Sen Sakana

Restaurants, Peruvian Midtown West
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 (Photograph: Teddy Wolff)
Photograph: Teddy Wolff

Yaki Soba at Sen Sakana

 (Photograph: Teddy Wolff)
Photograph: Teddy Wolff

Sen Sakana

The buta queso skewer at Sen Sakana is pretty addictive. A diminutive bundle of oozing Peruvian cheese ($7) is rendered crisp by Japanese binchotan charcoal, wrapped in pork belly and dunked (at your discretion) into its accompanying condiments: sweet and earthy miso-spiked aji panca sauce and fried quinoa to add some crunch.

This east-west hybrid is an example of Nikkei cuisine, a marriage born in the late 19th century when Japanese rail workers were posted in Peru. Helmed by executive chef Mina Newman (Edison Ballroom), whose mother is from Peru, and Osaka-born chef Taku Nagai (Ootoya), Sen Sakana is NYC’s most full-throated expression of the little-known genre. The sprawling Midtown spot (with an equally expansive menu) is sleek and spare but never austere, suffused with blonde wood, glowing blue lights and jazz pulsing from the front bar through the main dining room, all the way to the sushi counter in the back.

Sen Sakana’s best dishes refuse to sit still. The mostly small plates are laced with vigorous flavors that dance, bounce and surprise. No two bites of Nikkei ceviche ($20) are the same. The bowl of torched salmon chunks is lavished with an array of toppings that could rival 16 Handles—salty corn nuts, smoky seaweed shreds, crackling spring-roll threads and a bracing pool of yuzu leche de tigre. Salchipapas ($14) are Peruvian street food in a coat and tie, mini kurobuta sausages and creamy baby potatoes slicked with rich, sweet aji Amarillo butter, served alongside tiny squeeze bottles of bright salsa verde and pungent miso mustard. And don’t sleep on the humble empanada ($7), fluffy pastry pumped with a soul-soothing stew of minced chicken, potato and two kinds of Japanese curry.

Perfectly pleasant entrees don’t navigate the trans-Pacific partnership between Japan and Peru quite as smoothly. Oyakodon ($26), a mix of tender, soy-marinated grilled chicken thigh and rice cooked in cilantro, pumpkin and beer, skews soft and bland, even with two helpings of toasty chili oil and a raw egg yolk stirred in. Drifts of shellfish-strewn Yaki soba ($32) are panfried until crisp and chewy at once; the longer they slosh around in their heady, pepper- and dashi-infused fish stock, the better they get. Ultimately, though, the dish remains inescapably reminiscent of Chinese takeout.

So, no, not all of Sen Sakana’s cross-cultural concoctions will leave you with indelible cravings, but the liveliness of its plates shows the spot is well on its way to getting NYC hooked on Nikkei.



Venue name: Sen Sakana
Address: 28 W 44th St
New York
Price: Average main course: $32
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Blending bold South American flavours with traditional Japenese cuisine, Sen Sakana aspires to be an ‘intense intercultural exchange born from the union of two age-old civilisations.’ 

This cozy, delicious restaurant in uptown Manhattan translates to ‘one thousand fish’, referring to the 1,000 different species rumoured to swim in the Peruvian waters. It is a restaurant about immigration and the blending of cultures, which through their union become richer and more creative. This particular gastronomic adventure goes back to the 1800s, when Japenese immigrants made their way to Peru, finding a home away from home and adding an orderly and intricate touch to bold Peruvian flavours. 

For those out there who appreciate extra effort and a little surprise in their restaurants, Sen Sakana is all about the little details and finishing touches both in its dishes and design. 

Upon arrival you’ll be presented with a menu, an excellent explanation of what you might like to try based on your tastes and a small kettle. You will be forgiven for thinking that you’re getting a complimentary green tea. Within seconds the waiter produces a plate and starts pouring the contents from the teapot onto it. And it’s not tea coming out, but rather a tiny bundled handkerchief, which, as soon as it makes contact with the cool air and the surface of the plate, starts to expand into a normal size handkerchief. It is still warm however and invites you to clean your hands before indulging into the delicious finger food on the starters menu.

You’ll have to try the Yamitsuki ‘addictive cucumber’ (and not just because the New Yorker has been raving about it!). This is probably the quirkiest and tastiest cucumber salad you have tried so far. Think crispy quinoa, sesame seeds and amarillo sauce, bringing out delicious and surprising flavours definitely worth  exploring. Follow this with the decadent ‘buta queso cremoso’ (Peruvian cheese wrapped in pork belly). This is pretty much Christmas coming early for your tastebuds. 

You will by now probably be ready for a main dish. The sushi with a Peruvian twist is definitely worth exploring. You could try the ‘Hon Hamachi’. The dish delicately blends avocado with asparagus maki, seared yellowtail and adds a finishing touch of Peruvian Smoked Sea Salt. If you are feeling more experimental, ‘Madai tiradito’ is basically a date between ceviche and sashimi, and one that will allow you to fully embrace the culinary union of Peru and Japan. 

Last but not least, the service is excellent, and while the restaurant itself is on the pricier side, all price tags already include service charge (something quite unusual for New York) so don’t expect to have to provide tips on top. And even if you try, you will be politely refused. 

Go on then, give into Sen Sakan’s invitation and get ready to explore the culinary romance of Japan and Peru.