The Anatomy of a Dish: Channel Islands Bluefin Tuna Crudo with Bergamot Vinaigrette, Za'atar Lavash, Fines Herbes and Calabrian Chili

By Chef Chris Aquino
Diners will find a blend of California's bounty of fresh food with Southern sensibilities at Viognier restaurant at Draeger’s San Mateo. Chef Chris Aquino shares his thought process and considerations for creating a dish that highlights and honors the main ingredient.

This dish came about out of necessity to use a product not normally available to us. Our fish purveyor called me one morning and said that one of his fishermen had caught some bluefin tuna off the Channel Islands in SoCal. Immediately, I was intrigued and asked him to send me a loin. As for how to serve it, there were a number of considerations.

Typically, when coming up with a dish, I ask myself the following questions:

What ingredient(s) will I use in this dish? The tuna would be the focal point of the dish, but what would accompany it would define the dish. Bluefin tuna is best served raw or barely cooked—think sashimi—so anything to go along with it would need to complement or contrast the tuna.

What flavor profiles am I going for? Acid, salt and savory all complement tuna well. A citrus-based vinaigrette with a spike of cane vinegar and California olive oil did the trick. Also, the savory fines herbes (a mix of fresh tarragon, dill, chive, parsley and cilantro) gave some earthiness. Lastly, Calabrian chili adds enough heat to contrast, with the addition of preserved Meyer lemon for some zing.

What textures am I trying to achieve? Raw bluefin tuna is buttery soft, so anything else I decided to put with it would need to provide another texture. Our za’atar spiced lavash added the needed crunch, and the fines herbes were shocked in an ice bath for another element of texture.

What is its appeal? Fine dining dishes run a fine line between complex and orchestrated to raw and unadulterated. For the bluefin, I chose the latter. High-quality products like this need little to no adulteration. A simple seasoning of Maldon flake salt, an acidic and fatty vinaigrette, fresh herbs, and crisp crackers were all it needed.

Bergamot Vinaigrette
Makes approximately 3/4 cup
Bergamot is a distinctive citrus fruit with a unique combination of bitter, sour and floral tastes.

1 Bergamot orange (or Meyer lemon as substitute), zest and juice
1/2 cup Arbequina olive oil
1 teaspoon Datu Puti Cane Vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until just smooth. Season to taste. Enjoy on seafood, vegetables and salad.