Japanese Wagyu beef is a luxury dining experience — one with great allure — but not many Americans know details behind the exclusivity. Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi Executive Chef Brandon Muehl describes the delicacy using tantalizing adjectives like: “buttery,” “decadent,” “delicious” and “creamy.”
When the beef, which comes on a marbling scale (BMS) between 1 and 12, is graded at an 11 or 12, Muehl says, “It literally melts in your mouth.” And since the product is so rich, a couple of ounces per person typically are enough to enjoy its flavor and decadence. “If I had to compare to another food,” he says, “I would say it is like a beautifully seared piece of foie gras as far as the richness goes. Or similar to some really good golden Osetra caviar when you roll all the beads around your tongue and truly allow the flavors to develop.”
A tenured chef for the Bellevue steakhouse, Muehl could talk for days about the storied history behind Wagyu. Firstly, there are only four breeds of Wagyu cattle and more than 150 brands from Japan exist, most of which cannot be exported. “We only get to see a very select brand dependent on the allotted amount that has been exported to the U.S.,” he explains. “The genetics for Japanese Wagyu are put through rigorous testing to ensure that only the best is allowed to breed, which has cultivated the A5 classification we have come to love here in the States.”
There is a predisposition for Japanese Wagyu to retain fat throughout the muscle (not only outside the muscle), which gives the beef an intense marbling we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and tasting. The A5 that we hear about the most grades at beef marbling scales of 8 or higher. “The grade that we specifically look for here at Ascend is 11+,” Muehl says. “This will be some of the highest marbling that can be seen and received, ensuring the highest quality product we serve.”
Aside from the science behind Wagyu’s genetics, the treatment of its cattle is unlike any other animal. “In Japan, Wagyu is treated as it should be,” Muehl says. “It is a life source from the food it provides. The cattle is allowed to roam freely and is treated with the utmost respect.” He offers the example of the Hokkaido Japanese Wagyu. “This is the northernmost prefecture in Japan, where they have temperate summers with lush greenery at the foot of the mountains,” he says. “But the winters get cold, which allow for the intense marbling, due to retaining fat for warmth, that you see specifically for the Hokkaido brand of Wagyu.”
The Japanese cattle are also raised for longer (26 to 30 months) than USDA Prime cattle (15 to 20 months) before harvest. This contributes to more marbling but also leads to a higher price tag when factoring feed that the Wagyu ingests over this length of time. “There is significant care and consideration for the food the Wagyu cattle receives,” Muehl says, “For example, Takamori Wagyu (Drunken Wagyu) is fed sake mash for the entirety of its life.”
Muehl goes on to explain that our country was fortunate to crossbreed Japanese Wagyu with black angus a few decades ago. “While nothing is like authentic Japanese Wagyu, we do have a few standing domestic companies and farms that have done a great job in passing on similar qualities of the Japanese Wagyu at a slightly lower price point than the imported Japanese Wagyu cattle,” he says. “Snake River Farms and Mishima Reserve are two great companies that treat the cattle in a similar manner and have significantly more marbling than the USDA Prime beef. The American Wagyu will follow a similar grading scale and the highest tiered American Wagyu grades at an 8/9+.”
When it comes to savoring a special meal showcasing A5 Japanese Wagyu, Muehl and his team at Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi like to keep the beef in its truest form — accompanied by a bit of salt and a prepared in a carbon steel pan. He recommends using high heat and searing the meat on all sides, before resting the steak for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the internal temperature to continue to rise slowly. The beef then gets seared a second time to complete the caramelization process. And to round out the decadent feast? Muehl likes to maintain a balance with complementary pureed butter potatoes and grilled vegetables on the side.
Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi offers an unparalleled, elevated dining experience while showcasing the Pacific Northwest’s best views from the 31st floor of Lincoln Square South in downtown Bellevue. Expect the unexpected at the award-winning, fine-dining restaurant.