Food for Thought: Don’t Drink the Kobe Kool-Aid

When the Kobe beef trend hit Philly a few years back, food writers did everything they could to remind people that, despite what menus claimed, diners weren’t actually eating the butter-soft Japanese meat. At the time, neither the beer-fed and massaged Kobe cattle nor its succulent end product were allowed to be imported to the U.S., so what we were eating was really wagyu, an American (or, at Barclay Prime, Australian) hybrid that was nearly as good.

True Kobe is now available stateside, though reports on it are mixed. Drew over at Kissen Fresh Meats can only get his hands on rib-eyes, which he sells for $100 each, and Barclay Prime chef Andrew Fox says that U.S. Customs holdups mean a less-fresh product, so the real stuff that ends up here is usually frozen. (Which is one of the reasons he’s sticking with his Australian version.)

Spotty availability undoubtedly keeps the Kobe mystique alive — and has the unfortunate effect of causing restaurants around the city to employ “Kobe” more as a marketing term than as a meaningful meat descriptor, and to use it in dishes where you wouldn’t couldn’t tell the difference between Kobe and ground chuck. Cases in point: Kobe hot dogs at Varga Bar, Kobe meatballs at Alma de Cuba and G Lounge, and Kobe cottage pie at Tir Na Nog. (As one of our writers pointed out: “It’s like having a Bentley golf cart.”)

In Japan, and at a handful of high-end steakhouses, the real thing is eaten by the ounce and enjoyed as the rare luxury it should be. And luxury should never be slathered with ketchup. Let’s hear what you think in the comments.