Steak is an unlikely feature in Japanese cuisine- thick, tangy, juicy, and charred, it doesn't quite fit into the otherwise light, salty, fishy, and soy flavors of Japanese food. Somehow, though, the Japanese have become the most expensive, sought-after steak artists in the world.
The Japanese beef industy started in Kobe, and now other regions have taken the lead in the production of wagyu, or "Japanese-style beef." The Japanese really like their meats fatty- not like bacon, but with the fat evenly distributed through the muscle in high quanities (the high fat content is what makes O-Toro the most expensive cut of maguro sushi). Wagyu is produced from cows on the younger side, pampered their whole lives with an all-beer diet and regular massages. TK. The meat comes out with incredible marbling, and melts the instant you put it in your mouth.
I got a chance to go to a famous local steakhouse near our house, Katayama, for my host sister's birthday this week. I had expected Japanese steak to be on the pricey side, but I had no idea they would take it this far. We had the cheapest cuts, リーン ("riin"), which means "grain-fed." Next up the scale was grass-fed, and then it was into the specialty wagyu imported from Mishima.They don't mess around- single orders of steak can climb up past $200. I had an omraisu set (click the picture at left to enlarge the menu),.
I ordered mine medium-rare, and it came on a sizzling platter with omeraisu (a thin omlette wrapped around rice), fries, and veggies. The cut was topped with a tiny pad of butter, and au jus came on the side.Before digging in, you pour some of the *au jus *on the platter, where it sizzles and steams. Make sure you hold your towel in front of your clothes to catch the splatter!
For the cheapest cut on the menu, the riin was damn good. I had it medium-rare, and they erred on the rare side, making for a wonderfully soft, juicy steak. It ran on the thick side, and while it couldn't quite top filet mignon for texture, it bested 90% of the cuts you find in the states. The sauce was good, too- lighter than worsteshire, with a little less vinegar and a little more tang. The flavor reminded me of a roast beef sandwich at Tommy's Joint in San Francisco, but the texture was all steak.
We kicked off the meal with Asahi, followed by a red wine that was a little light-bodied and dry for the meat. None of us knew any of the bottles on the menu, so we just went with the one two or three from the cheapest. Meh, I guess we've learned our lesson for next time.
It had been a long time since I had last had steak, and Katayama definitely took care of my craving. I love Japanese and fusion cuisine, but sometimes you just want western food done right, and this was the real deal. Despite the little Japanese touches, the flavor was steak to the core; no soy, sesame, nori, or mayonnaise to be found.