Food for Thought

The $270 six-ounce steak: Real Kobe beef finally hits Houston, brings taste and wallet shock

The $270 six-ounce steak: Real Kobe beef finally hits Houston, brings taste and wallet shock

Japanese Kobe Beef steak
The meat is generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavour, tenderness and fatty, well-marbled texture.  Photo by Horns
Grant Gordon, Tony's, December 2012
Tony's executive chef Grant Gordon Photo courtesy of Tony's
Japanese Kobe Beef steak
Grant Gordon, Tony's, December 2012

Remember the big debate sparked by Forbes writer Larry Olmsted back in April about Kobe beef, which he called Faux-be beef because no matter what you where paying for it or where you were eating it, it clearly wasn’t real Kobe?

Which is something I already knew and was pretty surprised that a lot of foodies didn’t.

See Kobe is an appellation, like Champagne. It only comes from Tajima Wagyu cattle raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo prefecture in Japan. Kobe is the capital city there, hence the name of the beef.

 It’s like a meat custard it’s so tender. But the flavor is like no other meat I’ve ever tasted. 

Anyway, if you were paying attention in 2010, the USDA banned all beef imports from there because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. So those overpriced burgers and steaks you were eating?

Not Kobe. Likely Texas-raised Wagyu, another breed of Japanese cattle, possibly crossed with an America breed. But it could have been anything, cow wise that is.

The United States doesn’t recognize food trademarks and regulations from other countries, which is why some sparkling wine makers here can label their products Champagne. At best it is champagne, with a small “c” like the generic term “thoroughbred” which does not refer to the registered horse breed Thoroughbred with a capital “T.”

But I digress.

So, while all those restaurant menus were touting Kobe beef, at best it should have been labeled “kobe” with a small “k.” Or, I would even accept Texas Kobe, which doesn’t make sense to me, but at least it tells you it’s not real Kobe.

But guess what? That all changed back in August when the USDA relaxed the ruling and allowed real Kobe to be imported again.

But it’s expensive, really, really expensive like the most costly steak you’ll ever eat.

Which, of course, is why it’s on the menu at Tony’s. At $45 an ounce. As in a six-ounce steak will run you a cool $270.

“But because it is so rich, so well marbled, you don’t need to eat very much,” owner Tony Vallone says. “Just a few ounces will do. I had a customer come in and order a 10-ounce Kobe tenderloin. I tried to explain how rich it is, but he wanted 10 ounces and he ate all of it.”

The Kobe Taste

I could barely eat two ounces. The meat, cooked only rare to medium rare (any longer and you’ll cook the fat right out of it and it gets chewy and loses its flavor) has a creamy, buttery flavor. It’s an umami taste that really seems to dissolve on the tongue. It’s like a meat custard it’s so tender. But the flavor is like no other meat I’ve ever tasted.

 "I had a customer come in and order a 10-ounce Kobe tenderloin. I tried to explain how rich it is, but he wanted 10 ounces and he ate all of it.” 

Which I think makes it worth the price, just to try it once.

“The beef came with a stamped certificate of authenticity,” Vallone says. “It’s fresh, not frozen and it’s rated five. That’s the highest rating. And the shipment came with a video showing how the cattle are raised. They walk them and then massage them everyday and they feed them beer!”

I guess if you have to be a cow, that’s the kinda cow to be.

Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse also had a holiday delivery from Japan. Corporate concept chef for the Houston-based chain Carlos Rodriguez tweeted photos of the fresh meat and the certificate.

There may be other restaurants in town with real Kobe beef on the menu. I haven’t heard of them, but if you have let me know.

Otherwise, if it says Kobe beef on the menu, ask to see the cow's paperwork.