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Former Vintage Cave Chef to Open “Modern American” Restaurant in Chinatown

Chef Chris Kajioka’s new restaurant, Senia, will feature small plates, a chef’s counter and a substantial wine list.


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Meet Senia’s team, from left: Pastry chef eddie lopez, chef anthony rush and chef chris kajioka, at a dinner in new york city last month where they previewed the restaurant.
Photos: Courtesy of Chris Kajioka

 

Don’t ask chef Chris Kajioka when his new restaurant will open or what, exactly, he’s putting on the menu.

 

Because he can’t give you a firm answer.

 

But here’s what he will tell you: Senia will occupy a 1,900-square-foot space at 75 N. King St., squeezed between The Pig & The Lady and Smith & Kings. The plan is to open sometime between March and June 2016. He’s partnering with friends and fellow former Per Se chefs Anthony and Katherine Rush to open this restaurant, which will be open six days a week, with prices ranging from $15 to $20 for lunch and $40 to $50 for dinner.

 

And the menu—what everyone wants to know about—will be something along the lines of “modern American,” which, really, could be anything.

 

“We just wanna make really delicious food,” Kajioka says. “That’s it.”

 

Kajioka, who made his name in Hawai‘i as the executive chef at the ultra-high-end restaurant Vintage Cave, isn’t ruling out anything for this new spot. Hand-cut pasta, robust salads, tamales, burgers. (I tried talking him into serving a high-quality Spam musubi, a guilty pleasure we share, but he wouldn’t commit.) But he doesn’t know exactly what they’ll be serving yet. That’s a detail he said he’ll hammer out next year.

 

He does know that they’ll be serving small composed plates, along with family-style entrees, with most dishes featuring local ingredients. He knows the décor will be modern and natural, with exposed red-brick walls combined with woods and a 14-foot ceiling that will make the space feel a lot bigger than it actually is. He knows there will be about 50 seats and a chef’s counter that won’t fit more than 10 diners, where he’ll serve a prix fixe tasting menu that you can only get at the counter—and that will change daily. (“It will be the best of what the kitchen can do,” Kajioka says.) And he knows the restaurant will feature craft cocktails with tinctures and bitters made in-house and a quality wine list.

 

One dish he’s considering: A whole-roasted duck done Peking-style with a scallion crepe and the breast glazed with berbere honey, confit and crispy legs.

 

The menu at Senia’s preview dinner in New York City last month.

 

Caviar on smoked brioche, one of the dishes served at Senia’s preview dinner in New York City last month.

 

This concept is a departure from Kajioka’s previous experience at the exclusive Vintage Cave, known for its three-hour, 20-course, $295-per-person menu filled with decadent dishes such as high-grade wagyu beef, Hudson Valley Moulard foie gras and osetra caviar.

 

But Senia will likely still have that elegant feel, just with a more casual approach—and a price tag that most of us can afford.

 

He envisions that everyone involved with Senia will influence the flavors. Kajioka will draw from his experience growing up in Hawai‘i and working in New York City and San Francisco. Anthony Rush, who’s currently the head chef at Fera at Claridge’s in London and has honed his skills at The French Laundry and The Fat Duck, is from Devon, England. His wife, Katherine, who will serve as general manager, is a mix of Japanese and Mexican ancestry and hails from Los Angeles. And pastry chef Eddie Lopez, who also worked at Vintage Cave and The French Laundry, is of Mexican ancestry.

 

Don’t be surprised if this unique mix of ethnicities, backgrounds and culinary experiences make its way onto the menu at Senia.

 

“We’re really not ruling anything out,” he says. “We want the restaurant to have a sense of place, to represent Hawai’i artisans, farmers and culture.”

 

All three chefs prepping one of the courses served at Senia’s preview dinner in New York City last month.

 

Lopez is planning to serve pies, tarts and cream puffs for lunch; dinner will feature more composed desserts and chocolates. He’s even thinking about creating a small-bites menu with items like canelé and bonbons for people who want dessert but not a ton of it.

 

Now, about the name.

 

Senia is the pronunciation of “xenia,” the ancient Greek concept of hospitality. So expect service to be impeccable here, too.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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