I had heard about Senia from friends, family, co-workers, homeless people, pretty much everybody. While it looked delicious, everybody I talked to seemed lukewarm on the place. “it’s pretty good”, “I think it was tasty”, “lol food”, nobody really sold me on it. The = lack of enthusiasm across the board led me to believe it was mediocre at best, so I was in no rush to try it. My food adventure buddy Sarah was moving to LA (RIP) which gave us a reason to check it out.
These people must have eaten at a different restaurant because what I experienced made me want to text all of my friends IMMEDIATELY, tell them to drop whatever they were doing, and come to Senia to enjoy the best food on the island. To me, it’s that good. It might have been my low expectations coming into it, or the whiskey that was coursing through my veins, but I had a life-affirming experience at Senia. It was like that scene in Ratatouille when the asshole food critic takes a bite of the titular dish and relives his childhood in an instant. It felt like that but with all of the east coast quality food that I’ve been missing.
This could’ve happened if I was sober
We got responsibly drunk first at Tchin Tchin to make sure we maximized the mouth pleasure we’d get from this food. I was at the optimal level of intoxication, where I was happy/confident but still sober enough to interact with the staff at Senia. I don’t know how you go out to eat but I treat it like an experience. And I like to heighten my experiences.
Senia actually texted me to see if I was going to show up. One of those standard automated messages, “TEXT C TO CONFIRM YOUR RESERVATION”. Since I was slightly intoxicated I decided to respond to this robot. Don’t judge me, it gave me a helpful protip on where to park and I was super appreciative.
I was expecting an automated reply like “UNDELIVERABLE PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS NUMBER” or something like that. I reply to all of these automated messages just to see what happens. No, I don’t know why.
We arrived at Senia and I said I had a reservation under “Keith Mann”. The hostess looked for a second then replied, “we’re you the guy that texted us back?” After we finished laughing I replied yes, that was me. The hostess/our waitress explained that real people actually do send these text messages. I knew immediately she would accept us for who we were in our current state, and I could already tell this was going to be a good night.
On to the meal. We ordered a Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina because I’ve been there once and it was my only frame of reference on the wine list. Most of the time I feel like I’m reading hieroglyphics when I look at the wine menu. I just pretend to study it intently and nod my head like I know what I’m doing because there’s no fucking way anybody would recognize all of those wines unless you’re a sommelier. Stop making me pretend to be knowledgeable, you know I’m out of my element here and regardless of how I act I’m going with the cheap stuff.
Side note: don’t ever order the second cheapest bottle of wine, restaurants know you want to do this and that one is usually the highest markup/worst quality.
Most of the food is tapas style with a lot of small/medium sized plates and 3 large “shareable” dishes to choose from. We went all small plates and I would suggest you do the same. The meal started with an ahi brioche. The fresh, slightly grilled ahi and soft, toasted bread melts in your mouth and packs a helluva a lot of flavor into one bite. It was the perfect amuse bouche to start the meal (writing that phrase makes me feel like an amuse douche).
It was so good that I texted the staff to tell them since now I know they’re reading my messages. I was hoping our waitress would see it but forgot that other people worked there. I saw another server go up and read the POS then look around with an inquisitive stare like, “who would do this?”
At least they were kind enough to reply
The second dish we tried was hamachi in citrus sauce. I forget the details but it was simple, executed very well and plated beautifully. It was a light, acidy start to the meal and I was thankful they brought that out first with the heaviness that followed.
Would you look at that? Would you just look at it?
What followed was the best dish that I’ve had since I moved to Honolulu 4 years ago. I love venison, I think it’s an underrated protein that most restaurants overlook. Senia’s venison comes with truffles, pine, blueberry compote, and freshly fried potato chips. The venison tartare is bursting with flavor and every component of the dish elevates it to something magical. The sweetness of the blueberry, the savory venison, the salty crunch of the freshly fried potato chips, I was blown away. I wish this had been last because honestly, it set the bar way too high for what followed, there was no way the rest of the food could reach the level of flavor that this venison had. I would go back for this dish alone.
No matter what came next, it would have been a disappointment compared to the venison. We had the confit duck leg, and while it was good, the duck was overcooked and a little chewy. The crispy skin was great, but the inside was disappointing. This was my only complaint of the evening. The cassoulet, brussel sprouts, and endive were delicious but the tough duck kind of took a big, watery shit on the total package. Trust me, I still cleaned the plate, the malbec was almost gone.
After this dish, the wine was gone and it was dessert time. I’m not a dessert person but when it’s a meal this good, you have to see what they have. Also, I needed coffee because I had to get myself home somehow and I sure as shit wasn’t walking. So we look at the menu, have some more enjoyable banter with our waitress, and make, what seemed at the time, the toughest decision of our lives. Should we get the Le Cannelé with chantilly cream and caramel or the Souffle Cheesecake with Lilikoi, Meyer Lemon, Toasted Meringue? We went with the cheesecake but PLOT TWIST our waitress hooked us up with a free Le Cannelé because she’s awesome and the staff enjoyed my text messages. Let that be a lesson to you: if a restaurant texts you, text back. You might get a free dessert out of it.
Both desserts were really, really good but the Le Cannelé was the standout. It was rich but not overly so, and like the venison tartare, all of the components worked together so, so well. Like when you have the right amount of wine and weed in your system. And the french press coffee might as well have been cocaine. I don’t think I slept for 48 hours afterward. Bravo.
All in all, it was the best dining experience I’ve had in Honolulu. The only thing that comes close with modern American comfort food is Livestock Tavern. And Livestock is always delicious, but Senia was a revelation. Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush are seriously talented chefs, and I’ll definitely be coming back for more. I would suggest you do the same.