If you want to experience a fine dining experience, make sure to stop by Ichi Gyo Ichi Et located in Pasadena, Calif. I would say this ranks as one of the favorite restaurants I have ever eaten at. From the little details it adds, to its menus, to how exquisitely the dishes are presented, this restaurant is doing it all.
When I first entered the restaurant, I was already fascinated by its exterior design. It was a sunken design, with glass windows lining the entire front wall, and from the outside you could tell that the restaurant was a few feet below the sidewalk. The restaurant itself felt very open. My boyfriend and I were greeted right away at the door and were allowed to choose our seats. They offered us a place at the sushi bar, where we could watch the sushi chefs make the sushi and sashimi dishes we had ordered, and we took it. When we sat down, we noticed the table was set very nicely; the overall environment felt very comfortable. One of my favorite details of this restaurant was in the menu. Not only were the dish names and descriptions aesthetically appealing, but there were also photos of multiple dishes that looked hand-drawn. After being served, I feel the illustrations were accurate descriptions.
I also believe that the staff and chefs there play a big role in the whole restaurant experience. Not only were they very professional, but they were also friendly and attentive. Our waiter helped explain the menu to us, recommended popular dishes and was very observant when we needed more water, had questions or needed to pay. The sushi chefs we had sat in front of were also very friendly. They interacted with us and explained our dishes. They described what would be set in front of us, even if they had not made it, and were open to any questions we had. Overall, I felt like the experience they gave us added to our experience with the food.
Last but not least, the actual course. Of course, I will not say this is not a typical everyday restaurant unless you are willing to spend the money. Ranking two dollar signs on Yelp, this place has dishes that were just a little above average, but they are hand dishes that really make you think twice. However, to my boyfriend and me, this restaurant seemed like an experience, so we decided to splurge for once in our lives. On the menu, there was a choice called “Tasting Menu.” Our waiter explained that this choice consisted of five dishes that could represent the different dishes/tastes of this restaurant. With the price at $60 per person, I was extremely hesitant and felt that I would not even be full. However, in the end I believe it was one of the best $60 spent, and I was left full to my stomach. We had ordered a appetizer as well, fearing our choice for the night would not fill us, but as tasty as the appetizer was, I felt like we could have easily gone without it. Here are the dishes I tasted:
Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna ($15)
This dish may sound average, but the taste itself was mind-blowing. The rice was both soft and crispy around its edges. The spicy tuna was not crazy spicy, but was very flavorful, and the fish texture was very buttery. The dish was plated with chili powder and chive oil, which was very delicious and I continually dipped my appetizer in.
Uni Shooter 1 pc. ($18 value) + Wagyu Foie Gras Nigiri 1 pc. ($19 value)
This was my first time trying anything like this dish. For the Uni Shooter, the uni was paired with a raw quail egg in a soup spoon. You’re supposed to drink it in one shot, and once I did, I felt the flavors of the uni perfectly tying in with the quail egg. It did not even feel like I was drinking a raw egg. The uni flavor was very rich and the egg kept it from becoming overpowering. I was extremely excited to try the nigiri right next to this shooter. I have heard before that wagyu beef is unlike any other beef, and you can really tell it is high-grade beef from this dish. The wagyu was the perfect amount of tenderness, juiciness and flavor, and the foie gras served almost as a butter on top. (Fun fact: the sushi chef had also told us the wagyu beef came from a place here in California, which surprised me because I expected it to be from Japan.)
Chawan Mushi ($15 value)
This dish was a nice change from the previous savory dishes. It was almost like a soup, with a steamed egg custard filling the top layer and dashi stock (a commonly used ingredient in Japanese soup based dishes). The soup contained a piece of shrimp, chicken, salmon and shiitake mushroom. On top was a generous amount of marinated salmon roe. The soup itself was a nice dish that broke down the oils and fat from the previous dish. The roe was the most flavorful part, tasting tangy, sweet and a bit salty all at the same time but pairing nicely with the rest of the dish.
Miso Black Cod ($25 value)
I loved this dish after the first bite. The cod was grilled to perfection with crispy ends, and the fish fell apart into even slices once I picked it up with my chopsticks. I felt like the miso sauce was the star of this dish because I could not get enough of it. The cod was laid nicely on top of sautéed onions, mushrooms and mixed greens.
5-piece Nigiri ($15 value)
Five pieces may not seem like a lot, but once you try each one, you’ll be satisfied. I am not sure if it is a set type of fish for each nigiri, but the sushi chef who prepared it for us had asked before if we had any specific allergies for certain fishes, and which fish we preferred over others. My boyfriend and I love all types of sashimi, so we were open to what we would be served. The five nigiris were red snapper, fatty tuna, salmon, yellowtail and scallops. Each nigiri had its own flavor: the red snapper paired with ginger, fatty tuna with green onions, salmon with radish, yellowtail with a sweet unagi sauce and scallops with ponzu sauce. Each fish shined in its own ways. It was honestly an amazing end to our whole meal.
Overall, the ambience of this restaurant was spectacular. I would definitely come back (maybe after a year of saving up) and explore more of its special menu. Even though the price is high, I believe all the dishes this restaurant offers make up for it. If you ever find yourself near Pasadena and feel like treating yourself to a high-quality Japanese restaurant, I definitely recommend checking out Ichi Gyo Ichi Et.