Manager Alex Yoo displays a platter of the raw Piedmont beef.
Huffington readers may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote that I ate a steak at the new Fleming's Steak House in Beverly Hills which was "the best steak I had eaten in years." It was a prime bone-in ribeye which had been cooked "black and blue," charred on the outside and pink inside. Last night I had another 'steak adventure,' and ate what may have been the healthiest and most delicious steak ever. A healthy steak? How could that be? Let me explain.
Every dinner begins with a large assortment of tasty little dishes called 'banchan.'
Several years ago, noted Italian chef Celestino Drago opened a steak house in midtown serving Piedmontese beef imported from Italy. I remember reviewing it at the time and marveling at the fact that the steak was virtually fat-free and yet extra-tender and tasty. The eatery closed but I never forgot the marvelous beef. So when I heard that a new restaurant in Koreatown called STAR KING BBQ (3807 Wilshire Blvd., 213-384-5464) was serving certified Piedmontese beef, now being raised in the mid-West, I met a group of friends there to explore this further. If you have never eaten in Koreatown, let me inform you that the hottest, most adventurous dining scene in the city is here, spread over a few miles in midtown. At the northwest corner of Western and Wilshire, Star King BBQ is best entered from its validated parking garage one block west of Western on Manhattan, which has an entrance into the restaurant. Ask for the genial, charming woman manager, Alex Yoo, and she will seat you in the 'preferred dining area,' slightly quieter and less bright that the main dining room. You will be seated at a table containing a charcoal brazier in the center. Those charcoal briquettes, Soot, are special from Korea, cooking hotter and faster than the usual, without chemicals. The able waiter will light the grill and place a slotted silver cover over it. Then a parade of small side-dishes will be brought to the table....almost a dozen delicious tastes of banchan, pickled kim chee, radish, potato, parsley and spicy cucumber salad, pan-fried tofu and the like. Ask for a taste of their acorn jelly made in-house, lightly tossed with toasted seaweed and jalapeno in a sesame dressing. But it is the beef which is the main attraction here, Kobe wagyu and special pork...and upon request it will be Piedmontese Beef. Koreans love beef...loads of beef, and you will not find a restaurant not serving galbi and bulgogi, short ribs of grass-fed beef....until now.
A Tomahawk Piedmont Steak
...and the cattle from which it came.
Kim cooking the beef atop the hot charcoal grill.
Let me tell you why this Piedmont beef is so special. This night we met a strapping young fellow, Billy Swain, sales manager for Great Plains Beef in Nebraska (402-458-4695), which raises this unique cattle. He told me that in the early '70s a Piedmont bull and four cows were brought here, and now there are some 15,000 such cattle in the U.S. and Canada, totaling less than one percent of all cattle here. What makes them different is a unique genetic strain, the inactive myostatin gene, which provides a higher lean-to-fat ratio, thus less marbling for a less-connective tissue cut of red meat. In short, this gene no longer prevents muscle development, and thus allows for the condition called "double muscling." So this beef is said to be lower in calories, higher in protein, and contains a higher percentage of the healthy Omega 3 fat. When you look at it, you will see marbling, but not as much as regular beef. But it's the taste that counts... and my readers know that I am a stickler for tasty dishes, not healthy ones. The young waiter brought platters, one at a time, of ribeye steak, then cuts of the Piedmontese beef brisket and short ribs, and laid them atop the red-hot metal grill cover. I admonished him that I like my beef rather rare and he smiled acknowledgment.
Raw Piedmont beef on a platter.
And an example of the Piedmont rib roast you can order on-line.
Billy Swain is the sales manager for the Piedmont beef company, Great Plains, in the midwest.
I greedily sampled several cut of this beef. It was very tender, somewhat sweet and clean in flavor -- just wonderful. I was in heaven, Piedmontese heaven. (I have actually visited Piedmont in northwestern Italy, and it is a beautiful, non-touristy place of tranquility.) Incidentally, the genetic trait works throughout the animal, so the less-popular underutilized cuts are as healthy as the rest. Thus tongue and offal and such, so popular in Koreatown (and with me), are in the mix. Billy said that the cattle are raised free of antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones, raised on a vegetarian diet. "We feed them on grass and then finish them with grain," he said. I asked about the pricing, and he said that it is slightly more expensive than prime beef but not exorbitantly so, less than American Wagyu and real Kobe. "It is available in the original Farmer's Market at The Grove, at Marconda's Meats, where Lou DeRosa sells steaks, roasts, short ribs and ground beef," Billy said. Other restaurants offering it are Seasons52 (remember my Huffington about them, where Houston's was in Century City?) and Stefan's at L.A. Farm. The Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto now has it, and I was surprised to learn that the legendary Pat La Frieda Meats shop in New York is now carrying it, Mario Batali is offering it at Eataly and Tom Collicchio just put it on the menu at his Colicchio & Sons Restaurant in Manhattan.
Billy told me that it was in the 1870's that the genetic difference was first noticed in Piedmont and bred further into the cattle. (Remember the Auroch cattle dreamed of by the little girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild? That was its ancestor. The massive bistecca fiorentino we all ate in Florence was probably Piedmont beef. I predict that as the word gets out, many other upscale eateries will soon begin offering this splendid Piedmontese delicacy. Ciao! In the meantime, travel down to Star King BBQ for a fabulous dining adventure.
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