Stay gold, goes the saying. Seito Sushi Baldwin Park abides | Review

Some friends were coming to town on business. Flying in Thursday night, flying out Friday, right after an early evening event, which was going to be crowded and very, very busy.

We needed a place close to where they needed to be. Someplace chill. And pretty. And with some space, I reasoned, which would be nice ahead of the crush they’d be in later on.

Hey, my inner voice whispered. Didn’t we just read that Seito Sushi Baldwin Park was back open for lunch?

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Seito. It had been far too long. So long that the last time I’d really written about it, which predates my time at the Sentinel, Executive Chef and Partner Huy Tin was probably in his sous chef stint, one of many roles on his ascent to Top Dog.

In his dozen years at the restaurant — where he started as a sushi chef, where he met his wife, Danielle— he has made it his home.

“I really just fell in love with how [owners] Jason and Sue [Chin] ran their business,” says Tin. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

And he is. Pretty much every shift except Sunday. You might find him anywhere.

“You’ll find me in the dish pit at the end of the night trying to help the dishwasher get out of there. You’ll find me at the host stand, pumping them up before service. I love doing table touches.”

And he did so, several times, when I came in for lunch with Phil Rosenthal, his daughter, Lily, and Lily’s boyfriend, L.A. chef Mason Royal.

On the table: a spread.

And though, yes, it was set up VIP family-style, everything on it was something anyone could have, from knockout nigiri to charred mushrooms to the absolutely outstanding Korean chirashi ($24). Tin tossed the oversized version — a Chin family-inspired classic — for the table, explaining the appeal of the gochujang-as-dressing application as he churned beautiful, jewel-toned fish amid the greens. Served alongside: miso soup and sheets of nori into which we spooned the mixture.

“I wish I could wrap everything in seaweed!” Phil said.

Tin felt the same way the first time he tried it.

“I’d never had chirashi like that before coming to Seito,” says Tin. “It’s something Jason and Sue were very proud of. It’s light, bright, healthy. It has salad. And the perfect amount of rice — not too heavy. So, when we redid the lunch menu, I knew I wanted to feature it.”

Its anti-gravitational qualities stand in direct contrast to the weighty genius of the katsu curry arancini ($9), in which unused sushi rice is upcycled into creamy, deep-fried balls of risotto awash in a curry baptism.

House-made Szechuan beef dumplings ($12) were another umami-laden stunner.

The chirashi portion was mammoth. It went unfinished. But, I can’t say the same for the brioche honey toast dessert ($12), a dazzling plate featuring cardamom ice cream, persimmon compote, Chantilly and yuzu cream that Phil, Lily and Mason straight-up cleaned before taking pics with the team and heading off to their book-signing at Writer’s Block, where they greeted some 600 happy, hungry “REAL” Orlandoans.

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Lucky me, I am one.

So, I got to go back to Seito for dinner, where our taste buds could have been ruined forever by a flawless Australian Wagyu beef tartare ($18) that our server recommended.

Good call.

“That’s a play on Korean beef tartare,” says Tin, “and if you go to Korea House — you’ll find me there all the time! — theirs is very similar.”

Sesame oil offers a nutty earthiness (and even more luscious fat) while brunoise Asian pear delivers sweetness and texture amid the mild hit of gochujang. Bringing it home, a soy-cured egg yolk. It’s the glue, literally and figuratively.

“It’s a bonding agent!” Tin jokes. “And you wouldn’t normally see bread with Korean tartare, but the ciabatta is something I wanted to do. We toast it with the beef fat. You know, just in case there’s not enough in there.”

Rich, too, is the aptly named Royale ($30) off the maki menu. Tall, elegant negitoro hosomaki, that scallion-pop a driving force, is draped with medium-fatty chutoro, then topped with sturgeon caviar and gold leaves.

“It’s a little over-the-top,” Tin admits, “and I love chutoro, it’s that perfect mix between lean and fat.”

Same goes for the stellar hamachi kama ($20), a favorite I’ll often order on site. Tin, whose rustic, wood-fired version was flawless, compares it to a porterhouse

“The top side is more lean and then you have the bottom, the belly side, the fattier side. It’s the best of both worlds right there.”

Tin’s post at Seito, in fact, is the melding of two worlds: that of his restaurant-kid childhood and the food-focused future it set before him.

He was stealing maraschino cherries from the bar at Casselberry’s Jade Palace (open from 1988-1998) from the time he was old enough to do so. Its guests enjoyed Cantonese Chinese fare, a buffet, a Mongolian barbecue station.

“I’d be there right after daycare…. They had a little space for me in the kitchen area, but I’d run all around the restaurant. I’d fry egg rolls whenever I wanted to. It was heaven for me. My dad was in the kitchen all the time and I’d sit on a little bench and watch him. Or my mom and all her hospitality, connecting with guests. Being in the kitchen is just built into my DNA.”

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It is a place of comfort that translates neatly to the plate in Tin’s salt-and-pepper beef ribs, which he calls his “childhood dish.”

“Growing up in a Vietnamese household, my parents would make pho at least once a month. They’d make the stock and after a number of hours, they’d take the bones out and give them to me to gnaw on, which I’d do using all the condiments of pho: the hoisin sauce, the sriracha.”

Once in the Executive Chef’s chair, Tin experimented with braised beef ribs, so reminiscent of his childhood in its aromatic jus.

He took it up a notch, frying them for added texture and the dish caught fire.

“The guests would kill me if I took it off.”

Seito bills itself as “new Japanese.” Also as a sushi place, but Tin admits the venue defies labels.

“Whenever we receive any type of advice and love from Jason and Sue, they just say ‘follow your heart.’ They trust us enough and they let that be known, So, maybe we’re still trying to figure out what Seito is or could be, but the hospitality starts in the back with our staff and we want the love to pour from the kitchen to our guests in the dining room.

“Everyone loves what they do here,” he says.

It’s love you can taste.

If you go

Seito Sushi Baldwin Park: 4898 New Broad Street in Orlando, 407-898-8801;

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