(Formatted with All Pictures here:
One of the biggest regrets from my trip to Japan last month was being unable to fit in a visit to a Japanese Steakhouse serving Grade A5 Wagyu Beef. In Japan, their system for grading meat is far more extensive and detailed compared to the USDA system. The Japanese Grading System looks at four major categories: Marbling; Color & Brightness of Meat; Firmness & Texture of Meat; and Color, Luster & Quality of Fat. The cut of Beef is given ratings in each of those individual categories, and then an overall final grade is assigned, with 15(!) levels, ranging from the lowest (C1), up to the maximum grade (A5). Suffice to say that the maximum grade A5 Wagyu Beef in Japan is very expensive. (On a side note, informal discussions by chefs and vendors about how USDA Prime (the highest grade given out in the U.S. system) would rate in Japan put the U.S. cuts in the range of "A1 - A2".)
I had given up on trying grade A5 Wagyu Beef until my next trip to Japan. That is until I discovered "The Steak House": A tiny Japanese restaurant on the border of Rolling Hills and Torrance that proudly proclaims the goal of bringing true Wagyu Beef to Los Angeles, with the focus on maximum grade A5 True Wagyu Beef! Excited by the prospect of being able to taste this without having to wait for my next trip to Japan, I grabbed two fellow Hounds and off we went.
From the moment we arrived at The Steak House's parking lot, suspicions began to creep up: The Steak House is located inside a strip mall, housed near a Ralphs supermarket and a generic pizza place. "Could this really be legit?" is what we all thought. Then, again, upon hindsight the first impressions of other good Japanese L.A. restaurants started the same way: From Sasabune's original location (in a *house* in a residential section off of Sawtelle), to Sushi Zo's location, to Nozawa's, to Mori's location, and new places like Yakitori Bincho, their locations and surroundings belied the greatness within. Hopefully this would be the case here.
Stepping inside, the first thing that struck me was the sheer *relaxed* nature of The Steak House: The interior was darkly lit, quiet and relaxed. The ambiance and decoration felt more like a down-to-earth cafe than any "big American Steakhouse" that I was somehow expecting.
The Steak House offers a simple selection of steaks, from USDA Choice-grade Ribeye ($16 for a 6 Oz), New York and Filet Mignon, to Montana Range (Hormone-free, Antibiotics-free) USDA Prime-grade New York and Filet Mignon, to finally the reason to visit, their maximum Grade A5 Authentic Wagyu Beef flown in from Japan, offered in a 5 Oz Wagyu New York Steak for $58, or a 4 Oz Wagyu Filet Mignon for $59. (They also serve a Grilled Free-Range Chicken dish; Alaskan Salmon in a Yuzu sauce; and Roasted Maine Lobster with Kurobuta Sausage.)
They also had a Tasting Menu that evening that included the A5 Wagyu Filet Mignon which is what I opted for. Chef Kazuaki Iwamoto sources all his Grade A5 Wagyu Beef from only one farm - Shibujishi - in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.
In addition to the Tasting Menu, we started with one dish from their Specials menu: Wagyu Beef Carpaccio.
Chef Iwamoto presents thinly sliced Grade A5 Kagoshima Wagyu Beef over a bed of marinated White Onions, topped with an exquisite house-made Tosazu Vinaigrette and fresh Red and Black Peppercorns and Chives. I gently placed a slice of the A5 Kagoshima Wagyu in my mouth and took a bite: A wonderful melding of COMPLETE tenderness from the A5 Wagyu Beef (with *no* gristle / tendon or "chewiness" at all!), with a fragrant olive oil and slight tartness in the Tosazu Vinaigrette. This was so delicious!
Next up was the first course in our Tasting Menu, described as "Bamboo Shoots with Salmon Marine." What came as a delightful surprise (and some hilarity) was that they forgot to translate / mention the most important part of the 1st Appetizer: It comes with 2 pieces of Grade A5 Wagyu Beef Sushi (which was definitely the highlight)! (^_^)
The Bamboo Shoots with Salmon Marine turned out to be a fancy, high-end "coleslaw"-type salad, with chunks of very tender, fresh Bamboo Shoots, combined with chunks of Salmon Sashimi, Avocado, in a Mayonnaise-based dressing. I felt the Salmon stood out too much from the neutrality of the Bamboo and creaminess of the Avocado and Mayo. It was interesting, but nothing I'd order again.
