Tasting Beef That's Even Better Than Kobe

If you think you've eaten great beef, you probably have, but not as wonderful as the Hida beef I sampled recently at EN Japanese Brasserie in New York City.

We were there for the U.S. launch of Hida-gyu, or Hida beef. This is an incredibly rich, well-marbled beef — think Kobe, but better! — raised in Gifu Prefecture, in the mountains of central Japan, where people say the 16 liters (more than 4 gallons) of spring water the cattle drink in a day is partly responsible for the taste of the meat.

Another factor is that the Hida-gyu is raised for 14 months, almost twice as long as other wagyu beef. Just imagine large black cattle prowling around the mountains, lapping up spring water for more than a year, acquiring their signature "marbling, luster, color, texture and aroma" (as the Hida website puts it).

We got to try the meat four ways: First up, slices cooked in a magnolia leaf with special local (to Gifu) mirin — rice wine —along with incredibly thinly sliced scallions and a hint of ginger served on a grilled rice cake. Across the room, a sushi chef was draping the beef over flavored red rice and then hitting it with a blow torch to give it a quick sear. Think about the best tuna sushi you've ever eaten; this was even better.

There was also raw Hida, a version of steak tartare with the beef cut into thin in ribbons, served in a delicate garlic-soy sauce and garnished with uni and tiny pansies — a nice, light preparation of a rich meat. However, my favorite dish would have to be the fourth one: It was a trio of seared Hida slices, each topped with something different — one with sea salt; another with Rokusuke salt (a umami blast made from preserved natural matsutake mushrooms, konbu kelp, and preserved scallops, condensed with a secret technique and infused into the salt — a specialty apparently not sold in the U.S.); and the last with ponzu sauce (my favorite of the three).

And what goes better with great beef than sake? A dozen different types are also being launched in Manhattan. Gifu sake gets its unique flavor from a combination of the mountain spring water blended with rice grown on the lower, flat plains.

For something non-alcoholic, there were glasses of iced cold-brew green tea. I'm usually not a big fan of green tea, but this changed my mind — and apparently the minds of most of the people standing around me. It was light, refreshing, and not over-brewed, tannic, or powdery and dull like many other green teas.

Gifu beef, sake, and tea were available at EN and several other New York restaurants only briefly. Now, you'll have to go to Gifu Prefecture to enjoy them.

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