The centerpiece of this ambitious entry to Honolulu’s restaurant scene is a multicourse “Chef’s Counter” near the open kitchen. Chefs Chris Kajioka, a native Hawaiian, and English-born Anthony Rush brought on Kauai-born Wine Director Chris Ramelb, fresh off his triumph as the highest scorer on the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Exam.
What was your initial vision for Senia?
Anthony Rush: Collaboration… being able to use classic European techniques with tropical ingredients.
Chris Kajioka: No one believed with our [fine-dining] backgrounds that this was going to be an approachable place, and that was the number one thing that I wanted…. We want to reflect that we’re in Hawaii, for people to feel that hospitality.
Anthony, you’re a long way from England.
AR: Having grown up in the English countryside, Hawaii appeals to me because it’s equally lush and green. There’s nothing like hiking here, especially when we come across wild fruits that we can forage and use in the restaurant.
CK: Born and raised in Hawaii, we always have a chip on our shoulder that we’re less than San Francisco or New York. That’s why the restaurant community is so supportive of each other. When one person does well, we all do well.
Your sommelier admits to having that chip.
CK: We actually weren’t going to have a somm, but everyone around town told us, “You need to talk to this guy. He’s a prodigy kid.”
Chris Ramelb: We wanted to earn Hawaii a place at the table, for people to take us seriously. Then it slowly morphed into, “I want to prove that we’re better.”
How have you created the wine list?
CR: I want to champion producers that are doing things the right way, that are farmers first and foremost. I try to have something for every type of taste at every price. We need things people feel comfortable with. It’s a constant battle between entertaining and education. —Virginie Boone