Know Your Stuff: A Quick Guide To Bougie Foods
Known for its 3-months waitlist and expensive price tag, New York City’s Le Bernardin was placed under investigation for its Kobe Beef after an INSIDER's video on “Kobe Beef” revealed that they had been serving a different meat than what was marketed. How can you tell if the "Kobe beef" on the menu is the actual legendary meat from Japan?
How do you know if your $300 steak is the real deal? How do know if what you’re paying for is actually what you’re getting? If not, what are you actually getting? Here are a few common luxury foods that may not be what they seem.
Kobe Beef & A5 Wagyu
Over the last few years, Japanese meats have become a luxury food staple in many fine dining restaurants, and among the best of them is Kobe Beef. It’s important to note that Kobe Beef is not to be confused with A4/A5 Wagyu beef. A4 and A5 wagyu are distinctly bred from the Kuroge Washu cow, one of the four main wagyu cow breeds native to Japan. Only Kuroge Washu Wagyu are deliberately and genetically bred to yield the fine-grained intramuscular marbling that's made Japanese beef so famous. All "Kobe Beef" and other top luxury beef brands in Japan are derived exclusively from Kuroge Washu.
A5 Wagyu Beef at Yaki Yan Rowland Heights (picture credit: @satisfied.eats).
Opportunistic importers will often sell one of the less valuable breeds -- or even a non-native breed, Kokusan-gyu-- and mark up the price as "Wagyu" in the U.S. It's most certainly not in the ranks of A5 or even near Kobe beef. According to Business research as of July 2016, Kobe beef has only ever been served at 9 restaurants in the U.S.; at the Wynn in Las Vegas, it's featured on the menu with a price tag of $880 per pound. Restaurants can rake in a large revenue by falsifying the Wagyu brand. It’s a total scam to the consumer. Just remember that no other Japanese breed but Kuroge Washu can achieve A4 or A5 rank, with a perfect ratio of fat to meat marble. All Kuroge Washu meats also come with a certificate of authenticity, denoting the name of the cow, its nose print, as well as a seal of approval. As a paying customer, you are entitled to ask for the certificate.
Beluga Caviar at Petrossian NYC (picture credit: @satisfied.eats).
Caviar is probably the most iconic representation of luxury food out there. By adding these fish eggs to the menu, restaurants easily have an excuse to markup the price. Know your caviar, so you know exactly what you’re getting at the price you're paying.
Sturgeon roe may be labeled only as 'caviar,' with no further specifications. Roe from other fish must include the name of the fish, as well as the caviar label. Besides salmon and whitefish caviar, you may also come across "American sturgeon caviar," which is the roe of the Mississippi fish similar to the sturgeon, and choupique, which comes from a local Louisiana fish, the bowfin.
Beluga – The Beluga ( not to be confused with the Beluga whale) is the largest of the three and perhaps the most expensive. Beluga sturgeon is the rarest breed and can reach more than 15 feet in length and weigh more than a ton. They produce the largest eggs that range in color from gray to a more traditional black.
Osetra – This sturgeon is smaller than the Beluga, reaching an average 7 feet in length and weighing over 500 pounds. The eggs from an Osetra sturgeon range in color from yellow-gray to dark brown. The eggs of the gold Osetra, better known as “royal caviar,” are the rarest eggs produced of the three. Osetra caviar usually has a stronger flavor than Beluga.
Sevruga –The smallest of the three, the Sevruga has the briniest flavor. Their eggs aren’t as expensive as the other two and the roe ranges in color from medium gray to black. Of the three, it’s the most common and can weigh up to 150 pounds.
You can also find Chinese and American caviar, but they tend to be smaller and don’t have the quality or flavor of the caviar that comes from the Caspian Sea. The eggs are harvested from sturgeon and then sold with very little processing except for the addition of salt, so the flavor can be particularly fishy and salty. Though this may deter consumers, it’s treated as an acquired taste and best paired with other foods.
