Seasoned diners know that Tokyo’s best restaurants are located either an elevator ride up or walk downstairs from ground level, but almost never on a building’s ground floor. So it should come as no surprise to hear that to access one of Japan’s most unique new eateries, a tiny member’s-only club dedicated to the Rolls-Royce of beef, one must walk past the entrance to a noodle shop in Tokyo’s Akasaka neighborhood, hike up a set of stairs, then spy a discreet sign that reads “Wagyumafia.”
A meal here consists of creative plates of wagyu beef, such as wagyu nigiri and wagyu shabu-shabu, that vary daily according to the chef’s whim, so diners come to learn the versatility and varied flavors of the prized meat. In the five years before opening the new restaurant, co-owner Hisato Hamada had been exporting wagyu around the world, and he wanted an outlet to educate local and international diners about the meat. Because of wagyu’s umami-rich flavor and high cost, restaurants often label crossbred meat inaccurately as wagyu.
“Pretty much all the wagyu you can find in the States or Europe are wagyu hybrids of Holstein, Black Angus, or other species,” says Hamada. “So, we don’t call them wagyu.” For wagyu to be genuine, the animals must be raised in Japan and be one of four cattle breeds: Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, Japanese Shorthorn, or Japanese Black. For wagyu to be considered Kobe—the world’s richest, most premium beef—the animals must be born and raised in the Hyogo prefecture, in the Kansai region where Kobe is the capital.
Hamada isn’t afraid to take his passion to the highest rungs. Last October, he purchased the most expensive Kobe cow sold in 2016, which was also the first cow ever in Kobe history to score a perfect 12 out of 12 points through the grading system that distinguishes wagyu from Kobe. He paid $50,000 for the 1,510-pound animal. Hamada showcased his prize through a series of dinners, selling three ounces of striploin for $200 and portions of chateaubriand for up to $2,500.
The only way for one to become a member at Wagyumafia and similar member’s-only dining clubs in Tokyo is to be introduced to management by someone who’s already in the club. But Hamada is planning to disperse his knowledge at a new venue with the opening of a butcher shop in San Francisco later this year. Genuine Wagyu Butcher will offer a tasting counter for wagyu enthusiasts to learn how different cuts vary in flavor. (wagyuamfia.com)