I grew up in an economically-depressed area of Northeastern Pennsylvania where eating at Ponderosa (RIP) was a treat or dining at the one and only Chinese restaurant was considered exotic. I didn’t know anything about fine dining or foreign cuisines until I went away to college in Reading, PA. Discovering Chi Chi’s (RIP) and Red Lobster was a revelation! For the longest time, I considered eating at chain restaurants fancy dining. Oh, how times have changed.
Fast forward to the present day, where I will go out of my way to treat myself to something special. Granted, I can’t do it all of the time, but I seek to push the boundaries of my palate and explore new-to-me foods. I think it is worth noting that this obsession with food and an ardent interest in culinary experiences (and subsequently, wanting to write about them) extends from a desire to learn about cultures I had no exposure to in my childhood. Early in adulthood, I realized I had a lot to learn about the world. I missed out on food experiences that allowed me to discover new cultures and sought to play catch-up ever since.
One item on my “foodie” bucket list was Japanese wagyu steak. While I’m not the biggest red meat eater, I developed a distinct taste for Japanese cuisine and immense respect for Japanese heritage and culture, so my curiosity to try wagyu (which simply means “Japanese cow”) – the most prized beef in the world – had firmly been planted.
This coveted style of beef from Japan is sought after due to the fact that it is some of the highest quality you will find anywhere. It produces a one-of-a-kind, melt-in-your-mouth steak experience due to its almost lacework marbling (fat to meat ratio) running through the piece of meat. The breeds of cow that produce Japanese wagyu are strictly regulated, are not cross-bred (they are authentically Japanese), and the methods in which they are raised is unparalleled anywhere. Not only is the cattle genetically superior, but they also have to be raised and fed according to strict guidelines. Yes, these cows live a pampered life while they are alive.
Not all Japanese wagyu steak is the same. The beef grading system goes from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5, the highest. If you can find Japanese A5 wagyu on a menu, it is a worthy splurge as I found out most recently and ticked it off my foodie bucket list. It is by and large the highest grade of wagyu you can get.
Barclay Prime is one of the few places you can find high-grade Japanese wagyu in Philadelphia. You can also find it at Morimoto and Chubby Cattle. There are three cuts of Japanese wagyu you can choose from at Barclay Prime: Miyazaki 8 oz. filet ($150) made from 900 days fed Kuroge (Japanese black) cattle, 8 oz. ribeye ($165) aged in caverns surrounded by snow, and Kobe Wine 10 oz. striploin ($245) which comes from the preeminent region of Japanese beef production.
I chose the 8 oz. filet because when I do eat steak, it’s almost always a medium-rare filet mignon. At $150, it felt like I was taking the entry-level choice, but was I really? Either way, I knew it was going to be unlike any other steak I’ve eaten to date.
When our server asked how I would like it done, I felt like that was a trick question. Were they testing my knowledge of Japanese beef? I quickly admitted it was my first time trying the upscale offering. I remarked that I normally eat steak medium-rare but would be happy any way the chef suggested. In fact, I believe I said, “I’ll take it how he prefers eating it.” Which, much to my delight and ultimate satisfaction, was more on the red-rare side. And, in hindsight, it is probably the only way you should eat this distinguished piece of meat. Overcooking this luxurious beef would be a sin.
It literally did melt in my mouth. While I was able to select my steak knife — I chose a Japanese knife of course — I actually didn’t need it. It was perfectly cooked with a dark, well-seasoned char outside and bright red soft inside. The meat was so tender and juicy. The taste was exceptionally rich and savory. It took almost no effort to chew at all. It’s safe to say it is the best steak I’ve ever had and has spoiled me for any future steaks. It really doesn’t get any better. This memorable food experience will stay with me for some time to come, which is also why I wanted to write about it for posterity. I’m glad this particular foodie FOMO has been put to bed. 🙂
Have you had Japanese wagyu? I’d love to hear your thoughts.