The extensive renovations that have closed one of Sag Harbor’s favorite restaurants, Sen, has been a long time coming.
The kitchen had been too small to accommodate a few hundred restaurant orders on top of a large catering enterprise. The Japanese restaurant’s issues were kept a secret from the outside. Business boomed so rapidly that the bar and sushi bar needed to hop from corner to corner in an effort to squeeze in more tables every couple of years.
“No more duct tape could hold this building together,” Ryunsake Jesse Matsuoka, one of the owners, said as he was clearing tools and blueprints off the soon-to-be sushi bar positioned front and center of the restaurant. “It’s been in need of renovations for about a decade.”
As the restaurant approaches its 25th year, Sen has been shuttered for improvements all of 2018, so far. It was Mr. Matsuoka’s father, Toranosuke, and a friend, Jeff Resnick, who opened the restaurant in 1994. South Fork residents flocked to try the sushi spot’s signature cuisine: rock shrimp tempura, yellowtail sashimi topped with jalapeño slices served in ponzo, tonkotsu ramen, and handmade soba. Mr. Matsuoka, and his brother, Tora Jr., acquired the entire 120-year-old building, including the restaurant, the frame shop next door and apartments upstairs, one after the other over the past 10 years.
“I spent all of my summers working here,” Jesse Matsuoka said, reminiscing over his middle school days flying in every June from Hawaii where his mother lived. “The restaurant is and will always be my home.”
His restaurant at 23 Main Street will also be the home of 14 of his employees. The two apartments on the second floor and one on the third floor are part of the renovation project. On the second floor, there will be six people to an apartment—each person with his or her own bedroom. The two-person executive sushi team will get the penthouse suite. Mr. Matsuoka said the restaurant has always rented out apartments for the summer staff who travel to the East End from Manhattan, Florida and Japan. With furnished apartments upstairs, he said it will save the restaurant $10,000 per month. An apartment on Main Street in Sag Harbor could go for $3,500 per month—like the one they also rent above Sotheby’s. The Matsuokas all rent out rooms in their private homes, too. They employ about 50 people.
“This building and this business has given us so much. We don’t want to change Sen, but we needed to update the bones of the building,” Mr. Matsuoka said. “Everything in the restaurant will be replaced with practically in-kind materials. We are trying our best to even bring in the same artists that did the original plaster work on the walls. Everything looks the same, but it’s structurally sound now.”
The dining room on the main floor will now seat 95. The highly-popular menu is staying the same. Mr. Matsuoka, a saké sommelier, touted the new late night menu—organized every Thursday to Sunday till 2 a.m. this summer by Executive Chef Courtney Sypher. Ms. Sypher said she is excited to serve tuna tataki sliders: lightly seared tuna with wasabi mayo topped with Good Water Farms microgreens served on a sesame pate a choux.
Mr. Matsuoka said it will pair nicely with the extensive selection of cocktails, wines and saké available in the lounge—now triple in size.
“I want to promote saké, teach about it, get all kind of great products in and be a platform to showcase something that I love,” Mr. Matsuoka said. “ Not just saké. I want to up our wine program. We are going to be doing a Coravin program … a wine preservation system where it sticks a needle through the cork of the bottle and you are able to pour out wine without affecting the inside wine. We are able to pour out really high-end glasses of wine. I am also going to be using a Perlage system. It’s the same concept but with bubbles, with Champagne. So, we are going to be pouring Krug by the glass.”
Mr. Matsuoka said he expects Sen will be open by the end of June. Now retired, Toranosuke Matsuoka will make his nightly appearance at the restaurant. A former award-winning Sumo wrestler in his day, the man now in his 70s, tries to still help out, when and if he can. He grows shiso leaf—a popular sushi garnish featured at the restaurant—in his home garden in Noyac.
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