How Sei Less Became Your Favorite Rapper’s New Favorite Restaurant
38th street between 7th and Broadway is a fairly typical, generic midtown-Manhattan block. A Cava here, a Dig Inn there, a behemoth parking garage, a Crunch Fitness… and then you come to a massive photorealistic mural of an Asian woman in a cheongsam with a sultry finger held to her lips, peeling back a red velvet curtain. That image adorns the facade of Sei Less, the restaurant where on any given night you might stumble upon French soccer star Kylian Mbappe and Celtic guard Jaylen Brown exchanging workout tips, rapper Fabolous splitting chicken satay with his kids, or New York City Mayor Eric Adams celebrating a French Montana album release. The shushing geisha is a classic image communicating privacy—Sei Less’s chief promise.
It’s the ideal spot for someone with a relatively high public profile—a rapper, basketball player, a music industry exec—who wants to get a bite to eat, but nothing overwhelmingly fancy. A place that’s a good time, but not a whole thing. A place where privacy is guaranteed, but maybe you’ll also get a flick or two off. And most importantly, the vibes: the vibes are essential.
Sei Less is is Dara Mirjahangiry and George Karavias’ glitzy, timely, Asian Fusion-flavored answer to a void that has existed in the wake of the pandemic. In a few short months after its January 15 opening, the restaurant has become a favorite among a select slice of the sports and entertainment world, a junction where elite athletes, rappers, entertainment execs meet, a clubhouse to the stars.
Walking through the restaurant is as visual as it is gustatory. In the lobby, beyond the beckoning mural, one is confronted with actual velvet curtains and once you step past them, a small neon sign bearing a mission statement of sorts, “I’M HERE FOR A GOOD TIME, not a long time —Drake.” Up a curving staircase, past the maitre d’ podium, is the first section of the large dining area. On the left are a bank of five tables, , while on the right is an expansive, handsomely stocked bar with large floral arrangements positioned on either end. The far wall sports a keyhole mural; this one with a crouching tiger emerging from it.
Off the left of this main dining hall is, perhaps, Sei Less’s key feature—the largest of three private rooms that important clientele are able to call ahead and reserve for privacy. This particular room seats about 20, and, in February, it was one of the many stops the artist formerly known as Kanye West made during a night out on the town in celebration of his then-girlfriend Julia Fox’s birthday. After taking in a Broadway show and grabbing drinks at Lucien, Ye and Fox shuttled up to Sei Less where friends 2 Chainz and Fabulous were already dining. Former Def Jam president, Kevin Liles, who was also there that night, told me that the room was where Ye previewed a still-in-progress version of Donda 2.
Mirjahangiry and Karavias are stalwarts of the New York nightlife and hospitality world who have been building towards something like Sei Less for years. Mirjahangiry, a New Jersey native and child of Iranian immigrants, originally worked in real estate, selling mortgages. Following the 2008 housing market crash, he made the switch to hospitality, secured a job at a popular Upper East Side Asian fusion restaurant, and soon found that his black book was filling up with names like Kevin Durant and French Montana. Born and raised in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, Karavias got his first taste of nightlife as a teen promoting parties for his uncle’s club in Queens. He’s been in the business since, working as a promoter for many years before starting his own company, Dream Hospitality Group. These days, you can find him throwing parties with 50 Cent and DaBaby in Mykonos.
In the first private dining room, emblazoned behind the dining table is another keyhole hanging of a geisha with her index finger pressed to her lips, asking for discretion, spray-painted in a pop-art style. The words, “IT WAS ALL A DREAM” as well as “QUEEN,” “KING,” and “LOVE” are painted to her left.
Sei Less’ menu offers such traditional starters as chicken wonton dumplings, spring rolls, crispy rock shrimp tempura, and its signature chicken satay. For entrees, there are seafood dishes like Chilean sea bass or “Land” cuisine like black pepper beef or sweet and sour chicken. Asked why they opted for Asian fusion, Mirjahangiry says, “I’ve actually tried to dabble in some different ventures that were outside the Asian fusion space. And I quickly realized that, you know, [my clientele] know me for this cuisine. So don’t fix something that’s not broken.”
Sei Less isn’t the first restaurant to feed stir fry to the stars. The most famous example sits just a few blocks across town: Mr. Chow’s, the famed Chinese establishment whose New York location opened on 57th street in 1979, was the go-to spot for Manhattan’s glitzy elite for decades. On any given night in its heyday, one might have run into Jean-Michel Basquiat dining with his mother or Andy Warhol chatting up the lead singer of Duran Duran. Its menu—which also featured such Americanized Chinese staples as sweet & sour pork and chicken satay—was beloved for its familiarity, simplicity, and of course, tastiness. With Sei Less, Mirjahangiry and Karavias have iterated and expanded upon this model for a new, Instagram-loving generation and VIP clientele more concerned with baguette diamonds and Lamburghini Uruses than, say, the Whitney Biennial.
By all indications, it’s working. A trip through Mirjahangiry and Karavias’ Instagram will produce a who’s who of sports and entertainment figures standing in front of the shushing geisha. Liles, who now serves as CEO of 300 Entertainment, has hosted listening parties for a number of his artists at the restaurant, including an especially memorable celebration for the release of Gunna’s DS4Ever. (“We all got to push p there,” he says.). Celtics star Jaylen Brown was first introduced to Mirjahangiry by his long-time friend Christian Combs. After Brown got drafted and began visiting New York City more regularly, Brown says, Mirjahangiry’s old restaurant was the first place Combs wanted to take him. Now, Brown stops by Sei Less every time he’s in New York. Fabulous, a frequent Sei Less diner and longtime friend of Mirjahangiry, has enjoyed his time there so much that he named a song after it, “Say Less,” and shot the entirety of the accompanying music video at the restaurant.
“Dara’s really good at creating good energy environments that people want to show up to,” Brown says during a phone call. Liles echoed this sentiment. “When he decided to branch off and do something different, I said, ‘I’m with you.’ Because it wasn’t just about where I was; it was who I was there with.” At the height of the pandemic, when office buildings across the city were closed and Sei Less had yet to officially open, Liles says Mirjahangiry occasionally let him use one of the private rooms at the restaurant as a de-facto work-from-home space.
“It was almost like a white-glove concierge service for all my clients,” Mirjahangiry said of the hospitality approach that has won him and Sei Less such loyal support. “When they were in town. It was like a one stop shop, they would come to see me for dinner and we would go out afterwards. I helped them with hotel rooms and different travel accommodations. So it was more than just feeding people.”
Mirjahangiry and Karavias want to expand the Sei Less brand beyond a nice night out and a good meal. In September, Sei Less was the exclusive food partner for Rolling Loud New York. Mirjahangiry tells me he’s fielded collaborative offers ranging from hotel chains to fashion brands. “My vision for Sei Less was to make it a private member’s club situation, for the culture and for people that are embedded in the culture…it can be over a meal, it can be over a meeting, it could be an album release party, it could be a sneaker launch, it could be an NBA Draft party.” How close is he to achieving that vision? “We’ve done all of those here in our first year,” he says, delivering it less as a boast than a statement of fact. For Sei Less, success is already a given.