Taste: Kobe or Not Kobe

If, when sitting down to a $100 Kobe cheesesteak at Barclay Prime, or a $41 Kobe burger at Atlantic City’s Old Homestead, you think you’re getting the luxe sake-massaged, beer-fed Japanese beef that attained legendary status in the mid-’90s, you’re wrong. That $300-per-pound Kobe beef, which Derek Davis once peddled at his now-defunct Kansas City Prime, comes only from Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital. And thanks to a USDA ban on all Japanese beef imports (mad cow disease, anyone?), Kobe has been unavailable legally in the U.S. for five years. (The Japanese have banned our beef for the same reason.)

More exacting purveyors, like chef-owner Masaharu “Matt” Ito, of Cinnaminson’s Fuji Restaurant, call the steak on your plate what it is: Wagyu. Both versions of the beef come from Wagyu cattle — a breed considered genetically superior to all others — but true Kobe is raised in Japan, where it must meet precise specifications and has its pedigree clearly traced. Wagyu can be raised anywhere. Granted, Wagyu beef can be exceptionally good — a Wagyu rib eye beat 11 other non-Wagyu steaks in a taste test we conducted last year — and it’s about half the price of Japanese Kobe. But according to Ito, who used to serve Kobe in the ’90s and now offers up Wagyu, “It’s only 70 percent as good as the real thing.”