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Where's The Kobe Beef?


Banco
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From Today's Washington Post: "Under an agreement announced in Hong Kong, the United States and Japan will resume purchasing beef from each other... American consumers will be able to buy premium Kobe beef with no restrictions..."

Full article here

I'd like to hear what local chefs think of this development, and if it might lead them to substitute Kobe beef for the "Wagyu" beef and other domestic imitations that have become so trendy on menus lately.

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I'd like to hear what local chefs think of this development, and if it might lead them to substitute Kobe beef for the "Wagyu" beef and other domestic imitations that have become so trendy on menus lately.

I, for one, am dismayed in that it will now allow even more restaurants to mislead, mislabel and overcharge for their products when it comes to beef.

The example to the contrary is once again that paradigm of quality and value, Tom Power, who lists a Virginia Organic Wagyu New York Strip for $28--the same steak that is called Kobe and sells for $68 at a Big Name Steakhouse not five minutes away.

Having real Kobe available will only increase the already irresistable temptation to deceive and empty people's pockets.

Plus, the demand for Kobe in Japan is so great that any beef, whether it is called Kobe or not, imported to America is sure to be of an inferior quality to what is already mostly unavailable due to short supply in Japan in the first place.

Steakhouses already know that they can get away with selling choice as prime, low grade Angus as premium beef and that no one even knows that there is Prime "A", which is almost entirely unavailable in markets and to most restaurants, and Prime "B" which is actually inferior to most modern premium programs (and is most likely the only USDA Prime beef any of us has ever had), so having another way to confuse the consumer can only increase this obfuscation of the quality and qualities of beef.

Edited by Michael Landrum
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Michael:

You raise interesting questions. I have heard of Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, etc, grades authorized by the USDA. Pirme A and Prime B I had not heard of until today. I have heard of "top choice" but I assumed it was merely choice that had been seleceted because it was just a shade below prime. You could probably do us all a big favor if you would start a thread that describes what is out there to help dissipate some of the fog.

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Fifteen to twenty years ago when the grading was changed "Top" prime was sold at the French Market on Wisconsin avenue (whose butcher is now at the Balducci's in McLean), Wagshal's in Spring Valley and a little supermarket called Nick's in Clinton which I would drive to from Reston just to buy. All of the other formerly known as "choice" became "prime" but these were the only three places in the area that carried "top" prime. Today, I am really not certain if Wagshal's even still carries "top" prime or the prime "A" you mention (which is probably the same steak with a current (and more marketable) name. Phyllis Richman did a piece lamenting this in the Post in the late '80's/early '90's or so; it was because of her that I first even heard about Nick's which today, I believe is a totally different operation.

As for "choice," I believe that is what was formerly known as "standard" or whatever the name was given to the next grade down.

In truth this is as much of a discussion about what is acceptible for food today and what was acceptible fifty years ago. Back then standards were totally different-people were just getting use to frozen french fries. Today many rave about Five Guys or McDonald's as "good" french fries. McDonald's had a huge advertising campaign in the Fall of '66 when they went from fresh to frozen potatoes. I remember reading in (I think) Life magazine that their sales fell something like 20% when they first introduced them.

Anyway, it's remarkable how tastes change to allow something of lesser value or taste to become a new "standard." The Slow Food movement has arisen in part because of this; it also helps explain reaction to McDonald's in some European countries.

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Michael:

You raise interesting questions.  I have heard of Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, etc, grades authorized by the USDA.  Pirme A and Prime B I had not heard of until today.  I have heard of "top choice" but I assumed it was merely choice that had been seleceted  because it was just a shade below prime.  You could probably do us all a big favor if you would start a thread that describes what is out there to help dissipate some of the fog.

I, too, would welcome such a thread!

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Both sides of my family are very engrained in the beef industry (from raising, slaughtering, dressing, grading and selling we have them all). There is more to the history of the regulations and history of meat grading, but here is just a little of what I can remember (don't get me started about the Pizzle muscle).

