Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Wagyu Beef Brisket Burger at Nota Bene

After hearing from a friend that Nota Bene is featuring the Wagyu Brisket Burger for the month of May, I knew I had to go try. The problem is finding people go with me! You're probably wondering why that is a problem. Well the problem is that this succulent Wagyu burger is priced at $42 (I emailed Nota Bene to find out the price since tactfully not indicated anywhere on the promo). Uh huh... *nods*...Yup... $42 for a doubt a gourmet burger at that. But let me tell you, it is really the best burger I've ever had in my whole life - the Wagyu simply renders me speechless after my first bite. And my friends, I'm not kidding.

Nota Bene, named Canada's Best New Restaurants in 2008 from both TORONTO LIFE and Air Canada's EN ROUTE Magazine, and voted as one of Canada's Top Ten New Restaurants by WHERE magazine, is already quite well known for their Stilton Beef Brisket Burger ($19) which is offered on their regular menu. After some research, it seems like even this Stilton Beef Brisket Burger was getting a ton of praises from several food forums. So having never been to Nota Bene, I knew this is the perfect chance to pay a visit to this renowned restaurant. And the Stilton Beef Brisket Burger can step aside, I knew I would have to go all out and get the Wagyu Beef Brisket Burger, once and for all.

However, before I went, I actually did some research on Wagyu, mainly, I was confused about the difference between Wagyu beef and Kobe beef.

A Wagyu bull

Here's a summary for all of you who is wondering about the same thing:
  • Kobe is a place in Japan.
  • Long time ago, ranchers in Kobe created a very superior breed of beef by cross-breeding cattle.
  • The breed, called Wagyu, is fed beer, is discouraged from exercising, and gets massages (what a good life!)
  • Sometimes Wagyu is referred to as "white" beef, due to its extensive marbling.
  • American prime beef, the most expensive cut, is graded a 6 on a marbling scale of 1-12, Wagyu beef tends to be graded at 12.
  • Only Wagyu cattle that is bred, raised, and processed in Kobe, Japan, can be called Kobe Beef.
  • Other countries, such as Australia, US, and Canada, started breeding Wagyu.
  • However, the Wagyu in these countries are not exposed to the same detailing ranching as Kobe (i.e. they are free roaming, fed a diet of barley, golden wheat, and alfalfa). No beer or massages either.
  • Although they sound like a much watered down version of Kobe, they are still far passed American prime on the grading charts. 
  • Most people cite no significant difference between the taste of Wagyu vs. that of Kobe beef. However, like everything else in life, there is constant debate about this.
  • A hybrid of Wagyu and American Angus can be purchased, but pure Kobe beef is not legally exported from Japan.
So the takeaway is that there is no Kobe Beef in North America. While some restaurants are permitted to sell a 'Kobe-style' beef product, only a the Wagyu strain slaughtered in the Kobe region of Japan can be called Kobe beef. If you see "Kobe beef" anywhere on a menu in North America, it is not the real deal.

Wagyu beef in Kobe, Japan = True Kobe Beef
Sources: What is Kobe Beef?What is Wagyu Beef?Wagyu vs. Kobe

We good on this? Yeah? OKAY, back to Nota Bene then.

While waiting for my friend Flora and her colleague to arrive, I snapped some pictures of my surroundings.

By the way, I must thank Flora for coming out with me! I can always count on you =)

I asked the waiter if they are serving the Wagyu Beef Brisket Burger (they friggin' better be!). He pointed it out on the menu for me. HMMmmmmmm...I must've gotten temporary blindness from the excitement building inside me all day.

He went on to explain to me that the Wagyu Brisket Burger is made from 70% Wagyu beef raised in Canada, and 30% brisket. The 30% brisket serves to balance the fattiness in the Wagyu so that it can be made into a burger.

Once Flora and her colleague (Tricia) arrived, I ordered myself a "Ginger-Berry Spritzer" (remember my love for fruity drinks? hehe)

We didn't even need to look at the menu because all three of us knew we wanted the Wagyu Brisket Burger. We all ordered it differently: "medium-well" for Tricia, "medium-rare" for Flora, and "rare" for me. We also ordered the French Style Onion Rings to share, which was highly recommended by Flora.

Munched on some bread while we ate. It was really soft with a chewy edge.

My Ginger-Berry Spritzer - white wine, fresh berries, chambord, bitters, ginger ale.

Chatting away, oblivious to our surroundings, we were suddenly met with four waiters hovering over us with all our food. It was quite cool to see the three burgers all brought out at once.

First off, the onion rings. Hands down, the best onion rings I've ever had. They were so thin (no thick batter here!), and each piece was so delicate and crispy. And there's plenty to go around! However, once you reach to the bottom of the bowl, they get quite oily. But whatever, not a big deal to me.

So the burger comes with a side of poached egg with truffle emulsion. The waitress explained to us that we need to mix it up with our forks, which we can then dip the fries in it, or spread it on the burger. I'm actually not sure how to describe the taste of this ...dip tastes a bit weird on its own, but somehow it work when used as a dip.

The fries were yummy. Not a whole lot of it, but honestly it's enough given the mountain of onion rings. Love the kosher salt on them!

And finally, the Wagyu Beef Brisket Burger!

There's no way to eat this burger with your hands. The meat is just too thick! Here's a shot of it half-eaten hehe~

The meat, literally, is so tender it falls apart in your mouth. But don't get me wrong and compare the this Wagyu brisket burger to some cheap pulled-pork sandwich or something. The Wagyu beef, not only is it tender, it's super juicy! This is because the meat is so marbled and so fat! Notice I used the poach egg / truffle emulsion spread on it.

I think I'm doing a poor job at describing this Wagyu =( But like I said, it is the best burger I've had in my life thus far. Look at the meat and tell me you're not drooling?! By the way, my burger came out perfectly "rare", just like how I wanted it! =)

WOW, what a satisfied meal that was. I was so full! Because of the thickness of the Wagyu, you can really compare to an 8 oz steak! And since it's so juicy and fat, it really fills you up (the tasty onion rings mountain didn't help either). I walked around Queen St. for a bit just so I can burn some of it off.

I'm sooo glad I went and tried this burger, even though it's $42, I have no regrets whatsoever. Although, in my opinion, I don't think it is worth $42, even if it is the best burger I've ever had - I would pay maybe low $30's for it, given that it is at a high end restaurant like Nota Bene and it is at the end of the day, Wagyu beef. But I think I would only pay low $30's for it because it is mixed with brisket, and not made from all Wagyu (which I know is not possible anyway). Yeah....I think I would go again if it was ten dollars cheaper or something, but for $42, I am satisfied with one-time my memory of it. 

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