Monday, May 12, 2008
For Rich's birthday, we finally satisfied one of his long-standing wishes - to taste authentic Japanese Kobe beef. Kobe beef refers to Wagyu cattle that is raised according to specific practices in certain parts of Japan. These practices include feeding the cattle sake and beer, and giving them daily massages to relieve muscle stiffness. This results in extremely tender, juicy, well marbled meat that is enhanced in flavour, and can cost up to $300+ per pound. Because the meat is so dense and fatty, a little goes a long way, which is lucky given the price!
I've always thought that if I had to be reincarnated in my next life, there are worst fates than to be a pampered Kobe beef cow.
Edo Fine Dining Restaurant on Eglinton Ave West of Avenue Road, offers a 7 course omakase tasting menu (chef's choice of dishes) featuring "Kobe beef". When making the reservations, I quickly discovered that the term Kobe beef is used very loosely in North America and that you need to make a specific distinction to ensure that you get the real thing. I was asked whether I wanted the "American Kobe Beef" for $125 per person, or the Japanese Kobe beef for $150, or the Japanese Wagyu Kobe beef for $170. Using the old adage "In for a penny, in for a pound", we selected the highest grade of beef for our meal.
We had been to Edo once before for Summerlicious, and found the food was not only delicious, but extremely innovative in form and presentation. When we arrived at the restaurant and announced our reservation, there was some quick excited chatter amongst the hostesses, which gave us the impression that the Wagyu omakase tasting menu is not ordered frequently.
The meal started with tuna carpacchio artistically drizzled with a criss-cross of two sauces of contrasting colours, one like hoisin sauce and the other seemed like it was mayo-based. This was followed by a beef brisket salad with mixed greens. So far both courses were tasty, but nothing extraordinary in comparison to other high end Japanese restaurants.
But the next course pushed the meal into an entirely different plane. It was a dish of fluffy egg custard topped with the most flavourful lobster bisque, containing large chunks of sweet lobster and edamame beans. It's times like this where I wish it was socially acceptable to lick the bowl.
This was followed by the sushi course, which consisted of two pieces of spicy himachi maki (sushi wrapped in nori seaweed) and two pieces of nigiri (mound of rice with a topping). The first nigiri topping was called toro (fatty blue fin tuna belly) and melted in the mouth like butter. The second nigiri was topped with a piece of grilled American Kobe beef, which was tender and delectable - closer to fois gras than any other slice of beef or steak we'd had before. This was an unexpected treat that would let us compare the American versus the Japanese Wagyu beef. If this was just the third best grade, we could hardly wait for the real thing!
The next course arrived as a parcel wrapped in parchment paper, which was slit in front of us to expose a steaming salmon fillet and scallops and enoki mushrooms. This was another good dish, but at this point, everything before it seemed like just a warm-up for the main attraction - the Wagyu beef!
Before the highly anticipated course, we were presented with one more surprise, to help set the stage. Placed before us was a plaque labelled "Certificate of Authenticity", which described the lineage of the Japanese Wagyu beef cow who would soon contribute to our meal. Details included his date and place of birth, gender, breed, grade, and date of "harvest", a euphemism if I'd ever heard of one. Though meant to assure us that we were getting what we paid for, this came very close to being too much information regarding my dinner .. at least they did not provide "our" cow with a pet name and a photo!
Finally came the moment we'd been waiting for all evening. The dish came as three slices of genuine Japanese Wagyu beef (total of 3oz) grilled perfectly to a reddish medium rare, sitting on a bed of mushroom risotto and topped with a delicately battered slice of tempura squash.
From the very first bite, it was apparent that the Wagyu beef lived up to its reputation and that all the hype was well deserved. The beef was so tender that you could almost cut it with a fork. Each bite emitted a huge burst of flavour that lingered in your mouth for a few seconds. This is something you need to savour slowly, to extend the heavenly feeling for as long as possible. While the price makes it prohibitive for most people to enjoy this delicacy regularly, it was definitely a chance of a lifetime experience that was worth every penny to try at least once.
The last dessert course was the perfect way to end the meal. Rather than serving a heavy or overly sweet dessert that would have overwhelmed the food that came before, dessert consisted of lusciously fresh pieces of fruit accompanied by a sauce made from the highest quality chocolate.
The meal ended with one final treat. It was announced that the executive chef, Ryo Ozawa, was coming to our table to greet us and personally thank us for partaking in his masterpiece. We chatted with him briefly, laying on the praise for the wonderful feast that he had dreamed up for us. Then with a final bow and a two-handed presentation of his business card, he was gone and the evening was over.
This is an experience that we will never forget. Unfortunately it may have spoiled Rich from eating a "normal" steak ever again...