The grading of meat was first established by the USDA in 1917 as a means to choose what beef was suitable for the Army and Navy to purchase. This set the stage for proposed standards of beef grading that came out of the USDA in 1924, and enacted via regulation in 1926, and were known as the "Official United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef". The actual grade stamping began the following year. There were different grades depending on the type of bovine was being graded. In 1941, the following grades were agreed upon for all types of beef: Prime, Choice, Good, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner (with these designations there was also a reference to the color of the fat that the beef contained). As part of price control legislation enacted during the Second World War, Prime was eliminated until 1946.
In 1950 Prime and Choice were combined to create Prime, and good became choice. Also the commercial grades were further divided based on the age of the beef. This lasted until 1965 when reference to age was eliminated as research showed that it has little to no effect on the flavor, or palatability of the beef (this has nothing to do with dry or wet aging, and only refers to the age of the animal when it goes to slaughter).
In 1973 we were given the designation of "Bullock" for young bulls. It was shown that young bulls could be fed out much more quickly and efficiently in feed lots, and leading to a lesser quality of beef. So if this type of meat was graded it would also contain the term Bullocks, however, this designation was not required for older bulls, which were just referred to as "Bulls."
In 1987 Standard was changed to Select and Good became Standard. In 1989 the grading of yield and grade were separated or allowed to remain combined depending on the choice of the producer.
Currently a carcass is graded into one of six types, I will spare you the names.

The Grading of meat is based on the both age and marbling. The A and B designation given by the USDA only refers to the age of the meat, this does not matter if it is Prime, Choice, or Select. The "A" meat is younger than the "B" meat. By the way, cows cannot be graded as Prime.

I should note that the best meat I have ever eaten in this country was never graded, and sold directly to a few restaurants and hotels, they come from rarer breeds like Hereford (not as rare as it used to be). This beef might be what most people think of as Prime A, it is expensive to sire, raise, and to fatten. One of my uncles raises Hereford steers for just this purpose, but it is too difficult and expensive to raise more than a handful at a time to the exactly level that purveyors demand, so most of his Hereford stock is raised for grading, and wholesale.

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Steve, really, really interesting. Thanks for taking the time. In Italy there is a big deal made out of the white Chianina used for the bisteca fiorentina which is increasingly difficult to find. I thought Sostanza's was superb; I thought you did, too. How much of this was the unique flavor of the beef in combination with the grill and olive oil? Do you know what Luger's uses and why their's are so good?

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Lugar's has a special supplier, and they get first dibs on everything that comes through the door, it is part of their contract. As for Chianina, it was beautiful and insanely beefy in flavor, however, it would not be categorized as prime because the marbling is not extensive enough, it was actually quite lean, and the oil helps provide a nice vehicle to draw out the flavor.

The Kobe preparations I have had in Japan were unlike anything I have seen people using Wagyu in the US. In Kyoto and Kobe I had it thinly sliced and served as Sabu Sabu, in it was flash grilled. In all three cases it was heated just until the fat became warm, unreal stuff, but never eaten like a steak.

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The Kobe preparations I have had in Japan were unlike anything I have seen people using Wagyu in the US.  In Kyoto and Kobe I had it thinly sliced and served as Sabu Sabu, in it was flash grilled.  In all three cases it was heated just until the fat became warm, unreal stuff, but never eaten like a steak.

That was my experience as well. At Taillevent-Robuchon in Tokyo (my avatar, BTW) they layered thin slices with a kind of relish and served it barely warm. It would be interesting to learn if chefs in the US, now faced with the availability of genuine Kobe, would use it for such different preparations or merely treat it as a higher form of steak (as seems to be the case with "Wagyu").

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This may be dictated by the cost. I suspect there is some kind of finite limit to what could be charged for this, assuming the availability. By the way, you mention "avatar" for Taillevent-Robuchon: were you at Robuchon before he closed in the mid '90's?

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This book was written by a business colleague of mine and has just been released. I have read it and enjoyed it. Some may find it too scholarly but it's VERY interesting. There are many here who I think would enjoy it and I believe it's an appropriate plug for this thread. If you do read it, let me know what you think. Edited by CrescentFresh
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The Kobe preparations I have had in Japan were unlike anything I have seen people using Wagyu in the US. In Kyoto and Kobe I had it thinly sliced and served as Sabu Sabu, in it was flash grilled. In all three cases it was heated just until the fat became warm, unreal stuff, but never eaten like a steak.

I believe that is how it is served at Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle. A mound of flashed slices, accentuating a texture more like foie gras than anything recognizable as steak...eat this and you'll start casting a disdainful eye on most other Kobe beef preparations in the US, which destroy its incredible mouthfeel and texture.

To a great extent, it has already become a marketing gimmick here, a "name" that people associate with luxury but don't know why. Pity.

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I believe that is how it is served at Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle.  A mound of flashed slices, accentuating a texture more like foie gras than anything recognizable as steak...eat this and you'll start casting a disdainful eye on most other Kobe beef preparations in the US, which destroy its incredible mouthfeel and texture.

To a great extent, it has already become a marketing gimmick here, a "name" that people associate with luxury but don't know why.  Pity.

But are other preparations using actual Kobe or the Kobe style beef? The latter is very good, but not the same.

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But are other preparations using actual Kobe or the Kobe style beef?  The latter is very good, but not the same.

