Forward written and edited by Greg Taniguchi
As soon as something becomes Americanized, the profit-driven market ends up dictating the narrative regardless if it is an accurate depiction of Japanese beef (wagyu).
With the ever-increasing popularity of wagyu, many would-be entrepreneurs are out to capitalize on the popularity by selling misleading “Kobe sliders” to hyping A5 as the epitome of wagyu. So to help you navigate the market, here are a few “beefs” (issues) I have with wagyu sold in the U.S. of A.
“Beef, you don’t want none, so don’t start none.”– 50 Cent
The Misleading Marketing Tactics Taken by Restaurants
Since restaurants are the first point of contact for most people to enjoy real Japanese wagyu beef, here are my top 5 beefs I see out there:
1) False Advertising
The use and advertising of wagyu and or Kobe beef when it’s not Japanese wagyu or Japanese Kobe beef.
Wagyu beef is imported beef from Japan. Kobe beef is a well known beef brand of Japanese wagyu specifically from the Tajima cow from the Hyogo prefecture in Japan.
I see a lot of restaurants charging “wagyu or Kobe beef” prices or using the brand of beef for advertising when it’s clearly not that. One can tell because the beef doesn’t taste like it, and a lot of the restaurants have a hard time explaining how they sourced the meat. They usually then cough up that it’s a US wagyu or Australian wagyu or something which is not imported Japanese wagyu (let alone authentic Kobe beef).
This is not a knock on the quality of Australian or US wagyu or other crossbred cows. Just simply that places need to source, and quality control the beef that they advertise and sell.
If a place advertises “wagyu” or “Kobe”, check to make sure they are selling you imported Japanese wagyu beef unless they very specifically call out US Kobe such as SRF (Snake River farms), or Australian Kobe.
2) The A5 Tax
The reality is a lot of people love to advertise “A5” simply as a reason to charge more or that they ate “A5” wagyu simply to show off to their friends. There is plenty of Japanese wagyu beef which has excellent taste which is lesser than an “A5” in the scale rating.
C to A and 1 to 5 is simply a rating scale for beef traders and buyers so they know the quality of the beef they are buying. The C to A scale indicates the quality of the carcass and the meat extracted from the carcass. 1 to 5 speaks about the marbling of the beef.
A5 simply means someone is buying the top quality beef in the market. A5 doesn’t say or imply anything about the taste of the beef. It simply speaks about the cuts and quality of the carcass.
As an example, I ate a Japanese wagyu steak which was lesser than an A5 on paper but had a better palette and overall balance versus a lot of the A5 which I have had.
3) Brand Obsession
A lot of restaurants are obsessed with selling specific brands of beef and a lot people are obsessed with only buying or eating expensive wagyu meat.
Yes, there are a lot of very well known brands of beef (Mie, Matsusaka, “Kobe”) which have an excellent reputation worldwide which come from specific regions. There are also a lot of great tasting local Japanese wagyu beefs which are served that do not have a brand or are unbranded. Keep in mind there are over 250 wagyu beef brands in Japan alone to explore.
The taste of the beef depends way more on the farmer and how the cow is reared, butchered and prepared versus the place the cow was reared. One of the things I like about a lot of the smaller and more specialized restaurants in Japan is that they will sell you wagyu beef from local farmers at a lower price which tastes amazing. It just doesn’t carry the beef brand tax of the famous beef brands.
4) “It Melts in Your Mouth” is Not All That
A large number of people love to say wagyu or fatty beef melts in their mouth as a way of judging or grading food.
Yes, a lot of very tender cuts of beef or wagyu with a high fat content will “melt in your mouth” but that actually isn’t all that great way of grading the beef / food. It doesn’t say a whole lot when it comes to taste, palette or judging anything of what you ate. That could be a result of the fat content of the beef (the part of the cow) or the brand of wagyu.
I highly recommend exploring more about how you can enjoy different cuts and types of wagyu. Especially with fattier cuts of beef, having more of a sear or char is a great thing. The bitterness and the 1-2 mm outside well done crust will balance very well with the sweet rare inside of the beef.
5) Wagyu or Kobe Anything
I notice a lot of places throw “wagyu” or “Kobe” branded beef with any dish on a menu to simply charge you more or make it more desirable. A lot of places (including some Japanese restaurants) are guilty of doing this.
There is nothing wrong with having “wagyu” burgers or “Kobe” burgers or ribs on their menu. However, a lot of places do this simply as a reason to charge more or make it more appealing. For starters, a small fraction of those places (if you ask them) are using real imported Japanese beef.
I understand this is a matter of perspective, but Japanese wagyu / kobe beef doesn’t pair with everything or belong on everything simply to hike the price up. Some places do the whole kobe beef and uni combination (let’s combine 2 expensive things and add some gold on top of it to make it MORE premium). I don’t think those two go well together at all and are simply a money grab or a look for attention.
This is simply catering to the wagyu or Kobe beef brand’s premium price and not how they can execute well using the inherent natural qualities of the wagyu beef.
By all means, I don’t mind out of the box expressions on wagyu outside of Japanese cuisine. My point is I would like to see more cuisines & places promoting dishes which showcase the wagyu versus using it to simply make it a premium item on their menu
I just had to drop a 6th one of my own.– Greg Taniguchi
6) No Mention of Which Cut Is Being Served
The vast majority of U.S. based restaurants and sellers very rarely ever mention the cut being used. Any other time you purchase beef, you are going to buy it by the cut (ribeye, top sirloin, flank, to tenderloin/chateaubriand). Not so with wagyu, and you very rarely see which cut they are selling you unless you are at a Japanese yakiniku restaurant where you are always purchasing by the cut from tongue to short rib.
I hope I don’t come off too strict in saying these things which I see all too often at restaurants because I believe everyone should be able to enjoy real Japanese wagyu, but have it actually be that, Japanese wagyu.
Here are some of the places I have found in Los Angeles which serve different expressions of real Japanese wagyu. Yes, these are the more traditional styles of Japanese wagyu, but you can also find many other places serving wagyu steaks (just make sure where they are sourcing from).
NOTE: Due to COVID-19 and the disruptions in import / export, I would call these places in advance to make sure they have real Japanese wagyu before you make a reservation.
- Manpuku Yakiniku (multiple branches in OC / LA, yakiniku style), our favorite yakiniku chain in LA.
- Yazawa Yakiniku (LA, yakiniku style), where to find kuroge explicit wagyu in Beverly Hills.
- Anjin, (OC, yakiniku style), a casual yakiniku spot in Orange County.
- Murasaki (OC, sushi style), primarily sushi, but they occasionally offer wagyu nigiri sushi.
- Shibumi (DTLA, kappo style), one of the few kappo style restaurants that sometimes offer wagyu.