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What's the beef with a $10 Kobe burger?

Comments & Curiosities

April 02, 2006|By PETER BUFFA

Does the word "Kobe" ring a bell? No, not him. Kobe beef, from Japan, specially bred, outrageously priced, and most important, intensely marketed. By the way, it's not "KO-bee" as in Bryant, but "ko-BAY," as in parfait. Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle, which are raised in the Hyogo region of Japan, the capital of which is the city of Kobe, as if you didn't know all that. You might also remember Kobe for the earthquake that nearly demolished it in 1995. But we're not here to talk about earthquakes. We're here to talk about beef, specifically Kobe beef, which will be appearing at a diner near you soon.

That's because Ruby's Diner in Newport Beach plans to start peddling Kobe beef burgers for $10 a pop, bun included. As Kobe beef goes, that ain't bad. $40 is not unheard of for a Kobe hamburger, and $100 or more for a Kobe steak is nothing to write home about, other than to write home for more money. Is Ruby's 10-buck burger a Kobe beef first for Newport Beach? Not exactly. According to Dan Marcheano, Commanding General of the Arches, where the best of everything is everyday fare, his restaurant was the first to introduce Kobe beef hereabout in 1988, with a $125 Kobe steak. Wow. $125 for a steak. You could buy two tanks of gas for that, almost. The Arches stopped selling their Kobe steak long ago, but Dan wishes Ruby's and their upscale burger well. "You take a shot and you make it up along the way," Marcheano said. "We're all in the same boat, trying to drag someone into the restaurant."

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When it comes to Kobe beef, those heart-stopping prices are as much for the mystique as the meat. The Hyogo ranchers are very secretive about how they raise their chubby charges, but Paris Hilton leads a tough life compared to the average Wagyu cow. They're fed a special diet, including Japanese beer, sleep in special quarters, and get a regular massage with warm sake to relax them, which supposedly makes them even more tender.

Okay, fine. But here's what I want to know. Whatever it's made from, where did the whole hamburger thing come from in the first place? Ground meat has been around forever, which sounds unsanitary but is true. You can find references to ground meat, mostly beef and lamb, from ancient Rome and Greece and even earlier. The most likely ancestor to our burgers though is the Hamburg steak. Can you guess which German city that's from? You are very smart.

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