Sushi Taro's menu simply states Kobe beef. It seems to satisfy their large percentage of Japanese clientele. It's true that I'm lumping generic Wagyu in with Kobe when it comes to other restaurants, but my objection is not to the quality of the beef, but rather what's been done to it to destroy the marbling for which Wagyu is bred.

Considering that these days a large proportion of "real" Kobe beef is American- or Australian-fed purebred Wagyu, which is merely shipped back to Kobe for grain finishing and slaughter so it can be labeled "Kobe", what distinction are you drawing?

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Sushi Taro's menu simply states Kobe beef.  It seems to satisfy their large percentage of Japanese clientele.  It's true that I'm lumping generic Wagyu in with Kobe when it comes to other restaurants, but my objection is not to the quality of the beef, but rather what's been done to it to destroy the marbling for which Wagyu is bred.

Considering that these days a large proportion of "real" Kobe beef is American- or Australian-fed purebred Wagyu, which is merely shipped back to Kobe for grain finishing and slaughter so it can be labeled "Kobe", what distinction are you drawing?

I did not realize there was this "real" product out there so I was making no real distinction, just trying to figure things out. I take it there is a difference between the "real" version that you mention above and that of the authentic Kobe?

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Even though this is not the direction Banco was hoping the thread would take, the above exchanges underscore the inevitability of confusion regarding beef, and the danger to the consumer of increased chicancery, since very few restaurants are honest about what they serve and will now have another means by which to confuse, obfuscate and misrepresent.

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Even though this is not the direction Banco was hoping the thread would take, the above exchanges underscore the inevitability of confusion regarding beef, and the danger to the consumer of increased chicancery, since very few restaurants are honest about what they serve and will now have another means by which to confuse, obfuscate and misrepresent.

This seems like an issue just for the crack investigative food team at the NY Times. That study they did on how 99% of restaurants featuring "wild salmon" were actually serving farmed salmon was eye-opening. I wonder if there have been any changes as a result of that? But I digress...

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I agree with Mr. Landrum that some very interesting issues have been raised here. I've also posted this topic on EG, and some of the comments there have shed additional light on the whole Kobe/Wagyu question. There is a link in that thread to a revealing article on the topic from 1998--somewhat out of date but educational nonetheless.

What's important to remember is that the US-Japanese trade relationship in beef has changed as of a few days ago, and that this could lead to changes in what we see on menus.

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It's about time(as I wish the ban would have been lifted before I had 10 kg confiscated at Dulles)

What I look forward to seeing more than what restaurants will do with it is what will happen with the very saturated market of "kobe style" beef, and the pricing of beef in general.

The real thing is incredible, can't wait to get some

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It's about time(as I wish the ban would have been lifted before I had 10 kg confiscated at Dulles) 

What I look forward to seeing more than what restaurants will do with it is what will happen with the very saturated market of "kobe style" beef, and the pricing of beef in general.

The real thing is incredible, can't wait to get some

I can't wait for you to either! I'll be queued up at 5:29 for 5:30 service the day you offer it, I assure you.

And welcome to you, ez1.

Respect,

Rocks.

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So is the "Oregon Kobe" beef I saw tonight at Zengo worth "$10 an ounce, three-ounce minimum?" If it will help you answer the question, I will add that it's cooked on a hot stone.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Can't help you with the value of Zengo's Kobe beef, but my Japanese co-workers and I today were joking about the "Kobe beef" at Ye Olde Not-to-be-Named-Here Steakhouse and I can say that most Japanese expats in the DC area don't put any faith in any beef here that's marketed as "Kobe beef." Doesn't stop them from enjoying some nice Wagyu shabu-shabu, tho'.

JA

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I was hoping this thread would be about genuine Kobe and what chefs around here might or might not do with it... :)

I don't think real Kobe beef will take off here. I agree with Mr. Lanrdrum, (and not just because he makes me blush everytime he mentions me here) that its availability will further confuse the market and encourage the use of "Kobe" rather than "Wagyu". Sparkling wine can be made anywhere but Champagne is only made in a certian part of France.

Six years ago I was in Japan and spent 2 or 3 days in Kobe. It's a beautiful city and reminded me of San Francisco a bit. What I remember the most about Kobe is the beef. The city is loaded with drool inducing butcher shops. Every few blocks there is a window full of meat that is almost 50 percent marble. The taste and texture of the meat blew my visual expectations away.

When I was in there, before the dollar dropped, trimmed striploin steaks were running about $100 a pound at the butcher shops in Kobe. People are used to small portions of foie gras but not beef that costs three times what foie gras does.

