What's Your Beef?
Genuine Kobe beef, which comes from a particular breed of cattle (Wagyu) raised in a particular prefecture of Japan (Hyogo), is among the most prized (and expensive) in the world. In recent years, producers in other parts of the world have sought to duplicate the product, and there are now farmers in the U.S. and Australia who raise Wagyu and cross-breeds. The product is often quite good, though not of the same quality as the genuine Japanese article, and carries significantly lower prices. Though there seems to be a good bit of confusion, this is really not a complicated issue: if the beef doesn't come from Kobe, Japan, you shouldn't call it Kobe beef. As the article details, that simple rule is supported by Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which said:
The use of the term Kobe beef on a menu or special board is a misrepresentation. ... Use of the terms Wagyu beef, American-style Kobe beef, Australian-style Kobe beef, and (country of origin) Kobe beef are acceptable, providing the operator can provide supporting invoices and product to match.It was a well-written and well-researched piece, and I'm happy to hear that it is in line for a Sunshine State Award from the South Florida Society of Professional Journalists.
When the matter was brought to several restaurateurs' attention during the writing of the article, many of them claimed to be unaware and pledged to make immediate changes on their menu to correct the mislabeling. There's just one problem: it appears that virtually none of them have actually done so.
The article detailed how South Beach steakhouse and cash cow Prime One Twelve listed $25 "Kobe beef sliders," a $25 "Kobe beef hot dog," and a $30 "one-pound Kobe hamburger" on the menu. Owner Myles Chefetz claimed ignorance and pledged to correct the problem:
We were not aware of the requirement for the specific labeling. Given this info, we will state this on the menu immediately.Guess what? Six months later, and the Prime One Twelve menu still features "Kobe Beef Sliders, a "KOBE Beef Hot Dog," and a "1 Lb. KOBE Hamburger" - with no additional clarification or labeling.
China Grill continues to list a "Kobe beef tartare" with no explanation of the provenance of the beef. Plat Bleu in the Delano still has a "kobe beef slider" on the menu (their explanation in the article that they rely on servers "to explain where it comes from if a customer has an issue or a question," rings hollow, since a customer has no reason to ask a question from the menu description). Meat Market still offers a "white truffle kobe tartar," a "kobe beef slider duo," and a "kobe skirt steak," without any further explanation that those items are different from the Japanese A5 Kobe steak listed elsewhere on the menu (though in interviews for the article, Chef Sean Brasel indicated he had no intention to make changes, claiming "customers know" those other items are not genuine Japanese Kobe because of the price; methinks this assumes a higher degree of knowledge and sophistication than is warranted for many diners).
Of those restaurants listed in the article whose menus are available online, only Gordon Biersch and 8 Oz. Burger Bar have actually done anything to address the mislabeling. Gordon Biersch, which said that a nationwide menu update in January would accurately denote the provenance of the meat, now has a qualifier on the menu for its "Kobe cheeseburger" that describes it as an "American-style Kobe beef burger;" and 8 Oz. describes its "Mini Kobe Corndog" as "American-style Kobe."
So the lesson remains the same: if you see "Kobe beef" on a Miami menu, be aware that it may actually be a lot of bull.
UPDATED: Got a tip that another Miami restaurant not mentioned in the article, DeVito South Beach, was actually cited for mislabeling of "Kobe" beef. Indeed, in a March inspection of the restaurant, DeVito got a citation for "Identity of food or food product misrepresented" referring to "KOBE BEEF TARTARE & JAPANESE A 5 CENTER CUT KOBE RIB EYE.." Initially, co-owner David Manero reportedly said that inspectors were "looking for little things" and the restaurant manager insisted they were indeed serving pure Kobe beef. A day later, Mr. DeVito's spokesperson had a different story from Mr. Manero's, saying he was "deeply concerned about the health of the restaurant’s patrons and also full disclosure and proper food service labeling" and that DeVito has "taken immediate steps insisting that the operators of the restaurant correct the problems cited by the state." The website now says "We are updating our menu, soon it'll be on-line again."
This is, incidentally, not the first time anyone raised the issue of the labeling of "Kobe" beef at Miami steakhouses.
Honestly, I don't understand how "American-style Kobe beef" makes any sense. It is, if anything, "Kobe-style American beef."
Bancroft Supper Club's website has disappeared from the intertubes (has the restaurant disappeared too?).