Last night I arrived in Japan. But we didn't waste any time - we went out to eat. We decided we wanted to try real Kobe beef - as in actual Wagyu beef from Kobe, and raised to Kobe standards - so we made a reservation at this place called 511 Kobe Beef Kaiseki. It's on one of those tiny little side streets in Akasaka, in the basement of a building, and can be hard to find unless you're looking for it. You're not going to stumble into it, which is probably just as well because while not snooty at all, it's definitely not the sort of place that really relies on walk-in traffic.
They have three basic choices on the menu. All are multi-course meals - two are just sort of different interpretations of Kobe beef, while if I remember right, I think the third is kind of an alternative option without it. My wife got the first option, which is a 9(!) course meal that has Kobe beef in every single dish.
Just to be different, I went with the Kobe steak dinner, a 5 course meal with a larger steak as the main dish. Both options will run you 130,000 yen - no, this place is not cheap, but then Kobe beef is not cheap. Nowhere that serves the real stuff is going to charge much less than that.
I've had the fake stuff in America before (what's sold as "Kobe beef" in the US really isn't) and there is a definite difference. The real stuff is more tender, and like with all Japanese beef, it just tastes "beefier". That's got to have something to do with the way the cows are fed, because it's true of all grades and breeds I've had in Japan. The difference between Kobe beef and other Japanese beef is the tenderness and richness. It's the same with American Kobe-style beef, but American beef in general just doesn't have as much taste. People I know who have had Kobe beef in America describe it as very rich but not very meaty, which is not true of real Kobe beef.
Kobe beef doesn't have to be cooked to look like a delicate flower. This is a steak, grilled perfectly. Nice and pink on the inside.
The restaurant itself was beautiful, modern and elegant, and every course was great - except, maybe, the dessert choices. There were only three, none of them all that appealing to me. This restaurant also adds on a 5% service charge, which is very unusual in Japan (generally, Japan is not a tipping country), but then the service was really amazing, and beyond what you'd expect in most Japanese restaurants. Every course in my wife's 9 course meal came with a detailed explanation of the dish, for example. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I was led there by no fewer than three people. When we left the restaurant, everybody in the place lined up to say goodbye.
We also were given a surprise anniversary cake! This made the dessert choices not such a hard pill to swallow in the end. Truthfully, we sort of expected it because they asked us over the phone if there was any special occasion and we hadn't gone out on our actual anniversary (which was a few weeks ago) so we decided this was our anniversary dinner. While we were there, we saw another couple getting a cake too. So we kind of knew it was coming at that point. But it was still nice.
I highly recommend this place, if you can find it.
Lots more to tell you about in the coming days! I'm already a day behind in my trip report posts, and I've got a bunch planned.