When all else seems relatively sleepy on the East End, Sag Harbor still has a vibrant restaurant scene. It drags people out of their homes even on the coldest nights, when gusts of wind seem intolerable, and they stroll in the glow of Main Street as if it were Manhattan.
On one such night, after three weeks of back-to-back snowstorms, I had the absolute delight of dining at Sen, the healthy Japanese restaurant I’d heard so much about. My dining partner was my good friend, private chef Jacqueline McKay. The restaurant was busy on a Wednesday night—with couples at tables and groups of friends circled around the central bar and sushi-making station. Taking in the warmth of the low ceiling and the wood all around, we started off with two glasses of Red Satan Akamoah Soju, a Japanese vodka made with 83% sweet potato and 17% rice, served on the rocks, as is customary with such a pure and smooth vodka. With a deep, earthy sweetness, the Soju was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.
The menu offered sake flights, including “Sun”—with tastes of the highest grade of sake—as well as “Moon” and “Sky,” each tailored to the individual’s palate. Among “Crafted Cocktails” the Kasai Margarita, made with Shishito pepper-infused tequila, fresh grapefruit, lime and agave sounded especially wonderful and refreshing, but on this particular night I was feeling that spring-is-coming need for total purity; hence the vodka.
While you might think that all Japanese restaurants are healthy, and generally they are, Sen takes it a step further with an incredible selection of vegan dishes, like the marinated burdock Gobo Salad, Sesame Wakame Salad and Ohitashi spinach (amazing!) shiitake appetizer, and even denotes Wellness Foundation-approved dishes on their menu.
With so many wonderful-sounding dishes to choose from, we both opted for the Tasting Menu— seven small dishes served together in the traditional Japanese style. First to arrive were our soups—Jackie’s Ramen, with egg, and my Vegetarian Miso. To the side was a little bowl of chili and sesame powder, which we were encouraged to sprinkle on the soup. Doing so, I found my miso to be heavenly; satisfying, warming and full of flavor. Of the ramen, a noodle bowl full of soft-cooked egg, spinach, bamboo shoots, pork belly, shiitake, scallion and nori, Jackie advises to definitely “get it with the egg.”
To follow, came our bento box-style dinners—each selection in its own little compartment. We both chose burdock as the “Seasonal Vegetable” option. After all, how often does one have an encounter with the delicious anti-oxidant and medicinal (blood purifying) root? I was an immediate fan. It was refreshing, earthy, spicy and sweet. For the salad, our Hijiki, a highly nutritious sea vegetable, served with tiny soy beans and sesame, was delightful. The sushi was on par with everything else—rolled to perfection with all the freshest ingredients, from the fish to the rice. Sushi and sashimi lovers will be impressed with the selection. My vegetable roll, quite unlike many of the standard avocado-carrot-cucumber types, was composed of shredded daikon, asparagus, cucumber, shiitake, kampyo and avocado. (And it certainly earned the Wellness Foundation’s approval.) My kitchen selection was Panko Tofu, and there are almost no words to describe how satisfying it was, but I’ll try. The crispy outside layer was paper-thin, while the tofu inside was soft, but not too soft, and, dipped into the wasabi soy sauce, it was perfection. Jackie’s Spicy Shimp Tempura was unlike any other—almost creamy—and full of flavor. The bento box-style of dining allowed for each “selection” to be featured, standing out on its own, while one can alternate bites, enjoying and experimenting with the different flavors.
We ended on a sweet note with a taste of Mochi Ice Cream (Green Tea) and Carrot Cake. The texture of the mochi was so much fun—like a little dough pouch encasing the cool ice cream. The carrot cake, not your typical finding on a Japanese menu, somehow fit—and warmed with hints of rum, ginger and cinnamon. We absolutely loved our Sen dinner and left feeling uplifted, balanced and ready to go back soon.
Sen, 23 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 631-725-1774, senrestaurant.com