Hundred-Dollar Question

Kobe Beef--the legend, the steak--Hits Minnesota, and Dear Dara dives in

Dear Dara,

 

Unfortunately, your article of May 11, "The Great Steak Hunt," doesn't include a recent addition to the local steak scene, Kobe beef. The Kobe beef steak I tried was fabulous. It was the most flavorful steak I've ever eaten. However, I've rarely eaten steak and to the best of my knowledge have never eaten a steak at a restaurant. After the steak was done I cut it with a butter knife and pulled the meat apart with my fingers. It was literally melting apart in my mouth. Only the most minimal amount of chewing was needed.

Kobe beef, the Lamborghini of steaks, at Coastal Seafoods
Sean Smuda
Kobe beef, the Lamborghini of steaks, at Coastal Seafoods

Location Info

Map

Coastal Seafoods

2330 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

 

--Stu in Minneapolis

 

Dear Stu,

 

Your letter has the double distinction of both being highly articulate on a point of riveting fascination to me, and of being extremely expensive to reply to. How expensive? It cost this newspaper $99.41 to have a dialogue with you about Kobe beef, my friend--that's the bill I ran up in order to taste a couple of different Kobe beef cuts from Coastal Seafoods. Hey, when steak costs $29.99 a pound, a hundred dollars runs up on you mighty quick. Yes, I said $29.99, for a single pound of a single large herbivore. Welcome to the next level of luxury, Minnesota: Kobe beef dwells among us.

Not familiar with the Lamborghini of beef steaks? Well, here's the deal: Back in the mists of time, cattle were introduced into Japan to work in agriculture, probably from original British bloodlines. Like Galapagos turtles, these cattle bred with one another, and thus a breed never before seen was brought into the world. (This isolation, of course, included the famous period when Japan was closed to foreigners, including foreign cattle.) This breed is known as Wagyu, which, conveniently enough, means Japanese cattle. Within the Wagyu breed there are even more distinct bloodlines, just as, say, there are different sorts of terriers in the terrier family of dogs, but that doesn't really concern us.

What does concern us is that when a culture of Japanese connoisseurship rises up around something, be it flower arranging, sushi preparation, or rare Weezer bootlegs, boy howdy, you better back off, because they are going to get some stuff done. Hence Japanese beefsteak connoisseurs developed Wagyu beef strains that they concluded were the best in the world. Many Westerners agreed and, over time, came to associate this phenomenal Japanese beef with Kobe, the prefecture in Japan where they most often ate it; just like Champagne comes from Champagne, Kobe beef used to come from Kobe. Except the Japanese weren't as vigilant about their brand management as the French were, and now, all over the Western world, when you eat Wagyu cattle you're eating Kobe beef.

If you have heard of Kobe beef, chances are you associate it with misty, sexy legend: The cattle spend their lives drinking beer, eating sake lees, and reclining tipsily in their stalls while beautiful geishas massage them and brush their hair with sake, that kind of thing. Some say this is hogwash and marketing. Others say it is reality, but only applies to certain $300-a-pound beasts glimpsed only in Japan. In any event, here we're talking about the $30-a-pound stuff, which is domestic American.

Yes, I said domestic. In the 1990s, American and Australian breeders began rearing and slaughtering Wagyu in their home countries and then shipping the meat to Japan for final processing. In 2001, however, Japan banned U.S. beef imports because of mad cow fears, leaving the American Wagyu folks in serious need of a new market. That's about when Kobe beef started showing up on American menus, in the most conspicuous of conspicuous consumption dishes, like $40 hamburgers in fancy New York City restaurants. Kobe beef would occasionally show up in Twin Cities restaurants, including at dear, departed Tonic, but I never had enough of it to form an opinion one way or another.

But that was then, and this is now. In the beginning of March, Coastal Seafoods started testing the local response to Kobe beef, raised in Nebraska, at their Minneapolis location. As of this writing, Coastal has expanded the meats to their St. Paul shop too. Minnetonka, make a little noise if you want in!

If you think it's a little counterintuitive for a place named Coastal Seafoods to sell Nebraska beef, you should know that it's something of a natural expansion for Coastal, which, in addition to its three retail locations, has an almost immeasurable impact on our local restaurant culture as a restaurant supplier. Many, many of our top restaurants get all their ocean fish and shellfish from Coastal, and even huge operations like the Oceanaire Seafood Room work with Coastal to bring in some of their specialty products. For instance, look for $30-a-pound Alaskan Yukon River King salmon to show up in the third week of June or so; it will be at the Oceanaire, at Coastal, and maybe a few of the tippity-top restaurants, like Levain.

"The Yukon River is five times longer than the Copper River," general manager Tim Lauer told me when I talked to him for this story. "And if you have to swim upstream for 2,000 miles, you have to build up an insane amount of fat to get you through the journey. Copper River King salmon are about 12 percent fat, but these Yukon kings average 34 percent fat. They're amazing."

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