David Hammond

At dinner downtown at Maple & Ash last week, we tried the Wedge Salad (which has ranch dressing injected between the lettuce leaves, solving the perennial problem of incomplete leaf coverage), an incredible seafood platter of hearth-roasted crab, oyster, lobster and scallop, and the best Shrimp deJonghe in memory. I was feeling pretty good.

Then the A5 arrived.

A5 is Wagyu beef from Japan (“Wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means cow), and it’s rated according to a very strict scale from 1 to 5, with A5 being the highest designation (though there are subcategories even within that highest rating).

Wagyu is rated based on a number of quality criteria including the amount of marbling (which is also the basis of the USDA beef rating system), but also the color and luster of the fat, as well as the brightness and texture of the meat.

Japan has a reputation for obsessively focusing on cultivating the very best versions of everything. With Wagyu, particularly the Kobe breed, the animals are given beer to stimulate their appetites so that they eat more, plump up, and produce richer fat. Some are also massaged with sake, the fermented Japanese rice beverage, which is believed to enhance the cattle’s coat and meat quality; the massage may also reduce the animal’s stress, which would likely have a positive effect on the beef.

At Maple & Ash, the A5 strip loin is cooked over a fire, which is pretty much the best way to prepare any beef. I chatted with our server, and he mentioned that most people order their steak – of whatever cut – medium rare, and that’s the way we had ours.

At Maple & Ash, the A5 comes in a five-ounce portion. Now, a three-to-four-ounce portion is the recommended portion for meat protein, though it’d be a very bad plan to eat the entire five-ounce A5 by oneself. We shared one order – each of us getting a little over an ounce – and it was more than enough. Because the meat is so marbled, eating more will coat the palate with fat. Even with the solvent qualities provided by red wine, you’re going to lose much nuance if you eat more than a little.

So I nursed my small bit of A5, which was more than enough, and it was spectacular. So lush and mouth filling, the beef taste coming through with incredible clarity. It was a rich few bites and so fulfilling that I really felt no need to eat no more. Several more beautiful steaks arrived, which we shared around the table, but I had eyes only for the small bits of A5 in front of me.

Of course, it was an expensive piece of meat. $100 for the 5 ounce portion. It was so satisfying, however, that if all the beef I ate were this good, I’d eat less, which would be better for me and the planet (beef takes a lot of energy to produce).

And being a pampered, massaged and well-feed, the Wagyu cow has, as far as it goes, a pretty good life.

So taking into account personal and planetary health considerations, as well as the most humane treatment for animals, the only sensible route for all of us is to eat only A5 all the time.

An impossible dream, of course, but it’s good to dream.

Join the discussion on social media!

David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...