Straight outta Lima: Sen Sakana marries Peruvian and Japanese cuisines on Club Row

Sen Sakana
Sen Sakana

Lima is fast eclipsing fine-dining capitals world wide as the best food city — perhaps it already has. Nearly 100 years ago, legendary French chef and culinary writer Auguste Escoffier called Peruvian cuisine the third best in the world — unsurprisingly French was first in his estimation, Chinese second. Now, it’s winning the race.

The flavors brought by immigrants form Spain, Italy, China, Lebanon and Japan in the mid to late-19th century elevated the nation’s traditional victuals, cooked in the shadows of the Andes, to a rare level of refinement.

Today, Lima beats New York by eight points on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants guides, thanks to restaurants like Central, Maido and Astrid y Gastón.

One of the most fecund and seemingly unlikely culinary relationships to come out of Peru is Peruvian-Japanese fusion, known as Nikkei cuisine. And if you’re a Manhattanite short on holiday time, fret not, there is a new destination right here on Club Row.

Chefs Mina Newman and Taku Nagai recently opened Sen Sakana, a $7 million Japanese-Peruvian effort backed by from Allan Wartski of the Christos Steakhouse and Edison Ballroom. And it does Lima proud.

The sleek 190-seat restaurant boasts full dinner and lunch menus, plus a cocktail and sushi bar. Here’s a course by course look inside.

Cocktails:

“One thousand fish”

These aren’t your average bar lounge quaffs. Expect bonito flakes in your pisco and jalapenos in your punch.

The “One thousand fish” is sort of a Japanese Manhattan with Japanese whisky and fortified pisco, topped with bonito flakes. This wouldn’t be our everyday, after work cocktail, but its certainly original and goes down smooth.

The “Diablo,” with mezcal, spiced pineapple and diplomatico, hit closer to the mark — a perfect balance of fruit spice and smoke.

Small plates

Causa "Onigiri"
Causa “Onigiri”

Small plates are divided into cold and hot. On the cold side, the Causa “Onigiri” — a dish presented like two Andean peaks composed of yellow and purple potato causa, spicy salmon, spicy crab and ikura — is a highlight.

Other cold dishes include harumaki (a spicy tuna, guacamole spring roll) and a three color quinoa salad.

Hot dishes offer even more variety with everything from a latin take on miso soup to Japanese chicken empanadas. Get a little adventurous here, and consider making it your entire meal.

Ceviches

Nikkei ceviche
Nikkei ceviche

A Peruvian classic that plays to all the strengths of Japan’s fish-focused cuisine, the ceviche is another course not to be missed.

Ceviches are divided into citrus marinated fish and tiradito, or “sashimi meets ceviche.” Try the Nikkei ceviche with torched salmon, cancha, oba, yuzu, leche de tigre, or the maguro with big eye tuna, kaiware sprouts, pickled radish, jalapeño cilantro sauce. If you are after something a little different we recommend the gyu tataki, with washu beef, ponzu jure, aji limo, sen sakana criolla and micro oba.

And if you are like us and are feeling a bit rusty with your Japanese, never fear, the staff proved exceedingly knowledgable regarding all the meats and vegetables severed.

Kushiyaki

It you prefer your meat on a stick order a round of kushiyaki, a selection of fatty meats and veggies on skewers.

Large plates

Aki soba saltado de mariscos

Large plates are large and meant to be shared. There are Japanese mainstays like ton katsu, and inventive fusion dishes like aki soba saltado de mariscos, a crispy noodle and seafood medley of shrimp, clams, mussels and squid.

oyakodon "arroz a la norteña"
Oyakodon “arroz a la norteña”

The oyakodon “arroz a la norteña” is also delicious. It’s a combination of black feather chicken thigh, green rice sen ayu, beautifully presented with a raw egg that is cooked when stirred through.

Dessert

Chicha morada rain drop

It is very difficult to make it to this point in the menu with any enthusiasm for more. But for those sweet-toothed gourmands who planned accordingly, dessert is pretty fun at Sen Sakana. The chicha morada rain drop is probably one you haven’t seen before — a Japanese ball of jelly infused with Peru’s famous  purple corn beverage chicah morada and severed with passion fruit sauce.

The mochi empanadas were also excellent — although more mochi than empanada.

Check out Sen Sakana online here.