Have you ever had a case when you researched a restaurant, all reviews were great, but the dinner left you disappointed? I usually don’t bother to spend time writing about the place I was not particularly fond of, but I thought I should share my thoughts in case there is someone trying to find a good Kobe beef restaurant in Tokyo and looks up this spot. For one of the few nights our friends were in Tokyo, we wanted them to sample the famous Kobe beef so we went out to highly praised Gyu-An, a small restaurant located in the basement of Ginza district which sources meat directly from Kobe. It is an old-style restaurant decorated in the best of Japanese traditions, where shoes come off as you enter and servers are dressed in kinomos. You can enjoy your beef prepared in various ways: traditional steak (sirloin or tenderloin), shabu-shabu or sukiyaki (different types of hot pots). You can also order a tasting menu which includes an appetizer of beef/fish sashimi, salad, beef steak and a light dessert. We opted for steaks which came with a side of simple salad, garlic chips and three dipping sauces, very common accompaniment to wagyu. We decided to sample both types of steaks and ordered one of each. The server recommended having them medium rare, so we followed the recommendation. Soon enough our steaks arrived sizzling on cast iron platters. They were bedded on onions and garnished with some vegetables. Looks so appetizing doesn’t it? I have tried premium wagyu beef prepared teppanyaki style at luxurious Ukai-tei as well as grilled at one of the yakiniku spots and must say the portion there was half the size of the steak we got at Gyu-An. But did the taste and quality of preparation compare? Sadly, not at all. The beef was cooked medium and we got the characteristic rich, melt-in-the-mouth texture, but the beef totally lacked in flavor.
I am not an expert cook, but honestly I don’t think cast iron platter was an appropriate way to cook the beef. The meat did not seem to be seared hot enough which resulted in very oily steak. A large chunk of fat on the sirloin was still white, and was not either sliced off, or charred to make it edible. It surely did not look pretty! I cannot get over the fact that a piece of meat that looked so mouthwatering tastes like… absolutely nothing. Every bite I took I was desperately looking for that scrumptious flavor of the wagyu beef, but could not find it. I guess if you have not tried anything better this might wow someone (no offense), but I honestly think Gyu-An did not live up to the hype and is not worth the time or the money. Lesson learned: never take your visiting friends to a place you haven’t tested out yourself. Luckily they are awesome and never said a word of complaint, plus we managed to redeem ourselves the following night by taking them to our favorite yakiniku spot in Akihabara. In all honestly, if you cannot afford or don’t want to splurge, yakiniku is the best place to taste a great wagyu beef. Plus, nothing can beat that smoky flavor coming from the fire-grill!