There are sacred destinations for people of all faiths, religious and otherwise: Mecca, Islam’s holiest city; Paris or maybe Milan for the fashion set; Kona for triathletes. But what about those who follow the beef creed — at which temple do they gather and pray? We’ve been hot on the trail for a full month, speaking with butchers and purveyors, handling every cut we could get our hands on, eating a piece of brisket so large and tremendously marbled it seemed a sure sign of high cosmic order.
Ultimately, we found ourselves at Takashi, a tiny Japanese restaurant in New York City where the appreciation of beef starts at the tongue and goes right down to the testicles. Chef Takashi’s crew was kind enough to sit down with us for a tasting, a true Month of Beef right of passage.
Cow balls and a photo essay, after the jump.
In recent years we’ve seen the proliferation of niche Asian cuisines in the U.S., restaurants with menus more specific than just “Chinese”, “Japanese” or “Korean”. In the Japanese category alone there’s pub-like izakayas, prefecture-specific ramen (especially Hokkaido and Fukuoka) and shabu-shabu, the Japanese version of Chinese hot pot, where sliced meat and vegetables are cooked right at the table in a pot of water or broth.
Chef Takashi serves yet another style of Japanese food called yakiniku, which refers to meat grilled at the table. The cuisine has its roots in post-World War II Japan, where Korean immigrants opened restaurants serving primarily horumon (things that are thrown away, in Osaka parlance, essentially offal or variety meats). Takashi is a third generation Korean immigrant from Osaka, Japan, where his family was in the yakiniku restaurant business. His eponymous restaurant in New York continues this tradition in impressive fashion: he serves the full range of beef cuts and variety meats — all of it from sustainably-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free cattle — in preparations ranging from traditional (grilled short rib) to eccentric (calf’s brain cream served in a tube with blinis and caviar).
Even the most hardcore steakhouses serve chicken and fish. Takashi is an all-beef restaurant. You don’t start with an iceberg wedge and get a side of creamed spinach; you start with flash boiled shredded achilles tendon and get a side of grilled heart. We tasted a handful of Chef Takashi’s specialties, from grilled belly to testicles.
A steak is one very pure, very American way to experience beef. We obviously love it — a lot — but it’s also sort of arbitrary: our entire regime of beef grading, which dates back to 1927, is based primarily on the amount of intramuscular fat (marbling). The quintessential beef experience since then has been a tender, juicy steak cooked to medium-rare.
Eating yakiniku at Takashi turns the idea of good beef on its head. The tongue is intensely beefy, in part because it requires so much chewing to get down the gullet. The belly practically melts on your tongue, more tender than any Prime rib-eye we’ve ever tried. The balls could be mistaken, texturally, for mushrooms. Even if we only eat grilled rib-eyes for the rest of our lives, we’ll know that this is just one small part of what eating beef can be.
And next time we’ll probably just order a side of regular old mushrooms, thank you very much.
Thinly sliced chuck eye tartare in Takashi’s special sauce, topped with a raw quail egg yolk, Japanese seaweed, and a wedge of lemon.
Chuck flap served on leaves of seaweed and shiso topped with raw sea urchin and fresh wasabi.
Testicles escargot-style with garlic shiso butter.
The Tongue Experience
Three different parts of beef tongue in Takashi’s sauce.
Served with salt, garlic and sesame oil.
Beef heart marinated in Takashi’s special sauce.