OK, so you had a pretty good year, if not a Goldman Sachs $100 million–bonus good year. You can afford to gorge yourself like the overpaid, all-conquering hunter-gatherer you are. A number of pricier-than-thou steakhouses are stocking up on Wagyu “Kobe” beef flown in from Japan, not the knockoff American hybrids raised on ranches in Texas or Colorado. At Nello, on Madison Avenue, fourteen-ounce Wagyu sirloins have been selling for $750 a pop. That’s hardly an exorbitant markup, owner Nello Balan says, considering that after his chefs finally strip away the meat’s blubbery blanket of fat he is paying about $400 per pound. He also offers Wagyu dusted with white truffles. That goes for $1,050 (which would get you about three years’ worth of Lipitor).
“It’s really fucking good,” says Mickey Rourke, the actor and proud carnivore. He ordered one sirloin at Nello, and the buttery, foie gras–like beef was so exquisite he came back the next day, this time with a Romanian model in tow, for more. (“It didn’t even taste like steak,” he says.) Levent Piskiner, who owns the Fifth Avenue jewelry store Gilan, didn’t mind that his bill came to over $800. “It’s a miracle,” he says of the Wagyu, named after a noble strain of cattle from the Kobe region of Japan.
In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed a ban on importing meats from Japan, over fears of mad-cow disease. The ban is now over. At Masa, a Wagyu rib eye is $400 for sixteen ounces. At Jeffrey Chodorow’s Kobe Club, grilled Wagyu filet mignon is $160 for eight ounces. He’ll also offer Wagyu hot dogs and sliders made from scraps of excess meat, while BLT Burger serves up Wagyu chuck on a bun ($62, five ounces).
“The key is genes,” says Michael Vernon, the chef at Geisha, where a sixteen-ounce rib eye runs $300. Wagyu is flown in with official papers that feature a nose print and document the animal’s ancestry.