Pierre Gagnaire, Tokyo
My last meal at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris was a roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs and by the end of service I was left holding on to my chair in confusion. Any great restaurant has to take risks in the kitchen to achieve something great. But my original experiences were like a lottery, and after three meals at Gagnaire Paris, I kept losing. Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo, in some ways, was the complete opposite. There were few risks. Everything was consistent. This is good in the sense that no single course was particularly disappointing; bad, however, that nothing was exceptional. Exceptional cuisine balance risk-taking and spontaneity with consistency, and it's no easy task. My meal here was an extremely toned-down version of my meal in Paris.
Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo closed for a bit and recently re-opened at the top of the ANA Intercontinental Hotel. This meal took place at the original location, directly across the street from Prada Aoyama.
Amuses bouches with wine.
Abalone and Meishan ham grilled with sage, braised lettuce heart, chorizo, and crispy lard. The texture of the abalone was fantastic: firm with a hint of crispiness on the edges.
Roasted Amadai snapper "with crispy scales," sea urchin velouté. The cracking skin of the snapper almost looked like pomelo seeds. The texture was crispy but moist from the high fat content. The velouté glowed a golden yellow from the sea urchin, which filled every crevice of the skin. This was delicious.
Sea urchin with "soba sauce jelly," crunchy turnips, Nori seaweed flakes. This was clean, fresh, and bright. The mild and slightly salty soba jelly set the stage for the natural sweetness of the sea urchin. This was the highlight course of the night.
Foie gras pan-fried with green pepper, pear-raisins-celeriac marmalade, western burdock with pomegranate juice. This was very fatty and greasy. The acidity of the pomegranate helped to break up the fatty mouthfeel a bit, but I thought this was missing some kind of absorbant bread or fruit to soak up the oils from the liver.
Prime cut of grilled Hitachi beef lacquered with red wine sauce, cuttlefish with lime, onion confit with watercress. Gagnaire's use of sweet red wine sauces and meat is truly exceptional. The sauce was bright and fruity and not at all cloying. It developed a sweet caramel taste in combination with the fatty meat. The cuttlefish was chewy and firm, much like the texture of thinly sliced abalone. The lime zest added a touch of fruity acidity to help brighten the flavor of the meat allowing it to mix with the cuttlefish.
Mont d'Or cheese, orange syrup, lamb's lettuce and fennel salad with hazelnut oil.
Table of desserts. Strawberry and pineapple tart in a martini glass, strawberry with chantilly, chocolate with peanut glace. This course seemed the most Gagnaire-style as our entire table was filled with small plates. As my friend Chuck recalls, "Do you remember the desserts? When they filled the table full of plates?" This was a tempered down version of the potluck of desserts served in Paris. I also found it strange that three of the four desserts highlighted strawberries. It was as if the kitchen had five ingredients and combined them in different ways.
The meal was enjoyable but lacked the passion and impromptu nature of the dishes in Paris. After my meal in Paris I complained that there was too much risk leading to several courses that just didn't work. As the motto goes, be careful what you wish for. Here there was not enough risk lending to a weakened intensity and diversity of flavors.
I dream of a meal at Gagnaire full of impulse and spur-of-the-moment zeal where the luck lands on my side. I just haven't had that yet.