100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 15, Kobe Beef at Nara
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo courtesy Nara Where's the beef, Nara?! I need it!
There is one dish that sticks out in my mind from my meals at Nara, the new-ish upscale Korean restaurant in West Ave from chef Donald Chang: The kobe beef.
I ate it nearly two months ago at a media event to debut the chef's table, and since then I haven't been able to get that perfect beef out of my head. I've thought about it a lot, partially because it was so incredible--the most buttery, most tender, richest beef I've ever had the pleasure to eat--and partially because I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to eat it again.
"I flew in a special cut of meat from Japan for you tonight," said Chang before dinner that evening, by way of introduction. "It cost more than $1,000 just for this piece of beef. I hope it's good!"
He then stood there and posed with the slab of meat as if it were a prized possession. He brought out the papers that detailed (partially in Japanese) where the particular cow we were about to consume was born. We learned its age and weight and the journey it took from Japan to the U.S. and eventually to Nara. We saw its pedigree. We were impressed.
And then, when it was served as the penultimate course, we all took a bite. First we noticed the light sear around the edges, the way the flavor changed ever so subtly thanks to a little heat. Then, moving on to the center of each thin slice of Kobe beef, we could taste a hint of citrus cutting through the fat of the meat. Finally, there was a chunk of Korean radish that I initially thought served no purpose, but quickly realized was a necessary palate cleanser between each rich portion of beef.
Those of us gathered around the inaugural chef's table dinner all proclaimed that the seared Kobe strips were one of the most divine beef presentations we'd ever encountered. The quality of the meat was top-notch for sure, but the restraint Chang showed in its delivery was what made it even better. There's no need to take an amazing cut of meat and dress it up with sauces and fancy grilling techniques. All Chang did was enhance the wonderful flavor already there with a few simple additions.
This dish isn't available regularly at Nara, but Chang promised me it would make an appearance on the chef's table menu from time to time. Until that day, I'll just keep seeing it in my dreams.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.