I was expecting a cathartic experience. A few weeks ago a message landed in my in-box that touted a hot new item on the Park Plaza Gardens menu: a Kobe-beef burger. We're talking about the legendary Japanese cows that are purportedly massaged twice a day with warm sake; that are fed rich diets of beer and expensive grain; whose feet ethereally never touch the ground.
I've had Kobe before, on one of those magical evenings when someone's overblown expense account was paying. That first bite was an epiphany so velvety! The moment the yielding, creamy meat touched my tongue, it seemed to evaporate into a lightly perfumed, tender memory. Stunned, I vowed to find out what, exactly, made Kobe beef so succulent.
The answer is fat. Kobe beef comes from a breed of large cattle called Wagyu that are about 700 pounds heavier than the average cow. Wagyu-raising methods developed to keep the ruminant as fat and stress-free as possible, allowing the meat to marble up to 10 times more than an average cut. (It turns out the sake massages are a myth, though.) Technically, the word "Kobe" only describes Wagyu raised in Japan. Our American version comes from cross-breeds of Wagyu bulls and Angus females, raised with the old Japanese techniques.
So, how did Park Plaza's "Kobe" live up? Well, I failed to realize that the "South Beach" description referred to a low-carb diet, rather than Floribbean flavor. I was disappointed to find the bread missing from the experience, but that was my own misunderstanding. What about the beef? Unfortunately, it was slightly grainy and flabbily seasoned, and drowned under provolone cheese. (I hear the best cooking method for Kobe is thin slices seared fast over high heat.) On the bright side, they served it with a stunning Asian-inspired "firecracker slaw" of julienned jicama and celery root with pico de gallo.
I salute Chef Justin for trying to sneak this superb cut of meat in right under our dieting noses, but let's hope next time the meat takes center stage. When I asked the server what Kobe beef is, he answered, "The veal of beef." Would somebody please explain to the poor man that veal is already the veal of beef? Here's my take: Kobe beef is the foie gras of the beef world. A delicacy, yes. But a burger? Not so sure.