Traditionally, Beluga caviar come in blue tins, Osetra in yellow tins, and Sevruga caviar in red tins. If you find any Beluga caviar sold here in the U.S., it had to have been harvested before the fall of 2005 or caught by poachers illegally. In 2005, The US Fish and Wildlife stopped the import of Beluga caviar into the United States in order to help repopulate the endangered species. To read more about the different types of caviar, check out SpruceEats for more information.
Pate De Foie Petrossian, NYC (picture credit: @whatjacqate)
When dining out at that fancy new French restaurant you been waiting months to get in to, you scan the menu for foie gras, but instead you see: Pate de Foie. Don’t. Fall. For. It. Chances are this isn’t what you're expecting.
Foie Gras is French for “fatty liver”; the delicacy is made from the livers of specially fattened geese or duck. It’s enjoyed eaten raw, half-cooked or cooked, and is eaten alone or as an accompaniment to other dishes like meat. There are two species of foie gras: Goose Foie Gras and Duck Foie Gras. Goose Foie Gras has a pinkish hue with a delicate and subtle flavor. Its texture is creamy and smooth. Duck Foie Gras has orange-like hue with a stronger taste and a more pronounced flavor than the goose liver.
When seared, either of these two options are a delicacy. They're usually served alone, though occasionally complemented with dressed asparagus. Pate de Foie, however, is foie gras ground into a paste, and is usually served cold. This dish has become increasingly common as the ban on traditional seared foie gras has grown stricter. These delicacies have already been banned in the state of California, and will soon be in New York. If you do manage to find seared Foie gras, pay the supplement for it. It’ll be worth your money.
Hokkaido Uni & Amaebi Rice Bowl OUJI, NYC. (picture credit: @whatjacqate)
Uni is one of those things that you either love or hate. Simply put, uni is the Japanese name for the edible part of a sea urchin. When sitting at the sushi bar, decent sushi chefs will mention where the seafood is from. What you, the paying consumer, want to hear is either Santa Barbara or Hokkaido.
So, what’s the difference? Santa Barbara uni, otherwise known as “California Gold,” is the highest grade of uni in the States. It has a vibrant, bright color with a firm texture that melts like sweet cream in your mouth. Grade A Hokkaido is the highest grade of uni from Japan. The color is vibrant and more orange than the California Gold, and it has a flavor that’s sweet and leaves hints of the ocean’s freshness on your palate.
Order depending on your palate and preferences. Santa Barbara uni unusually has a sweeter flavor compared to its sister in Hokkaido, which is usually creamier and smoother and has ocean-fresh afternotes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a distinct way to distinguish the difference between the two, other than just trusting the chef. If the region of origin is outside the California coast or Japan’s Northern Tip, it’s best not to order uni from that restaurant. Uni is eaten as a delicacy, and there isn’t a better way to enjoy it than to eat the best.
Truffle Pizza, St. Mark's Hotel NYC (picture credit: @satisfied.eats)
Truffles. Probably sitting next to her queen, caviar, a truffle is arguably the most iconic luxury food that has exploded in popularity in the last decade. Knowing your truffle is like knowing your wine, and it’s a topic that absolutely can take up an entire article in itself, but here in short are a few truffles that should be on your radar:
Black Truffles. Better known as “Black Diamonds," this variety is one of the most coveted in the world. Hailing from the European continent, experts claim that Perigold, France (east of Bordeaux) is the home to a black truffle empire. Like all truffles, black truffles are seasonal and harvested from November to April. Black truffles can be sold privately to restaurateurs, as well as to the public. The exterior is black and spongy; the interior black with white marbling.
White Truffles. France may be home to the best black truffles, but Italy is where you want to go for the pricier white truffles, with prices soaring as high as $330,000 a piece. Found mainly in the Piedmont areas of the country, this truffle variant has been used in Italian recipes since medieval times (Gareth Renowden, author of The Truffle Book). White truffles typically appear to be small in size, like rustic potatoes with brownish white marbling inside. They have a taste similar to nutty garlic, but not as potent.
While there are other delicacy truffles like Oregon truffles and pecan truffles, they aren’t as common as white and black truffles. Don’t be afraid to ask where the truffles on the menu originated. The chef's answer (or even his demeanor) will tell if you should order from that particular restaurant or not.