Chef Dom Ruggiero opened Bar Cena in Scottsdale. Here's a peek at the menu | Phoenix New Times

Bar Cena brings rich Mediterranean flavors to north Scottsdale

Here's what to expect at chef Dom Ruggiero's newest concept.
The duck confit was the star of the show at Bar Cena, the latest concept from chef Dom Ruggiero.
The duck confit was the star of the show at Bar Cena, the latest concept from chef Dom Ruggiero. Natasha Yee
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When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

It's dark and alluring, sophisticated yet subdued with a bit of mystery and an abundance of flavor. Welcome to Bar Cena, chef Dom Ruggiero's latest concept in north Scottsdale.

Nestled next to the acclaimed Hush Public House, tinted windows and a nondescript door lead to a dimly lit lounge with suede and leather seating, wooden tables and a bar with dark floral wallpaper.

click to enlarge Booth seating at Bar Cena.
Bar Cena is dark and sexy, good for cocktails and a few rich bites.
Natasha Yee
Ruggiero debuted Hush Public House in 2019 to rave reviews — the New Times named it the "Best New Restaurant" that year. He next opened Vanilla Gorilla, a craft beer bar, next door in late 2021, then Fire at Will, an upscale neighborhood eatery at Tatum and Shea boulevards, in November 2022.

But Vanilla Gorilla poured its final pints in June 2023, making way for the most recent addition to Ruggiero's Cast Iron Concepts group. Bar Cena came along in November 2023.

Sprinkled with holiday decor, the space was subtly busy on a Thursday night in mid-December. One couple sat at the bar while a family occupied a table and two friends chatted over wine and small plates.

click to enlarge Pink cocktail at Bar Cena.
The Dreamy Draw cocktail made with mezcal was both smoky and sweet.
Natasha Yee
The cocktail list runs the gamut from gin to tequila to vodka, and mocktails are also on the menu. What to imbibe in? The Nitro Espresso Martini and Ace High with Japanese whiskey, caught our eye. As did the Antidote, table side absinthe service, but it would have to wait for a wilder night.

We went with the Dreamy Draw, made with a choice of mezcal or tequila, plus white rum, bell pepper, egg white, mango and grapefruit. The mezcal lent smoke while the grapefruit and mango added sweetness and the egg white, a playful foam. Two tiny peppers, good for nibbling between bites, garnished the drink.

click to enlarge Popover and mussels at Bar Cena.
Bar Cena's version of a bread course includes a popover with cacio e pepe butter (right). We started with that and the mussels escabeche (left).
Natasha Yee
On the food menu, Bar Cena's French, Spanish and Italian-inspired cuisine is different from that of its neighbor. The two spaces have separate kitchens that share some functionality, the server explained.

A popover, Bar Cena's take on bread and butter, is a great way to kick off the dining experience. Golden brown on the outside with a flaky and hollow interior, the best part was the accompanying cacio e pepe butter. Whole peppercorns mingled with the cheesy butter for little bursts of flavor among the richness.

Next came the mussels escabeche, a classic Spanish dish. The mussels sat in a heap of pickled carrots, onions and jalapeños alongside mustard aioli. Both tangy and spicy, the dish showcased its flavors impeccably while the accompanying grilled Noble bread gave it a crunch.

click to enlarge Steak tartare at Bar Cena.
The tartare was both hearty and zingy. It is served with toasted Noble bread.
Natasha Yee
The tartare, also served with Noble bread, arrived just as the mussels dwindled. Beef fat aioli gave it a heft while capers lent zing. We spooned it onto the crusty bread and enjoyed. But the star of the night had yet to arrive.

The duck confit landed on the table in all of its glory: one crispy leg served over baby arugula, carrots and delicate beluga lentils surrounded by verjus, an acidic juice made with unripened grapes. The meat was salty, savory and so tender it fell apart. We wished for platefuls of the delicacy but shared the lone duck leg reluctantly, relishing every last bite.

click to enlarge Two pieces of Billionaire's Shortbread at Bar Cena.
The Billionaire's Shortbread ended our meal with a jolt of nostalgia.
Natasha Yee
At the end, a bit of sweetness was in order. The Billionaire's Shortbread, small buttery cookies with gooey caramel and chocolate ganache, resembled an elevated, slightly salty Twix.

The meal was moderately filling, though a few more dishes would satiate the seriously hungry. But one thing is for sure: we will be back for the duck confit, and maybe some absinthe to boot.

Bar Cena

14202 N. Scottsdale Road, #165, Scottsdale
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