbet next time. And with the fun scene and heart-warming food at Scena, that next time is sure to be right around the corner.
1077 Post Road, Darien
Mon.–Sat., lunch, noon–3 p.m.; dinner, 5–10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. dinner, 5-11 p.m.; Sun., dinner, 5–9 p.m.