Strong or subtle, Asian accents tempt beef-loving diners to look beyond straightforward steaks and burgers.
This article first appeared in the 15 March 2008 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I,visit its website here >>Recipe links are provided at the end of the article.
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
Brisket cooked low and slow is the calling card for many Texas menus, but at Fuse in Dallas, brisket takes a decidedly not-from-Texas turn. Executive Chef Blaine Staniford tucks the tender beef inside thin gyoza wrappers with Anaheim chiles, garlic and sautéed onions to make Braised Brisket Potstickers. The combination may seem unlikely, but the appetizer is a star performer for the self-styled "TexAsian" restaurant.
"We sell hundreds a week," says Staniford, who pairs the crisp, meaty dumplings with a variation on ponzu sauce that combines citrus juice and citrus zest, soy sauce, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and jalapeños. "Asian cuisine is clean and simple, and the fresh, vibrant flavors go well with a lot of American cooking."
Beef in particular lends itself well to enticing Oriental-Occidental approaches. Chefs can utilize a wide range of cuts, from high-end Kobe rib-eye to affordable tri-tip sirloin, all of which enjoy high consumer interest. The hearty protein also provides an assertive foundation for Asian complements, as it stands up well to bold sauces and spices and readily soaks up flavor.
Even true-West staples such as meatloaf and burgers benefit from a little Eastern pizzazz. Ling & Louie's Asian Bar and Grill, a two-unit casual-dining concept based in Scottsdale, Ariz., punches up thick grilled slices of meatloaf with Asian-accented gravy that includes oyster sauce, brown sugar and sambal oelek, the spicy chile paste. In Natick, Mass., The Met Bar and Grill's Tokyo Burger offers ground Kobe beef accented with pickled onions, daikon sprouts and sticky soy sauce.
"Nowadays, you're finding everybody to be a little bit more adventurous in what they're eating, but not too adventurous," says Corporate Chef Greg Smith. "You have to keep things grounded and not get too far out there."
Sushi often comes to mind first when most Americans think of Japanese food, but the expanding presence of Kobe and wagyu beef on menus is clueing in consumers to the cuisine's carnivorous side.
Tim Cushman, chef and co-owner at contemporary Japanese restaurant o ya in Boston, combines both ideas in house-smoked wagyu sushi. Strip loin is sliced thin, seasoned with kosher salt, seared on all sides in grapeseed oil and chilled. The beef is then smoked over hickory chips on a charcoal grill, chilled again and presented nigiri-style over sushi rice with soy-sake-lemon sauce for dipping.
"I try to stay as simple as possible and bring out the great, natural flavor of the beef," Cushman says.
He brings a similar sensibility to the menu's handful of other beef-based recipes. Short ribs get an Asian treatment with braising liquid that includes ginger, soy, mirin, daikon and sake, replacing standard red or white wine for a subtly sweeter finish. For charcoal-grilled beef kushiyaki (skewers), maple syrup is used in place of mirin in the accompanying sauce.
"Maple syrup and mirin are both sweet, but the maple has more complexity," Cushman says. "The maple soy adds a little New England touch."
The Yin and the Yang
At contemporary American restaurant Devereaux's in Greenville, S.C., Chef and co-owner Steven Devereaux Greene opens the Asian pantry to put an exotic spin on a classic steakhouse starter, beef tartare. Diced organic rib-eye studded with brunoise cucumbers, chopped cashews and green onion is tossed in vinaigrette that includes miso, rice-wine vinegar, mirin and yuzu kosho, a spicy, citrusy Japanese condiment.
"With raw preparations of fish and beef, chefs tend to gravitate toward these flavors because Asian ingredients have that sweet and salty mix, the yin and yang," Greene says.
The tartare's presentation also reflects an Eastern aesthetic, with the beef molded into a rectangle and served on a similarly shaped plate with Asian greens, lotus root and micro chives.
Executive Chef James McMillan at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro in Houston takes the opposite approach, subtly retooling authentic recipes such as Vietnamese garlic beef for American palates. Instead of following tradition and tenderizing a tougher cut of beef with a soak in baking soda and water, he starts with Angus rib-eye aged for 21 days.
"When you have a good beef product, it soaks up sauces tremendously," McMillan says. "It's a perfect match."
The cubed beef is wok-cooked with sweet soy sauce and whole cloves of flash-fried garlic and then piled atop thinly sliced Roma tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce, which replaces traditional cabbage. Salt, pepper and a lime wedge garnish the plate; diners squeeze the lime into the seasonings and dip the beef in the tart, savory mixture.
Go Your Own Way
Beef is one of the few proteins that doesn't get the tempura treatment at BarFry in New York City. Instead, diners find inventive Japanese-inspired fare such as beef beignets and short ribs cooked sous vide.
