Not many people know this, but Peru, one of the hottest dining destinations in the world thanks to acclaimed restaurants such as Central, also has a sizable Japanese immigrant population whose influence in taste has led to the mix of a unique cuisine called “Nikkei”, blending the culinary traditions of both countries. When I traveled to Peru a couple of years ago, I tried a restaurant in Lima called Maido that had gained critical acclaim for the Nikkei cuisine; ultimately, thought, I was underwhelmed with the whole experience as I thought there was too much going on in this fusion between the two distinct styles of both countries. I guess I was a little more wedded to the subtle elegance on the Japanese side during my time in Lima, and therefore the novel South American flavor being added to what is otherwise Japanese food proved to be distracting rather than satisfying. Therefore, when I heard that Sen Sakana opened this year in New York City after almost three years of delay, I wasn’t sure whether I should check out this place. Once I ultimately decided to give it a shot, I still walked in with my wife Jun with fairly modest expectations. Overall, though, some of the dishes at the restaurant turned out to be quite interesting and delicious.
The menu at Sen Sakana is quite large, running six pages across multiple categories from small appetizers to grilled skewers to sushi and maki pieces to large dishes. The kitchen itself is run by one American chef who spent her childhood in Peru, one Japanese chef and another Korean chef who runs the sushi bar. The menu does seem to have a lot of intriguing dishes, starting with the “addictive” cucumber with crispy quinoa and sesame seed that provided a nice start to our meal. Jun and I have had hundreds of gyozas (Japanese dumplings) by now, but the one with shrimp and crab was quite satisfying in its unique way as we had been more used to those with pork fillings. The addition of spicy kick from the jalapeno cilantro sauce made the maguro (big eye tuna) tiradito (one of the quintessentially Nikkei dishes of raw fish drawing from the tradition of sushi and ceviche) quite interesting too.
Of the grilled skewers, I felt that the one with Peruvian cheese wrapped in pork belly was a little too heavy for my taste, but Jun and I both enjoyed the Japanese sweet potato accompanied by aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper) butter. We ordered some pieces of sushi under the Nikkei nigiri section, and the quality of fish was actually better than I had expected at a restaurant where sushi is not supposed to be the star. For main dish, Jun and I shared a very capably grilled orate with three different sauces (grated lime daikon, ponzu and Peruvian Japanese ginger sauce). The fish was more or less perfectly cooked with minimal seasoning so that we can adjust flavor using one of the sauces as we see fit; Jun’s only issue was the daikon (which she loves in general) came out dipped in soy sauce to give a little more salty sensation than she had hoped. For dessert, Picaron waffle made of sweet potatoes (a homage to a classic Peruvian dessert picarones) accompanied by cinnamon syrup and banana kinako ice cream was quite delightful without overly being sweet. Even though Jun and I were almost full by then, we had no problem finishing the waffle in a couple of minutes.
The restaurant is quite spacious and located in the rather sedate Midtown neighborhood nearby Bryant Park, so you are likely to have no issues securing a reservation in the last minute. I can tell that the management spent a small fortune on the dining space, which seems to scream post-financial crisis opulence that is back in Midtown Manhattan (similar to other places that opened this year like The Grill and Empellon). We were lucky to be seated at the dining room at the back instead of the somewhat chaotic scene at the front. There is full bar with some nice sake options to choose from to complement your meal. If you don’t plan to go visit Lima anytime soon and are looking for an initiation into the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines in New York City, I say Sen Sakana is a place worth checking out.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 28 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036