Tommy Elbashary, left, and Benjamin Berg keep the meat in great shape at B&B Butchers and Restaurant. (Photo by Felix Sanchez)
It was around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, a hot and sunny one, and I was talking with Benjamin Berg, the owner of B&B Butchers & Restaurant. We were discussing New York and meat and the restaurant industry, three things Berg and I think about a lot, so the conversation was lively and wide-ranging. We were continuing our chat outside, near his restaurant’s main entrance, a discourse that had begun inside B&B Butchers an hour earlier over wine and some of the best cuts of beef I’ve had in a while
Berg is proud of his menu’s offerings, and makes regular visits to a slaughterhouse in Fort Worth to discuss practices, techniques, and cuts. He can hold his own when it comes to butchering methodology and animal husbandry, and it’s obvious that he actually cares about the integrity of what his guests put in their mouths at his restaurant.
Berg had invited a few people to taste some of those offerings, so we took our seats around a table in B&B’s delicatessen area and the meat was delivered, a cut at a time, beginning with a filet mignon and ending with a Kobe rib eye. The restaurant’s executive chef, Tommy Elbashary, prepared each steak a few steps away from where I sat, so what came to my plate was served in the most optimum manner; temperature and cooking were as near perfect as one can get.
I am not a filet man — I need my marbling and my bone — but if you like a good center cut filet mignon, this one is worth trying. The flavor and texture were spot on, and it was, of course, tender, almost too tender. The Texas Wagyu filet mignon was a step up in flavor to my palate, possessing a tad more earthiness.
We then went to Japan, trying an A5 Wagyu filet and an A5 Kobe tenderloin. I am partial to Kobe beef, and this one did not disappoint. (B&B is one of only nine U.S. restaurants certified by the Japanese Kobe Beef Association, so the Kobe you order from Berg will be from Tajima cattle.) While not as full of umami as the Kobe rib eye that followed, I daresay that four ounces of this steak, with a few pieces of lettuce and a nice Rhône red, would satisfy anyone. The Wagyu filet, from Kagoshima, was, again, not my cup of tea, but filet lovers who can pay $30 an ounce would surely appreciate this one.
Every now and then I will age a steak or two in my refrigerator, to varied results. B&B Butchers ages its beef in a cellar lined with Himalayan salt blocks (the blocks impart delicate flavor and help pull moisture from the air), and walking into it made my afternoon.
Each piece is labeled with the date it was purchased and the price that was paid. The aging does marvelous things to the muscle and tissue, resulting in a taste and flavors beyond compare. (If you have not had a dry-aged steak, treat yourself to one every now and then.) I tasted three of B&B’s aged cuts, and would not hesitate to recommend any of them: the Texas Wagyu rib eye (aged 55 days) was my favorite — full of herbal richness and a depth and complexity that transcends the typical steakhouse fare — but the 28-day and 55-day rib eye were far from average.
Great crusting and perfect seasoning did not hurt, of course, but the flavor development here, the way the enzymes had worked their magic on the connective tissue, was magic on the palate. Our brains tell us when we are sated, and a small piece of each sent that message to mine loud and clear, but with elegance.
Berg told me that his favorite steak (at the moment, at least), is a rib cap he is calling Butcher’s Butter. It’s Wagyu from Texas, and it will set you back $38 for four ounces. Tender, yes, and full of a deep flavor. I prefer the A5 Kobe rib eye, which was the last cut I tried at the table, however.
It’s $55 an ounce and worth every penny. The marbling on this meat is a work of art, and if you know anything about the care that is shown the cattle that produce this food item, you won’t balk at the price.
Weekly eating? No, at least not for me, but all I need is three or four thin slices of this, rare, with a touch of salt and pepper. I eat it slowly, letting it melt — literally — on my tongue. It is not often that one tastes nature (the grasses on which these cows feed come alive in your mouth) so vividly, and when the opportunity arises, make it last.
Berg is considering making these tastings a part of B&B’s menu program, and I hope he does. Everyone who cares about beef and cattle and raising animals humanely — not to mention tasting great cuts of beef one after the other, a beef flight, so to speak — would relish listening to Berg and Elbashary talk about their craft. Drinking a glass of GSM (or Zinfandel) and sampling some of the finest meats around is not a bad way to spend afternoon.
Oh, I lied. After the steak was gone, Berg brought out some lamb bacon, which was the perfect way to bring the feast to an end.