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We get Chef Kazuhiro Hayashi of Miku to give us the skinny on (not so skinny) Wagyu.
In the last decade or so, the term Wagyu has gone from something so unique that you used to see news stories on it (“Japanese Farmers Feeding Their Cattle Beer!”) to a descriptor verging on ubiquity. Costco was selling it —which is itself not a huge problem as Costco’s meat is generally excellent—but my experience with a very pricey Wagyu rib roast left me with a major case of the mehs.
Ditto a number of steaks around town that were always solid, but rarely worth the high tariff. I had so many mediocre experiences that I switched my high-end allegiances to the lower priced but more reliable USDA Prime certification.
But then some friends held a (really) swanky housewarming for some friends. They hired Chef Alessandro Vianello, who I knew from his days at Wildebeest, to cook. And while the entire meal was a stunner, it was his handling of a piece of Wagyu that re-awakened my passion for the meat. The meat was tender without being soft and packed more flavour per square inch than any I can remember in recent history. It was a revelation. “That’s A5,” he said and patiently explained how that moniker, when attached to wagyu, made all the difference.
READ MORE: Our 2016 Review of Kissa Tanto
READ MORE: Our 2016 Review of Kissa Tanto
Sadly finding A5 in town is a bit of a trick. A few of the steakhouses (Black + Blue, Elisa) sell it by the ounce (it’s in the $35/oz range) but I don’t want to be the guy who goes in and orders 3 oz of steak. I also don’t want to be bankrupt, so, a conundrum.
So when I saw that Miku was not just having a special Kaiseki dinner, and that it would feature not only A5 Wagyu, but A5 from the Iwate prefecture I was…excited. Iwate A5 Wagyu is, even within the rarified world of Japanese beef, widely considered the pinnacle.
There are more than 200 brands of wagyu in Japan and Iwate Gyu is Japan’s highest-grade brand of beef. It has won the top prize at the Tokyo Meat Market 11 times, the most of any region in the country. Most importantly, Iwate Gyu is known for their circular farming practices, a method where multiple crops, such as rice, and livestock are raised together on small farms. The leftovers from growing one are used to feed the others. With its natural crystalline water, fresh air, and dedicated farmers, the cattle grow strong in the healthiest of environments and therefore produce the finest quality of wagyu beef.
I chatted with Miku Executive Chef Kazuhiro Hayashi and peppered him with some nerdy fanboy questions:
What are some common misconceptions about Wagyu in North America?
Most often, people may not know there are many different varieties of Wagyu in the world. In Japan alone, there are more than 200 brands. For the most premium Wagyu, you’ll want to look for A5 Wagyu, the highest grade given. Wagyu in North America is most often served as a steak, but I encourage diners to look for unique preparations as well. Due to the delicate, buttery nature of the beef, the umami flavours are further enhanced with complementary ingredients.
What is the difference between Wagyu raised in North America and Wagyu raised in Japan?
The most simplest description, North American wagyu is crossbred, whereas Japanese wagyu is purebred. Therefore, the flavour profile and marbling is often much different.
As a chef, what is your favourite way to prepare Wagyu?
Slicing wagyu very thinly and enjoying it through a quick sear or cook method, such as Shabu-Shabu (Japanese hot pot) or as a classic nigiri. The flavours of the Wagyu and accompanying ingredients really bring the special flavours together.
The Kaiseki dinner runs for 10 days only, from March 9-19th and features 7 courses, so it seems like the steal of the year—$225. That’s less than the cost of a 6oz steak of a “plain” A5 anywhere else, so this is exceptionally well-priced. Reservations can be made here and they will sell out.