Is Japanese Wagyu Worth the Price?
February 15, 2017
The unequivocal and emphatic answer is YES!
We've had a pretty good rhythm with our travels: frugal, frugal, frugal, splurge, frugal, frugal. The balance has been working to keep us on budget. We were nearing the end of our stay in Japan and I decided it was time to splurge on the legendary hand-massaged, fat-marbled Wagyu Beef. After some research, I settled on Otsuka, a restaurant in Kyoto that serves lunch only, five days a week and is known for both Wagyu and the mythical Murasawa beef. Most Wagyu is brand named based on location - Kobe, for instance, is from the village of Kobe. Murasawa is the one outlier - it is so specific, that it is named for the producer. He traces 3 generations of bloodlines to select the best cows to breed (and can name the grandparents of the cow you're eating if you ask!); the cows are raised for 24-27 months, living on tatami mats to alleviate stress. Murasawa beef is rarely exported so you really do need to make the trek to Japan to taste it for yourself.
Otsuka is located in Arashiyama, in western Kyoto, so we planned our day in that neighborhood. We took an early train and walked to the Bamboo Forest to start the day.
After a stroll through the Bamboo forest and surrounding Arashiyama park and river, we walked to Otsuka and once again, waited in queue. We added our name to the list, and sat around a space heater in front of the restaurant. After just 35 minutes, we were whisked inside, removed our shoes and sat down to lunch. Even though Ruben was skeptical if he could tell the difference, we decided to compare Wagyu A5 sirloin (5200¥) to Murasawa A5 sirloin (6200¥), A5 being the highest grade available. Each set lunch included 150 grams (~ 5oz) of sirloin, barely seared on one side, vegetables - corn, broccoli and potato wedges to soak up the yummy fat, rice and a perfectly dressed salad. I took my first bite of Wagyu and started to swoon. The texture was like butter. The flavor was pure essence of beef. The best bite of beef I have ever tasted. Ruben took a bite of Murasawa and the look on his face mimicked mine, so I quickly dove my chopsticks into his plate and grabbed a slice of his steak. Holy crap. I didn't think the flavor could have been any better than the Wagyu, but wow, it was: not quite as buttery, but a little earthier and yes, better by a hair and worth every penny. We washed down the last morsels with local cold sake and headed out into the brisk afternoon to tour the other legends of Kyoto: Kinkakuji - the Golden Temple - and Ryoanji Temple with it's famous Zen Rock Garden. More on these in an upcoming post.
If you go: Otsuka: www.steak-otsuka.com; open 11:00am-2:30pm, closed Thursday and Sunday. Takes limited reservations, so best to show up by noon and wait for a table. Lunch for 2, if you splurge on A5 sirloin and sake: 13,500¥/$125.