A $30 Hamburger? If It Says Kobe, Don't Buy It

Categories: Food Fights
Jackie Sayet
Where's the boeuf? Gordon Biersch's new "German Kobe Burger" is one tasty number, but it's neither from Germany nor Japan.
Twenty-five dollar hot dogs? $30 hamburgers? That's what Prime 112 charges for what it calls Kobe beef.

The problem is, the high buck meat isn't always what is advertised. It's not the product of cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan that in some cases drink beer and receive sake massages, but instead originates thousands of miles away, on an American or Australian ranch.

Several of Prime 112's Kobe beef menu items have American provenance that is not listed, an apparent violation of USDA guidelines and state law.

"We were not aware of the requirement for the specific labeling," owner Myles Chefetz says when informed of the problem. "Given this info, we will state this on the menu immediately."

Dozens of Miami restaurants include the same type of misleading information on their menus. And scores of customers every day pay top dollar thinking they are ingesting the world's most precious meat.

The list of offending eateries includes both upscale and casual, as well as local and national chains, concentrated in Miami Beach and Brickell. There's 8 Oz. Burger Bar, Au Pied de Cochon, Bancroft Supper Club, China Grill, Gordon Biersch, Plat Bleu at the Delano, Meat Market, and Prime 112. Contacted by New Times, representatives of each admit to serving high-quality American or Australian beef from similar cattle even when the item is listed as Kobe beef on the menu.

Indeed, the issue repeats in cities across the nation. Though the federal government has known of the trend for almost a decade, not much has been done.

"It's basically become a free-for-all," says Charles Gaskins, spokesman for the American Wagyu Association, a Washington state-based industry group with more than 250 members. "We're aware of the [federal] labeling guidelines, but people do what they want... Some of them use the term Kobe in their farm names."

Kobe refers to beef from the black Tajima breed of Wagyu cattle, which are raised in Japan. Prime cuts such as filet, rib eye, and strip loin are distributed the world over, prized for their rich flavor and tender, velvety texture. Of course, this beef is expensive, selling for $16 to $30 per ounce.

At the Bancroft Supper Club in Miami Beach, manager Karen Martin blames the restaurant's distributor for the menu items labeled "Kobe beef mini burgers" ($18) and "Kobe beef carpaccio" ($18), which she admits are Australian Wagyu. "The invoices say Kobe," she explains. "That's why we list it like that." She will work with chef Tim Andriola to make the description change.

Not all chefs understand they are misrepresenting products. Executive chef Maria Manso at the Delano in Miami Beach says her Plat Bleu menu offers "Kobe beef sliders" for $28 and then reveals they are American Wagyu. "The menu labeling comes from corporate," she explains. "We leave it up to the servers, who are well-trained to explain where it comes from if a customer has an issue or a question. There's no reason to change it." Phone calls to owner/operator China Grill Management were not returned.

Gordon Biersch, which has locations in 17 states and Taiwan, sells  "Kobe sliders" for $10.95 at its popular Brickell Avenue outpost. But they are American Wagyu. After speaking with New Times, executive corporate chef Bill Heckler said he will update the Gordon Biersch menu nationwide in January to accurately denote the provenance of the meat.

Jackie Sayet
8 Oz. Burger Bar's mini Kobe corn dogs, with purple mustard.
Jackie Sayet
The product as shipped from the manufacturer.
Neighborhood burger joint 8 Oz. Burger Bar in South Beach offers seven-dollar "mini Kobe corn dogs," also from Snake River Farms. Contacted by New Times, owner Eric Fried said he would immediately update the menu to include the word American. "I was not aware," he said.

State inspectors are charged with enforcing a 52-year-old statute, 509.292, which deals with misrepresenting food. Violating this law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per violation.

"The use of the term Kobe beef on a menu or special board is misrepresentation," says Jennifer Meale, DBPR's communications director. No one has ever been fined or criminally charged, says Meale. The reason? There have been no complaints.

"It is important that consumers partner with the department to make us aware of any possible cases of misrepresentation," she says. "We encourage consumers to file complaints by visiting www.MyFloridaLicense.com." Her email is jennifer.meale@dbpr.state.fl.

Check out next week's New Times for the full story.

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