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I went to My Butcher and More in Grambrills over the weekend. The butcher, Mike Smollon, IMHO has really great product and knows his stuff. He convinced me to try some Wagyu sirloin steaks. I know this ain't the real Kobe but I wanted to give it a shot. Mike promised me that the Wagyu sirloin would be much more tender than regular filet and he was right. I asked him how to prepare it and whether grilling would be OK. He said charcoal is preferred and 2 1/2 mins per side would result in a med rare steak.

He was dead on as to the cooking time. We had a beautifully tender steak that melted in our mouths. However, 2 1/2 mins didn't yield the seared crust I crave - maybe my grill wasn't hot enough (it was around 500F), but I doubt it. And there was kind of a "livery" taste, which I actually like. Lisa didn't perceive it, though.

I'm wondering if pan searing is the best way to go with Wagyu? Or only thicker cuts? Or should I take a blow torch to it after I take it off the grill? Or could I try throwing it straight on the coals like I do with skirt? At $24 per pound, I'm not keen on too much experimenting. Maybe I can take my steaks over to RTC and ask Michael to slap them on his uber-grill for me? :)

In the final analysis....was it worth $24/lb? Not if I can't figure out how to get that perfect combination between medium rare and crispy brown crust. But if I get that, then I think it's worth it as an occasional treat.

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Here is some info on Kobe vs. Wagyu pertinent to DonRocks' observations on the Source Thread in the Restaurant Forum. From David Rosengarten's Report:

"In June, 2005, just as the category of 'Kobe beef' was heating up - with this designation
starting to appear on so many menus in top American restaurants-I conducted a survey
and tasting of exactly what was out there in 'Kobe beef.' I published a few results that
were startling to some:
-At that moment, there was no Kobe beef in America, or any beef imported from Japan.
Our government had banned it all.
-There was a great deal of 'Kobe-style beef,' from American-raised cattle related to
Japanese cattle. And some of it was pretty damned good!
-Nevertheless, I found that the highest-end cuts of American-raised Kobe-style beef were
usually not worth the price. In my huge tasting, I found that the very best of the three most
expensive cuts-strip loin, filet and ribeye-were, at approximately $150 a lb., most often
not much more glorious than tippy-top, non-Kobe-style, American prime beef at $40 a
lb. from the best butchers.
-However.....I also found that there were GREAT bargains to be had in lesser cuts
from Kobe-style cattle. Kobestyle brisket, for example, at $8 a lb., was an insane measure
better than regular American brisket at $4 a lb. I urged myreaders to get on the lesser-cut
Kobe-style bandwagon. And now.....just over two years later.....everything has
changed. I've got a lot of new news to tell you, a lot of lessons learned, and, after conducting
a new tasting, a lot of results to share with you. Plus....I'm urging something
new: if you can afford it, NOW IS THE TIME....repeat: NOW IS THE TIME......to get on the
obscenely expensive high-end Japanese beef bandwagon.
Why? Well, as you probably know, the American government and
the Japanese government, at the end of 2005, reached a bilateral agreement to allow each
other's beef into their respective countries (after working out tariff difficulties and Mad
Cow concerns). It is usually published that the agreement was reached in early 2006, but
one of America's most important importers of Japanese beef told me it was earlier-that he
received his first shipments in December, 2005. Those shipments are still coming in.
So....unlike June 2005 when I conducted my first tasting.....you can now get the
real thing, the big-deal beef that's raised in Japan, right here in the U.S. of A. One of
the reasons I had argued against spending the big bucks before was that American
Kobe-style beef, even at its best, does not have the same unimaginable degree of buttery
fat as top Japanese beef does; I reasoned that if you're going to spend $150 a lb., you
might as well wait until you can spend it on the thing that feels like a protein-lined butter
explosion in your mouth. And that is now possible. Moreover....this is a great
time to buy this Japanese beef in the U.S......because the Japanese took this trade
renewal very, very seriously. They know they have an international reputation to protect
with their famous beef.....and they have very scrupulously set up controls on the market,
so that only the most exemplary stuff goes for export. Now, capitalism being what it is, all
kinds of American importers and distributors are angling to sell Japanese beef of lower
quality-but they're having a hard time just now. Everything in the market right now from
Japan is at least super-good-and most of it is mind-blowingly good.
I know, because I conducted a huge tasting of all the Japanese beef I could find in America
in August, 2007."

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Sonoma is currently serving real Kobe, raised in and imported from Japan, in the form of a rib-eye special. Drew showed me the pedigree and noseprint. The name of the current animal being served is Seiko. Timely indeed.

How much is that Kobe on the menu? The one with the Wagyu-ey tail...

Edited to polish up this shameless play on lyrics...

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