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If you think prices for a tenderloin or a T-bone at fine steakhouses are steep, try ordering wagyu beef. Servings of the highly marbled delicacy, considered ambrosia for carnivores, might run as much as $20 an ounce. Then again, because wagyu has a taste and texture more like foie gras than USDA prime steak, a small portion will do just fine.
The beef comes from Japanese cattle that are treated to regular massages and a diet of grains and beer, at least in Japan. Wagyu cattle are now raised in the U.S. and Australia, although Kobe beef, considered the best of wagyu, comes from a specific region in Japan.
The Japanese typically eat wagyu in thin slices grilled rare or dipped in simmering broth, but chefs in the U.S. keep inventing ways to serve it. Kobe Club in New York offers "flights" that allow you to sample Kobe filet, strip loin, and rib eye. The price is $395, but it's enough for two. At Cut in Los Angeles, chef Wolfgang Puck's signature dish is Kobe beef short ribs for a relatively modest $39.
Others have given the pricey delicacy a more homey touch. Thomas Keller has served wagyu meat loaf at Ad Hoc, a more casual spot near his famed French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Ketchup, a sleek L.A. grill, features mini Kobe beef hot dogs (four for $12), while a Kobe beef rib sloppy joe ($15) graces the menu at newly opened Presidio Social Club in San Francisco. Why the growing popularity of wagyu? With caviar and foie gras under siege, says restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, "we need some luxury protein to help us feel special." By Amy Cortese