Reverse Engineering

Reverse Engineering

September 29, 2019 by

On a drizzly spring evening in the Design District, I was sitting at the chef's counter at Niku Steakhouse, sipping sake, gnawing on a strip of boutique beef jerky and soaking up a culinary disquisition that could have almost passed for a eugenics lecture. It came from a man working a charcoal re, who spoke of fatty calves and musculature and the proliferation of propaganda that masked the truth about genetic traits. “Fact is,” chef Steve Brown says, “a lot of what you've been told is Kobe beef is complete bullshit.” With that, he wheeled to the grill behind him, then turned back to present me with a slab of the real thing: a 4-ounce portion, priced at $160. All steakhouses, by their nature, are indulgent species. Niku, though, is a breed apart: a particularly hedonistic hybrid that seems very much a creature of today's IPOfueled San Francisco. Its menu o ers a selection of pedigreed domestic proteins, served in hulking sizes. ese include a Kurobuta pork chop and a tomahawk steak of Nebraskan wagyu that costs $200 and is meant for two, though it could likely satisfy a pride of lions. But enough about the low-end stu . Niku's brand is built more squarely on the most rare ed of red meats, meaning actual Kobe and other prized varieties of Japanese wagyu. Wagyu translates literally as “Japanese cow,” and it's not to be confused with less prestigious breeds that are often crossed with wagyu, then sold under the same prestigious label. Pure wagyu, such as Kobe, is so thoroughly and uniformly marbled that it yields like softened butter. Trying to grind and sear it would be silly, as you'd be left with little more than beefy goop—something to consider next time you come across a “wagyu” slider. We're not talking sports-bar fodder here. Honest-to-goodness wagyu is the bovine version of blue n tuna belly: astoundingly tender and mind-bendingly delicious, but also so scarce and expensive that it's best enjoyed without thinking too hard about the broader implications of eating it. As the latest venture from the hardcharging Omakase Restaurant Group, which has colonized the neighborhood with several other projects, including a wagyu butcher shop next door, Niku does its best to get you in the proper mood. e decor carries traces of an old-school loosen-your-belt-notch steakhouse, with dark wood walls and leather chairs, while the clean lines and cool music that greet you at the bar and follow you to the dining room make it clear you'll be digging in, millennial-style. You can order the full menu anywhere you sit, but the place to be is the chef's counter, which wraps around an open cooking area that's anchored by a binchotan- red grill—its embers glowing like the ames of Mordor. In traditional steakhouse fashion, everything comes a la carte, though in lieu of the likes of Caesar salad and creamed spinach, the starters and sides are, for the most part, modernist stunners with an Asian twist. One is a wedge of purple cabbage, marinated in shio koji, a rice mold with a gently fermented funk, and layered between its leaves with housemade hot sauce and anchovy aioli. Another is a bowl of agnolotti, elegant pasta purses plumped with goat-milk ricotta; studded with squash, pancetta and pecans; and bathed in a delicate sake cream—a sauce that A redo could only dream of being. ere's an element of spectacle to Niku, thanks in part to its open re, but also to its Instagram-ready presentations. A tray of Kumamoto oysters, dotted with solidi ed mignonette “pearls,” is paraded from the kitchen, dry-ice smoke trailing dramatically behind it. A ight of jerky, dried from Japanese A5 wagyu (A5 is the highest grade), cuts a striking pro le: a trio of leathery tongues seasoned, respectively, with soy marinade, salt and pepper, and kimchi, and brought to your table draped over a wooden dowel. It's a cheeky concept, but the familiarity of the avors and textures suggests that making jerky from the nest wagyu is a bit like smoking the freshest sh: not worth the bother, unless you're setting o cross-country in a covered wagon. Beef of such lofty breeding merits minimalist treatment. It's best when seasoned lightly and cooked quickly at high heat. at's how Niku mostly does it, and it's how you want to have it: seared and served as a 4- or 8-ounce New York strip. ree sides come with the wagyu—kimchi, sel gris and bordelaise sauce—all in amounts so small that it seems like a reminder: is meat needs no help at all. Its richness is so great, its avors so deep, that a few bites of it are more gratifying than an ordinary steak four times its size. If you haven't had enough, you can carry through the beefy theme into dessert with a wagyu fat brownie—moist, dark and starspeckled with liquid nitrogen “dippin' dots” and drizzled with wagyu-fat caramel. is kitchen does decadence quite well. Shortly after my visit, Brown stepped down and was replaced by Dustin Falcon, a veteran of Lazy Bear and e French Laundry. ough the menu may evolve, it seems destined to remain the same in spirit: an emblem of a city awash in new money, unabashed in its appetite for blowout dining. For people, if not cows, it's good to be one of the 1%. NIKU STEAKHOUSE 61 Division St., San Francisco, 415.829.7817, nikusteakhouse.com Firsts, $14-$65; entrees, $45-$110; steaks for two & Japanese wagyu, $65- $305; sides, $13; desserts, $12-$16 Dinner: Mon.-Sun., 5:30-10PM Chocolate miso wagyu fat brownie with miso “dippin' dots” and wagyu caramel; an Imperial wagyu tomahawk steak on a binchotan grill; Shinki Chen cocktails; and the chef's counter, designed by architect Brent McDonald with Kash Feng and Aya Jessani. The Niku Steakhouse bar seen through the window on Division Street; the Imperial wagyu tomahawk steak with kimchi, bordelaise sauce and a side of crispy potatoes the crispy potatoes.













