Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
Dons de la Nature is widely considered as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere), and when they say Wagyu, then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.
Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.
I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.
The meat available on the day of my visit was Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin, as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).
Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) , inside a kiln. From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),
so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly, the umami kick that the media and plenty of online accounts have praised continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt) but I get more exciting umami flavor from most 40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling. I also do not get the comparision to foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong: this is quality red meat, that is for sure, the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful. I admire the quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a 6/10, at best, for me (Grade: A5/ Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging + 30 other days of dry aging )
The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine. But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.
Pros: Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu. You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.
Cons: Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.
How influential is buzz (buzz about Wagyu is obviously..epic ) and scarcity (it goes without saying that, at those prices, it is impossible for the most to enjoy Wagyu on a regular basis) in your enjoymentof your food? No one will ever know, and only people with interest in the industry should care about such questions. The only thing that I know is that Wagyu, the real thing… any meat lover should try it at least once as it is one of those rather unique experiences that you’ve just got to try. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it better than I did….
Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef is very enthusiastic. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.
My verdict and conclusion: I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature. But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s focus is on what matters most: the flavor!!!.
What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.