To make the beignets, Executive Chef-partner Josh DeChellis browns oxtails and braises them in stock, soy and mirin with shiitake mushrooms. The slow-cooked beef, blanketed with a thick sauce flavored with fermented black beans, is then folded inside yeast dough and deep-fried.
"I really like the end of eating a braised short-rib dish at a French restaurant, where you take some bread and mop up everything left on the plate; this is the handheld version of that sensation," DeChellis says.
The unconventional dish is DeChellis' answer to steak, which didn't quite fit the menu's targeted price point. Instead, more-affordable short ribs are cooked sous-vide-style for 36 hours and coated in a mix that includes nori, pumpkin seeds, coriander and chile flakes. For the finish, the short ribs are seared quickly in a hot pan, tataki-style, and paired with burnt Japanese eggplant purée.
"The short rib eats like a steak, but I wanted to solidify that sensation by introducing more charred flavor with the eggplant," DeChellis says.
The Popular Vote
Such complex preparations definitely catch customers' attention, but simplicity finds plenty of fans, too. Brian Seto, executive chef at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Ore., says Asian-marinated tri-tip steak sells out every time he menus the dish. The beef soaks up a marinade of rice-wine vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce combined with hoisin, star anise, five-spice powder, ginger and garlic for 24 hours before being roasted. For plating, the steak is sliced and served with grilled bell peppers.
"For a lot of people in our demographic, that's still different, something they wouldn't cook at home," Seto says.
At Sonam in Philadelphia, Chef-owner Ben Byruch's Steak Yakitori ranks in the top 5% of sales on the restaurant's self-described "global dim-sum" menu. The cubed strip steak is coated in black and white sesame seeds and then seared and glazed with a sauce of soy, mirin, sake and simple syrup. In a minimalist presentation, the cubes are nestled in small beds of cucumber "noodles" (long, thin slices cut on a mandoline) that are coated in sweet chile sauce.
"The idea is that you can pick it up with chopsticks, eat the meat and cucumber in the same bite and have it touch all parts of your palate," Byruch says.
The center of the plate isn't the only mealpart that benefits from East-West approaches. At o ya in Boston, Chef and co-owners Tim Cushman calls on a traditional technique of simmering potatoes in dashi, the Japanese stock made from dried bonito flakes and seaweed, and pairs the tender spuds with sake-braised Wagyu short ribs. Cushman also offers a take on chawan mushi, steamed Japanese custard, to accompany seared strip loin. Bone marrow, eggs and dashi are mixed together, then steamed and served in the bone, garnished with salt and white-truffle oil.
Sides at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based chain Ling and Louie's Asian Bar and Grill offer twists on more-familiar recipes. Roasted-garlic mashed potatoes are topped with wasabi-infused sour cream, while green beans are flash-fried for extra crunch and then stir-fried with garlic, ginger and mushroom oyster sauce.
American Style, Eastern Flair
Introducing simple Asian accents is an easy way to beef up burger's excitment on menus.
- The Burger: Burger topped with kimchee, cabbage slaw and aioli. - Chopy Suey Restaurant & Lounge, Renaissance New York Hotel, Times Square
- Tokyo Burger: Kobe beef with avocado, Muenster cheese, pickled onions, sticky soy sauce and daikon sprouts on sesame-seed bun. - The Met Bar & Grill, Nattick, Mass.
- The Banzai Burger: Ground beef marinated in teriyaki sauce, topped with grilled pineapple, Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. - Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, multiple locations.
- Tex-Asian Burger: Burger topped with Asian greens, charred green onions, aged Cheddar cheese and cilantro. - Fuse, Dallas
- Mini Burgers on Bao Buns with Curly Taro Fries - The Monkey Bar & Grill, Hotel Elysee, New York City
- Dam Ka Keema: Spiced ground beef with cucumber-yoghurt sauce and chopped onion, tomato and cilantro on flatbread - Airport Haven Hamburgers & Spicy Tandoor, Austin, Texas
Marriage of Convenience
On menus of all kins, elements of Eastern and Western cuisines find harmony in beef-based recipes.
- Asian Style Meatballs, Mushroom Soy Jus - Kevin Rathbun Steak, Atlanta
- "Surf and Turf": Seared Prime Filet of Beef Tenderloin and Gulf Shrimp Yakitori with Sake-Glazed Sweet Potato and Wilted Red Chard - Stella, New Orleans
- Filet mignon with wasabi-yuzu kosho butter - CUT, Beverly Hills, Calif
- Kobe Beef Carpaccio with Fried Shiitake, Yuzu Vinaigrette - Koi, multiple locations
- Beef strip loin with wasabi-ponzu sauce - Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar, Washington DC
- Bulgogi-marinated Angus rib-eye steak with ginger-roasted shiitake mushrooms - Shikago, Chicago