Even in New York, a city blessed with the best in prime beef, some cuts have the power to grab people’s imagination. One of the more recent was a $185 steak sandwich that Don Wagyu, a compact storefront in the Financial District, started selling in 2018.
The star of that dish, which created lines down the block, was a thick, melt-in-your-mouth piece of meat densely marbled with flavorful fat. Called Ozaki, the beef inside that sando came from one small farm in Japan. Generally speaking, Japanese beef is richer and has a more luscious bite than its counterparts around the world because of the care farmers take with their cattle. That’s why wagyu, which means “Japanese cow” and encompasses any of the country’s four breeds, has become synonymous with quality.
But within the world of premium wagyu, Ozaki is in a league of its own. The brainchild of Muneharu Ozaki, who took over his father’s 100-head ranch in the mid-1980s at the age of 24, the beef comes from a herd of 1,600 Japanese Black cattle raised in Miyazaki prefecture, the region of the country most renowned for the quality of its meat.
Ozaki spent two years at a cattle ranch in Washington state and studied livestock at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln before deciding that the American way of mass-producing beef was not for him.
Instead he began raising cattle in a singular fashion, starting with an all-natural diet. “It’s a special feed that’s a blend of 13 kinds of grains that I’ve developed over 20 years,” Ozaki says. The mix includes barley, soybeans, and wheat, and takes about two hours to prepare fresh each day.
Age also helps make Ozaki beef extraordinary. Most premium cows are raised for 28 months before they’re slaughtered. After that the animals grow more slowly, and most producers say it’s no longer cost-effective to continue feeding them. Plus, as animals get older, there’s a greater chance for them to get infected with disease. Ozaki, who eschews antibiotics and steroids, raises his cattle for as long as 36 months, allowing the meat to develop deeper flavor and for the fat to be better marbled within the muscle.
“In Japanese, there’s a word, otaku,” says Simon Kim, owner of Cote, New York’s lauded Korean steakhouse. “It basically means ‘maniac.’ It’s like an older person who goes all the way into what they believe. Sometimes it’s a negative term, but for Ozaki it’s completely positive.”
Kim is considering carrying the meat at Cote in the coming months as a way to entice diners back as New York eases coronavirus restrictions. “Fall is always important to restaurants,” he says. “This year, when it means that indoor dining reopens in the city, it’s even more important. I’m looking at things that make an impact.” If it’s added, the beef would be the most expensive one on his menu: He sells A5 wagyu, the top classification, for $30 per ounce; Ozaki would be about $45 per ounce.
In the next three years, Ozaki plans to increase his herd size to 2,000. But it still won’t be easy to get. The beef is sold in small quantities in 32 countries, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. In the U.S., Tomoe Food Services Inc. is one of the few purveyors. The company’s president, Naoki Takeshige, says the price is about 30% higher than other wagyu he carries.
This fall he intends to offer it at two New York restaurants he’s preparing to open: J-Spec, a beef-focused spot scheduled to welcome customers this month; and Kiwami, a Japanese fusion eatery. He also supplied Don Wagyu with beef for its sandwiches before it closed in September 2019.
But the legend of Ozaki beef lives on: Takeshige says he’ll serve it in a sando as an occasional special at J-Spec. Price to be determined.
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