Reverse Engineering

September 29, 2019 by

On a drizzly spring evening in the Design District, I was sitting at the chef's counter at Niku Steakhouse, sipping sake, gnawing on a strip of boutique beef jerky and soaking up a culinary disquisition that could have almost passed for a eugenics lecture. It came from a man working a charcoal re, who spoke of fatty calves and musculature and the proliferation of propaganda that masked the truth about genetic traits. “Fact is,” chef Steve Brown says, “a lot of what you've been told is Kobe beef is complete bullshit.” With that, he wheeled to the grill behind him, then turned back to present me with a slab of the real thing: a 4-ounce portion, priced at $160. All steakhouses, by their nature, are indulgent species. Niku, though, is a breed apart: a particularly hedonistic hybrid that seems very much a creature of today's IPOfueled San Francisco. Its menu o ers a selection of pedigreed domestic proteins, served in hulking sizes. ese include a Kurobuta pork chop and a tomahawk steak of Nebraskan wagyu that costs $200 and is meant for two, though it could likely satisfy a pride of lions. But enough about the low-end stu . Niku's brand is built more squarely on the most rare ed of red meats, meaning actual Kobe and other prized varieties of Japanese wagyu. Wagyu translates literally as “Japanese cow,” and it's not to be confused with less prestigious breeds that are often crossed with wagyu, then sold under the same prestigious label. Pure wagyu, such as Kobe, is so thoroughly and uniformly marbled that it yields like softened butter. Trying to grind and sear it would be silly, as you'd be left with little more than beefy goop—something to consider next time you come across a “wagyu” slider. We're not talking sports-bar fodder here. Honest-to-goodness wagyu is the bovine version of blue n tuna belly: astoundingly tender and mind-bendingly delicious, but also so scarce and expensive that it's best enjoyed without thinking too hard about the broader implications of eating it. As the latest venture from the hardcharging Omakase Restaurant Group, which has colonized the neighborhood with several other projects, including a wagyu butcher shop next door, Niku does its best to get you in the proper mood. e decor carries traces of an old-school loosen-your-belt-notch steakhouse, with dark wood walls and leather chairs, while the clean lines and cool music that greet you at the bar and follow you to the dining room make it clear you'll be digging in, millennial-style. You can order the full menu anywhere you sit, but the place to be is the chef's counter, which wraps around an open cooking area that's anchored by a binchotan- red grill—its embers glowing like the ames of Mordor. In traditional steakhouse fashion, everything comes a la carte, though in lieu of the likes of Caesar salad and creamed spinach, the starters and sides are, for the most part, modernist stunners with an Asian twist. One is a wedge of purple cabbage, marinated in shio koji, a rice mold with a gently fermented funk, and layered between its leaves with housemade hot sauce and anchovy aioli. Another is a bowl of agnolotti, elegant pasta purses plumped with goat-milk ricotta; studded with squash, pancetta and pecans; and bathed in a delicate sake cream—a sauce that A redo could only dream of being. ere's an element of spectacle to Niku, thanks in part to its open re, but also to its Instagram-ready presentations. A tray of Kumamoto oysters, dotted with solidi ed mignonette “pearls,” is paraded from the kitchen, dry-ice smoke trailing dramatically behind it. A ight of jerky, dried from Japanese A5 wagyu (A5 is the highest grade), cuts a striking pro le: a trio of leathery tongues seasoned, respectively, with soy marinade, salt and pepper, and kimchi, and brought to your table draped over a wooden dowel. It's a cheeky concept, but the familiarity of the avors and textures suggests that making jerky from the nest wagyu is a bit like smoking the freshest sh: not worth the bother, unless you're setting o cross-country in a covered wagon. Beef of such lofty breeding merits minimalist treatment. It's best when seasoned lightly and cooked quickly at high heat. at's how Niku mostly does it, and it's how you want to have it: seared and served as a 4- or 8-ounce New York strip. ree sides come with the wagyu—kimchi, sel gris and bordelaise sauce—all in amounts so small that it seems like a reminder: is meat needs no help at all. Its richness is so great, its avors so deep, that a few bites of it are more gratifying than an ordinary steak four times its size. If you haven't had enough, you can carry through the beefy theme into dessert with a wagyu fat brownie—moist, dark and starspeckled with liquid nitrogen “dippin' dots” and drizzled with wagyu-fat caramel. is kitchen does decadence quite well. Shortly after my visit, Brown stepped down and was replaced by Dustin Falcon, a veteran of Lazy Bear and e French Laundry. ough the menu may evolve, it seems destined to remain the same in spirit: an emblem of a city awash in new money, unabashed in its appetite for blowout dining. For people, if not cows, it's good to be one of the 1%. NIKU STEAKHOUSE 61 Division St., San Francisco, 415.829.7817, nikusteakhouse.com Firsts, $14-$65; entrees, $45-$110; steaks for two & Japanese wagyu, $65- $305; sides, $13; desserts, $12-$16 Dinner: Mon.-Sun., 5:30-10PM Chocolate miso wagyu fat brownie with miso “dippin' dots” and wagyu caramel; an Imperial wagyu tomahawk steak on a binchotan grill; Shinki Chen cocktails; and the chef's counter, designed by architect Brent McDonald with Kash Feng and Aya Jessani. The Niku Steakhouse bar seen through the window on Division Street; the Imperial wagyu tomahawk steak with kimchi, bordelaise sauce and a side of crispy potatoes the crispy potatoes.





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