“Don’t plan anything for our anniversary weekend,” he said, with a sneaky look on his face. That’s pretty much all the information I was provided. This year J took total control over anniversary dinner planning. While it was hard to put my blogger/planner hat aside (a.k.a. FOMO), I did enjoy the secrecy and intrigue. Soon enough, though, the secret was revealed: we’d be checking in for the night in the heart of Tokyo at ANA Intercontinental Hotel, with a lavish dinner at two Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire to follow. What can I say?! Extravagant is his middle name. 😉
I couldn’t help but gasp as we approached the entrance to the restaurant on the 36th floor. Instead of leading you straight to the dining hall, the entryway opens up to a panoramic view of Tokyo which is even more spectacular at night. We were promptly led to our table, and the escort made sure I was seated directly facing the Tokyo Tower. It’s the little details that elevate the experience, correct?
The elegant interior was lavishly decorated with royal purple and gold accents, while the dim lights (which sadly affected the quality of photos) created quite intimate atmosphere. I particularly liked inner sofa seats for two which, although lacking in the panoramic view, offer the cozy experience of sitting side by side.
J pre-ordered special anniversary multi-course dinner, so there was no need to look at the menu. Pierre Gagnaire’s style of cooking needs no introduction, as his restaurants in France – Gagnaire Paris – have been highly acclaimed and earned him three Michelin stars. He is known for being one of the very first chefs in what can be called the fusion or nouvelle cuisine movement.
As you’ll see from the tasting menu we had, the Chef strives to defy – or “spruce up” – classic French dishes by using exotic spices or mixing contrasting ingredients. Compared to other classic French restaurants we have dined at, the dishes at Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo consistently stood out with unique flavor profiles and we were pleasantly surprised more times than one. The courses were served in “groups” or sets on small plates reminiscent of Japanese kaiseki cuisine. At the same time, Chef wants you to dig into all the dishes simultaneously, thus mixing the flavors and tastes.
Our feast started with complimentary amuse-bouches, delightful morsels that included confit of mushroom with olive oil and wasabi elegantly presented on a wasabi leaf; croquette topped with mustard; tuna topped with salmon roe; a square of marshmallow, topped with tomato confit that concealed pinpricks of flavor — tarragon and onion — within its core of sweetness; sand biscuit topped with flavorful guacamole. Country bread, milk bread, and a dried fruit bread were served immediately after, alongside a creamy butter imported from France.
The first set of appetizers included three seafood dishes. A combination of seaweed, shellfish and shrimp was flavored with ginger and nutmeg. The latter gave the dish a unique punch which coupled wonderfully with the acidity coming from the lime jelly. Sweet uni topped it all off with mouthwatering umami flavor.
On the second plate, a perfectly cooked swordfish was complimented by the scallop foam and carrot sauce, which lent a wonderful sweetness to the savory fish.
Last, a slightly seared lean tuna was topped with eggplant ice-cream, a course that was a bit bitter to my taste and didn’t quite work for me (J on the contrary, loved it).
The highlight of the next set of dishes was lobster. Not only was it perfectly cooked – not dry or chewy – but addition of cinnamon gave it a new dimension which was a total revelation to my taste buds. The light breading added lovely, just the right amount of crunchy texture, while fresh mushrooms cooked in wine further complimented the dish with earthy aroma.
To follow, we devoured Kijihata (local white fish) fillet drizzled with zuchhini puree and topped with arugula salad. Although it was the fragrant flavors of tandoori spice and mint used in the sauce that gave the dish a new dimension and kept me coming for more. The fusion of classic ingredients with Indian flavors worked in an outstanding way in my opinion and provided something new, something I have not encountered before.
The next set featured asparagus prepared three ways. Whipped Chantilly of white asparagus served with a spoonful of Osetra caviar was a delight, but then caviar is that magical ingredient that makes everything taste wonderful (provided you share my love for caviar). White and green asparagus tips had an addictive crispy texture and were poached in bacon broth and coated with egg yolk paste and parmesan cream. Although, the piece de resistance for me personally was the ice parfait flavored with cardamom, topped with slightly salty mango coulis and presented on the bed of diced pistachios. Apart from its playful presentation, the flavor profile of the dish was quite complex. The sweet AND salty mango puree paired so well with earthy undertones of the asparagus, while addictive pistachios were a perfect contrasting texture.
Final set included roasted pork of a milk-fed pig from Okinawa served alongside caramelized spring onions and amaranth leaf. The pork melted in the mouth and had a delightful crispy skin. Although, it was the the bitter chocolate sauce, generously poured on top, that left us pleasantly surprised and quite impressed. On a separate plate, ravioli stuffed with black sausage was topped with delicious apple and rum sauce. The latter was tasty on its own, but I didn’t necessarily understand how it worked in conjunction with the pork.
Even though there was a lot of dishes, the portion was on a smaller side which in the end turned out to be perfect. Unlike the dinner at Joel Robuchon, neither of us felt overly full in the end of savory courses and there was plenty of room left to devour the desserts.
Although, before the sweet treats the waiters whisked in a little candle-lit cake, a lovely message plate and a flower for J to give to me. Insert lots of hearts here. They also took our photo and framed it by the end of the dinner, together with complimentary dessert AND the cake to take home. Gentlemen, if you are looking for a place to take your significant other on a special date, this is your one stop shop. And no, this is not sponsored, J paid the full hefty bill.
On to the dessert. The truth is, describing desserts fully would merit a full-length article on its own as there are three pre-dessert courses, two main dessert courses and a platter of petit fours. Not to sound generic, but I found all desserts exquisite with balanced flavors and sweetness. Although if I HAD to pick the favorites (still has to be plural), I would have to pick mint and chocolate flavored pana cotta beautifully presented in a cocktail glass, and the meringue sphere with raspberry ice-cream inside and fresh berry sauce on the bottom, that made it absolutely aphrodisiac.
It doesn’t mean I didn’t indulge in the rhubarb pie infused with ginger and topped with caramelized almonds; or white angel cake roulette with a punch of orange and rum. Perhaps my least favorite (btw, J strongly disagrees and took full advantage of the leftovers) was the white chocolate parfait topped with mushrooms marinated in coffee.
Along with coffee or tea comes a final serving of delicate little sweet bites to linger over (a shot of lime, kiwi, green pepper, parsley being quite a unique and refreshing palate cleanser), providing a perfect closure to the extensive dinner.
We closed our 4th year together nestled by the floor to ceiling windows of a dynamic MIXX Bar & Lounge, located on the same floor. Do you know those Facebook memories that pop up every day reminding you (sometimes I wish it didn’t, what was I thinking?!) what you posted in previous years? Well, apparently, I posted a photo of Mt. Fuji in May of 2010 in my “dream destinations” album. As we sat there sipping our drinks – whiskey and cigar for him, and flower and yuzu infused sake pour moi – and looking at the lit-up skyline of Tokyo, I couldn’t help but wonder what a miracle life is. Back in 2010, I could only dream of seeing Mt. Fuji in person, let alone get a chance to call Japan home and live here with my husband.
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