Like everyone, I’ve been dying to know how Scena Tavern is. Of course, it’s the restaurant by Paul Dzubnar (Green Mill) that has an opening cast of all-stars—menu by that Food & Wine Best New Chef Erik Anderson (of nationally acclaimed Catbird Seat), ably assisted by Jamie Malone, another Food & Wine Best New Chef, drinks by Nick Kosevich (one of our country’s top cocktail minds, force behind Bittercube Bitters and the cocktail program at Eat Street Social, and many other spots both here and in other states), and opening wine list by Bill Summerville, former sommelier of La Belle Vie.
One of the things that has propelled me to want to go is that I can’t tell if this is going to be a restaurant of ongoing interest, or essentially a pop-up of all-stars, who will all move on to their own projects in 2016. Malone and Anderson are opening their own spot, Brut, possibly in June 2016, for instance. Anyway, I popped by and tried a few things, in those early days when it’s really too early to review a place and the servers are still figuring out the table numbers and where the coffee creamers are.
I had a few things that were spectacular, and a few that weren’t quite ready for prime time. The drinks I tried were fan-flipping-tastic: The “Pond King” lives in the general universe of fruity and tangy drinks, as it’s made with a fresh and lively blackberry sage gastrique, but goes past that with deep cinnamon notes from bitters tangling with dark rum, and smoky dots of a brick-colored chili oil. It’s one of those drinks that’s surprising and interesting, and you get different sensations as you try to perceive the chili dots with your tongue and then: Poof ... it’s gone. If these are the magic tricks Kosevich is playing with now, I’m all in. There’s one topped with pistachio dust, which will be my next order.
The crudo options I tried were excellent. My favorite was the yellowfin tuna which showcased meaty, big chunks of extremely fresh fish paired with a very fruity olive oil, lemon zest, and fresh slices of serrano chili. My biggest pet peeve with local crudo dishes has been the way chefs have been letting the accompaniments shout out the fish, this was a great example of putting the fish first, and gilding it to a greater glory. I tried one pasta, a bucatini with ‘nduja, which was wildly oversalted, and a piadina, which was delicious—picture an oval pizza topped with lots of chopped Manila clams, garlic, and white wine. It’s like a New Haven white clam pizza, cheffed up for a night on the town. The dry aged meatballs were the other winner I found, the name is a little confusing, but refers to dry aging the meat before it’s ground, and the resulting flavor is beefy and winey and hugely satisfying. My too early verdict? Very promising!
And here's the big news for raw fish fans: Anderson and Kosevich have begun doing a seated crudo and cocktail dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, until Brut opens. Thre are eight seats only at two each of two seatings, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and $100 per person (not including tax and tip) for a 10 course menu of crudo and cocktail pairings, every Friday and Saturday. For a spot email: email@example.com.
Intrigued? I am. Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting your sushi chef put together the best he’s got for you, and Minneapolis’ omakase scene took a fatal blow with the closing of Origami downtown. Is this the next level in cheffy omakase? Scena sent over the above pics so you can judge for yourself. If it looks like your thing, reserve a spot—because no one knows if it will still be a thing by July.