East End Eats: Sen, as Good as It Ever Was

Sen has been in business for 25 years
The sushi chefs at the newly renovated Sen in Sag Harbor have more room to prepare their always impeccably fresh offerings. Laura Donnelly

23 Main Street, Sag Harbor
Lunch and dinner daily

This is not so much a review as it is an update on the recent renovation of Sen in Sag Harbor. Like many buildings in this charming village, it is over 100 years old, was tippy (literally four and a half inches), the front windows were cracking, and it simply needed modernizing and sprucing up. Most significantly, the kitchen was too tiny and out of date to accommodate the hundreds of meals served 365 days of the year. 

The kitchen is now three times the size it was previously. Beyond that, the co-owners Jeff Resnick and Ryunosuke Jesse Matsuoka simply expanded and moved the back bar area to accommodate more people, and the front windows can now be opened. The menu is the same, the number of seats is the same, and the prices have not changed.

Sen has been in business for 25 years, which is 100 in Hamptons restaurant years. At first glance upon entering, all looks the same: beautiful green-gray Venetian plastered walls with simple and modern wood details. In the back, the ceiling has thin wood slats with pale red and green light shining through and some groovy Edison bulb light fixtures hanging over the bar area. One wall in the back bar area has a beautiful mural painted by Jesse’s mother, Lynn. I did confess to Mr. Resnick that I missed the old bathrooms, they were like walking into a spa with stone walls and soothing music. He protested politely, “We’re not done yet, we’re not done!” They are pretty, just not the same.

On a recent visit with guests ranging from a teenager to a nonagenarian, we sampled some familiar favorites and a few new dishes.

We began with edamame, chicken lemongrass dumplings, oshinko (Japanese pickles), oshitashi (usually made with spinach, this one made with broccoli raab), panko tofu, crunchy rice tuna, and some steamed buns. 

The edamame is always perfectly steamed here, the beans al dente and lightly salted. The dumplings are excellent, with plenty of fragrant lemongrass and thin, delicate dough. The oshitashi was an original spin on the usual spinach, the broccoli raab had a hint of peppery bitterness that married well with the slightly tart and salty soy-vinegar dressing. It was topped with toasted sesame seeds, fried sliced garlic, chili threads, and micro greens. The panko tofu is a wedge of tofu coated with panko bread crumbs, fried, and served with miso eggplant, sesame tofu vinaigrette, with some swirls of ponzu vinaigrette on the plate. 

The crunchy rice tuna is one of my favorite starters. Four chewy, crunchy rectangles of sticky rice are topped with spicy tuna, rings of jalapeño, and a dab of spicy mayo. The buns are also a favorite, especially the duck. The spongy soft white bun is filled with slices of smoked duck, some tiny slices of pickled cucumber, hoisin sauce, and crispy wonton strips. They are like baby bites of Peking duck. 

Next was the torched salmon roll, rock shrimp tempura, sashimi platter, and miyako roll. The torched salmon was smoky on top, raw underneath. The salmon slices are laid on California rolls and topped with chili threads (sil gochu) and mustard miso dressing. The chili threads add a bit of heat on the level of Aleppo peppers. The rock shrimp tempura are crisp and sweet and tossed with spicy mayo and micro greens. This is another winner. 

The sashimi variety we got was tuna, yellowtail, salmon, shrimp, and a few other items that were gobbled up before I could identify or taste them. Ahem. The miyako roll was one I had never tried before, with shrimp tempura wrapped with masago (fish eggs from capelin, similar to salmon roe), spicy tuna, scallions, and eel sauce. Sometimes specialty rolls have too much going on and you can’t identify each ingredient. This one was a great combination of flavors.

We all agreed that our waiter, Anthony, was beyond excellent. Every time he approached our table he was beaming as if we were his best friends and there was no place he’d rather be. Sen gets extremely crowded and busy as soon as it opens, and the staff scurries about efficiently, politely, and professionally. 

The prices at Sen are moderate to expensive. Let’s face it, good, fresh, raw fish is going to be expensive anywhere. Share plates, buns, salads, soups, and noodles are $5 to $19; sushi, sashimi, and rolls are $3.50 to $28; entrees and tempura are $6 to $42, and sushi platters are $9 to $56.

I have never indulged in dessert here, but on this evening we tried the warm chocolate cake and black sesame ice cream. Most of the desserts are made in house, except for the mochi offerings. The chocolate cake was delicious, served with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. The black sesame seed ice cream was a revelation, nutty and smooth and flecked with seeds. We all loved it and found it unusual.

Part of the renovation of Sen was adding to the back of the building to provide housing for the numerous chefs and staff, some of whom come from as far away as Japan. Some other things worth mentioning are the fact that Jesse is a master sake sommelier, the only one on Long Island. He teaches sake classes in the winter months, and it is worth learning about sakes and then indulging in some of their higher end varieties such as Born Gold and Dassai 50. You may never go back to that hot stuff again! Jesse’s father, Toranosuke, is now retired but he was one of the original owners and sushi chefs at Sen, was an award-winning sumo wrestler in his youth, and still grows shiso leaves for the restaurant at his house in Noyac. 

Since I am such a fan of the sushi and sashimi, I seldom get the ramens, soups, and other prepared dishes, but have tried them with other guests and they are all delicious, especially the chili chicken ramen and the curries.

Welcome back, Sen. We missed you. Here’s to the next 25 years and more!

The co-owners of Sen, Ryunosuke Jesse Matsuoka and Jeff Resnick Laura Donnelly