2012 December 31

It's A Sen

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Tora Matsuoka Tora Matsuoka
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For those of you Hamptons foodies who crave Japanese from Sen all year round, you're in luck! Sen has just opened their first NYC location on West 21st between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tora Matsuoka has recruited a team comprised of Food & Wine's 2011 People's Choice Top 10 Best New Chefs in America, Executive Chef Bryan Emperor and Executive Sushi Chef Hiro Sawatari. We asked Matsuoka to give us the skinny on their new home, and his fave dishes on the menu for NYE. Tell them The Daily sent you! 

Why did you finally break into the Manhattan market?
Sen has been successful in Sag Harbor for around 20 years now, and we have a devoted following of guests. Basically 80 percent of our guests in the Hamptons reside in the city, so we decided to follow them home.

Are a lot of them coming in?
Yes! Many of them are finding it by accident. We don’t have everyone’s contact information, and what's interesting is that many of them reside in this area. Some of them are walking or driving by our new location. I bumped into a longtime guest on the street, and her son was pointing out the Sen flag. It's also nice that we're opening ourselves up to a new demographic and new client base.

Why did you decide to open it in Chelsea?
Depending on who you speak to, we are either in Chelsea or we're in the Flat Iron District. It was really a chance thing. Friends of ours had a location here and we spoke to them and the deal worked. The more we studied the area we found out that it was a vibrant young neighborhood with a great mix of residential and business.

For a potential customer that hasn’t been to the Sag Harbor location, what is Sen exactly?
Sen is a modern Japanese restaurant. We offer an incredible sushi bar experience which is very similar to our location in Sag Harbor. For those guests who come to the city and are also familiar with our Sag operation, it is different. There is a much wider demographic here in the city. In the Hamptons, the guests are usually on vacation or with their families. Turn times are very short there, people are in and out. They want to get to the beach or go to a party. Here the guests are staying for much longer periods of time. They want a fuller experience.

What's your role exactly?
My position here is to promote the Sen experience. What we do very well is create a full experience for guests, and it starts at the beginning when you walk in. There is a warm and friendly feeling, and that should continue during your experience at the restaurant.

What are the most popular dishes on the menu?
It's rare to have a Japanese restaurant that offers an excellent sushi experience as well as an executed kitchen program. The things I personally love to have are the sumiyaki items, which are our grilled items. We cook them over a specialized Japanese charcoal; they cook on charcoal burnt at about 1,000 degrees. It is so hot that there is no flame; it's just heat. We cook a selection of different meats over them; I especially love the Kara Yuzu. Because of the way it's cooked, it is really crispy but the inside is very moist and juicy. I would say our number one seller from the kitchen is our Mero, it's a Japanese sea bass with crispy rice, presented in a ponzu sauce. One of the things I see on almost every table is the Tatsuta, which is a great representation of what we are trying to do here in NYC. It's basically lollipop chicken.

What's your favorite cocktail on the menu?
You're talking to someone who likes to drink heavily, so it's hard to pick just one. We put a lot of emphasis on creating excellent cocktails. One of my favorites is the te amo margarita. It's been a huge success in the city. But we also offer a great collection of sakes by the glass as well as by the bottle.

Who are some of the big names that have come in?
A lot of our Sen Sag Harbor celebrity clientele have reached out and come by for dinner. Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos texted me to tell me they were going to come in. Calvin Klein has been a Sen guest for a while. I met him when I was 17, and he has always been a great supporter of the restaurant. He reached out to us when he found out we were opening in the city and said he was excited about coming in!



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