Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Crudo dinner at Scena Tavern in Uptown
Crudo dinner at Scena
Old joke: A Frenchman walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder. The bartender says, “Hey, that’s neat, where did you get him?” And the parrot replies, “France, there’s millions of them over there.” Funny right? Because you thought this was a joke about a French guy, but it turns out it was about the parrot! Consider yourself prepped for this review.
Scena Tavern opened in Uptown shortly before Christmas in the Walkway apartment building. The principal behind the restaurant, Paul Dzubnar, has made a good living as CEO of Green Mill restaurants and as an investor in other properties such as the Crooked Pint taverns, Harriet Inn, and the Town Hall Brewery collection. Scena is an American eatery with an Italian-inspired menu created and developed by star chefs Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone—he formerly of Sea Change and Catbird Seat in Nashville, she also of Sea Change. And here’s where we begin to wonder, is it about the French guy or the parrot—or, in this case Dzubnar or two big-name chefs?
Straight up, Scena is a nice, grownup place to grab a drink and a bite in Uptown. It has a large, circular bar (with drinks and service from the Bittercube team), is warmly lit and a bit suburban-Parade-of-Homes feel in tone and décor, and boasts a parking garage in the basement of its building. Pastas like the bucatini and carbonara are tasty and well made, the bread program is solid, and the pizza (or piadini) crusts have a good chew and fun toppings. It’s all fine.
But is fine what we expect when we see the names Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone? Aren’t those names in shining lights because they have immense talent that has earned them national awards and interviews in Time? Aren’t we all hotly awaiting the pair’s upcoming Brut restaurant because we hope to be dazzled? It seems fair, then, to expect to be a little dazzled at Scena. And there are sparkly moments, such as the special crudo dinners helmed by Anderson on weekend nights during which eight people per seating are treated to a face-to-face exposition on how beautiful raw fish can be. But these dinners are on a limited run, and when Anderson and Malone leave for Brut, they will either halt or be helmed by someone not Anderson.
Hiring consulting chefs is nothing new, but it’s usually pretty cut-and-dry: In the cases of Tim McKee at Parasole or Vincent Francoual at Cara Irish Pubs, the two chefs are actual titled employees of their respective companies and oversee the menu if not also the kitchen. And then there are airport venues that sport chef names but aren’t fooling anyone into thinking the actual star chef cooks there. With Malone, Anderson, and Scena, however, there seems to be some gray area. They were never going to be the owners or create something new at Scena, but at the same time their involvement has been highly trumpeted. So is this a bait and switch? Who should I be focused on, the Frenchman or the parrot?
Dzubnar is known for growing mid-level chains, not one-off high-end spots. When his star chefs leave, what’s going to happen? I’ll say that on one occasion that I ate at Scena, neither Malone nor Anderson were there and the food was not as great—the pasta was sticky, the roasted chicken dry and chalky. The drinks have always been excellent, and if this place is destined to be just a bar, then I’ll happily come a-sippin’. But how do I write a review of a place whose main culinary presence is already one foot out the door? I know you can’t bet on chefs to stay, and so any review is a gamble at best, but it’s harder when you already feel that things aren’t really matching up.
Maybe you can help me keep an eye on this place. If you’re headed to Uptown to see a flick at the Lagoon or are meeting friends after getting your hair done at Juut, by all means, wander into Scena and grab a gin cocktail and a pizza. Maybe it will help you sort out this Frenchman and parrot thing once and for all. 2943 Girard Ave. S., Mpls., 612-200-8641, scenatavern.com