Bayside’s competitive corridor of restaurants down Bell Boulevard — one that hosts Taverna Kyclades, Mad for Chicken, and a birria taco spot — has a newcomer to the scene. Just two months after Shabulixius closed up shop, Sen Udon has taken over the space at 39-32 Bell Boulevard with a focus on fresh udon noodles with Japanese, Korean, and Italian influences from the accompanying sauces and broths, as well as appetizers like oshi sushi.
“We’re not a typical ramen shop with just spicy miso or shoyu bases,” says owner Mike Chen, who grew up helping out at his father’s restaurant, Fortune Gourmet, in Flushing. A long-time fan of the thick, chewy udon noodle, Chen tapped Shuichi Kotani — the noodle master behind Manhattan spots Jin Ramen, Soba Totto, and Daruma-ya — to helm Sen Udon’s menu as a restaurant consultant and noodle supplier. Kotani makes whole wheat and spinach noodles for the 12 udon noodle dishes on the menu, which remain a work in progress during the restaurant’s recent soft-opening in mid-November.
“Kotani wanted to do a menu based on a twist of everything,” explains Chen.
For people who are “not entirely into soup bases,” there’s the miso carbonara udon ($15) combining traditional Italian ingredients such as parmesan cheese and parsley with miso cream and seaweed. The kimchi chigae udon caters to the neighborhood’s Korean diners, while the sanratan udon ($16) derives its key flavors from kombu vinegar and white peppers to nearly mirror a hot and sour soup. Perhaps the most innovative recipe is the cheese niku curry ($16), where the base is a spicy mix of Japanese and Indian curry sauces topped with melted mozzarella and chunks of New Zealand grass-fed ribeye.
On weekends, two more upscale dishes are available: uni cream udon and Wagyu beef sukiyaki udon, both ringing in at $29. While the noodle dishes surprise by pulling from different cultures, the sushi side of the menu also manages to stand out with a rarity even for New York’s Japanese restaurants. Sen Udon serves up oshi sushi, a version hailing from Osaka where the rice is often pressed into rectangular or circular shapes.
For the salmon oshi sushi ($15), Kotani stacks layers of salmon roe, raw salmon, sushi rice and seaweed into a circular form that gets cut into four pieces. An all-cooked inari oshi sushi ($13) comes with fried tofu, kanpyo (dried calabash shavings), denbu (fish flakes), carrots, shiitake mushroom, and sushi rice.
Rounding out the appetizers, the beef kimchi punch ($11), Sen Udon’s take on Korean barbecue, is served with lettuce wraps, rib-eye, kimchi, shio dare (scallion and sesame oil-based sauce), and yuzu kosho (fermented chile and yuzu paste); and edamame ($6) is sautéed in olive oil with peperoncino, garlic, and roasted salt.
As Sen Udon settles into its new home, which also features a garage door that opens up to the sidewalk, Chen and Kotani are currently experimenting with recipes they’ll eventually debut on the menu. Coming soon are beet-infused noodles and Taiwanese beef noodle soup, made instead with udon noodles. The latter is a nod to an old restaurant hit from Chen’s father, who now cooks at Sen Udon.
Sen Udon is open for takeout and indoor dining Monday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. this week. Beginning on Friday, the restaurant will operate from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily with the possibility of closing on Mondays.