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The Ahi moment – Orange County Register

“Tuna is boring!”  So sayeth chef Paul Gstrein, the executive chef of Bayside since its inception in 1999.  Mind you, this pronouncement is boldly made before the presentation and tasting of his own Pepper Crusted Ahi.

Gstrein, an Austrian by way of Northern Italy, has his own interpretation of what defines the elusive and now perhaps quickly aging “New American” genre of cuisine. From Gstrein’s perspective, the style and sensibility of “New American” acknowledged a wider range of ethnic influence and allowed for what evolved into the international fusion movement. “It allows for a wider global palette,” the chef observes.

From the airy central dining room, he continues as we survey the splay of yachts in the marina just across Bayside Drive: “I am classically trained in French cuisine. So the sauces, stocks and broths, these are always the foundation regardless.” Gstrein also suggests that the signature pepper-crusting of his seared ahi reflects this same classical French breeding.

The chef excuses himself and shortly after emerges with an artful composition of four thick sticks of darkly crusted sashimi-grade ahi crossed over a light platform of baby bok choy simmered in an herb broth, basking in a shallow pond of soy chili ginger sauce. The bright pink planks of tuna luminesce against the pale verdure of the bok choy, all brightly framed by the electric orange of the ginger sauce. Almost as punctuation, small green orbs of wasabi dot the side of the plate.

As the chef had implied, what subtly sets this tuna apart from the rest is the combination of intense taste and texture of the pepper crust.  While the crusting is light, it caves with a pleasant crunch, as the wave of peppery heat crashes through the sear into the silken, buttery center of the ahi. The pepper’s bold presence obviates any call for the wasabi sitting timidly at the side of the action.  The bok choy offers gentle support while the soy chili ginger sauce assists…

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