However, the 2 pieces of A5 Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Sushi were amazing! Chef Iwamoto presents the Wagyu Beef lightly cooked: He does a quick once-over with a blowtorch and tops it off with a drizzle of a Balsamic Vinaigrette reduction. While the previous A5 Beef Carpaccio was delicious, the simplicity of trying the A5 Wagyu Beef over some excellent Koshihikari Rice and a little touch of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar reduction brought out another side to the Wagyu Beef that I appreciated even more. Like before, the A5 Beef was out-of-this-world: Perfectly tender, with *no* gristle or chewiness at all. It was truly unreal and I had flashbacks of Urasawa.
Next up was their Fresh Scallop with Shrimp, White Cream Sauce. The single Scallop was good (nothing amazing), and the two medium-sized Shrimp paired very nicely with the White Sauce, which I felt was more like a Lobster Bisque. The Sauce was delightfully rich and creamy and was like an alternate Seafood Bisque in a way.
Next came their French Onion Soup: This was probably the weakest dish of the night. A simple bowl of French Onion Soup that had a good broth and flavor, but was nothing special. In addition, the preparation and amount of bread / cheese was pretty minimal.
Finally, it was time for the highlight and reason for coming to The Steak House: The A5 Wagyu Filet Mignon.
The presentation was a bit underwhelming, looking like something from a Hong Kong Cafe in the San Gabriel Valley instead of plating worthy of the highest grade of Japanese Wagyu Beef. But what was most important was the food, right? :) So I took a fork and knife and prepared to cut off a slice... only the Filet Mignon was basically fork-tender! It was SO SOFT that it was surreal and my knife hand was barely touching the beef as it was being sliced.
After one bite it was apparent: This was easily THE most tender, melt-in-your-mouth piece of Steak I had ever had! The beef at Urasawa was just as tender (if not more so), but this was from a huge slab of seared meat, off of a Filet Mignon Steak, which was really impressive. It was wonderfully rich, lightly sweet, and truly just perfection in each bite. There was no "chewiness" or tough parts of the meat. It was really like eating Toro (Fatty Tuna Belly).
The Steak House also offers a house-made special Steak Sauce, Asian-influenced, with Soy Sauce, Garlic, Onions and a few other spices added in. The Filet Mignon was fine as is, without the sauce, but a small application of it added a nice angle to the dish as well.
Finally came the Dessert: There was a choice of three types - a Chocolate Tart, Cheesecake, or Sorbet. We tried one of each (since there were three of us that evening :) -
The Chocolate Tart was presented in a giant plate with lots of fresh fruit (nice), a scoop of Lemon Sorbet, and a house-made Panna Cotta. I'm not a chocolate fan but it was competently done. Nothing amazing. The Panna Cotta, however, was delicious and had the texture of a really nice Flan.
The Sorbet dessert was presented with two types of Sorbet (Apricot and Lemon), and a variety of fresh fruit. The Sorbets were excellent as well.
Finally the Cheesecake was also nicely done, and presented like the Chocolate Tart (with fresh fruit and the Panna Cotta):
Service throughout the evening was *very casual*, not necessarily a good or bad thing, but a little off-putting considering the amazing quality of the Beef. The overall cost turned out to be $110 per person (including Wine, Tax & Tip). The Tasting Menu itself is only $79 per person, which is a great deal. I know some people may think "4 Oz Steak?!" and worry that it's not enough, but this Grade A5 Wagyu Beef is so rich and has so much marbling (in a good way) that with all the other items, you're more than stuffed by the end (I couldn't even finish my dessert).
Overall, you go to The Steak House for one thing, and one thing only: The Grade A5 True Wagyu Beef from Kagoshima, Japan. It should be noted that the overall Ambiance, Plating, and level of Service is not up to par with a world-class "traditional Steakhouse," but the A5 Wagyu alone is worth the visit. Also note that by "Service," I don't mean that it was bad service, but that it was all very casual and relaxed: The Steak House is a small restaurant, and their limited wine menu, basic decor, and friendly, but casual servers all reflect something more akin to a nice family restaurant rather than a restaurant serving the highest grade of Beef in Japan.
I don't need to be pampered (I love going on an Al Pastor Taco run with my friends :), but there is a disconnect in expectations and something that people should take note of, if they have certain expectations going to a "steakhouse." Chef Iwamoto presents excellent dishes that are centered on the A5 Wagyu Beef, but still needs to bring up the rest of the aspects to really bring The Steak House into a higher level of a great dining experience. But conferring with my 2 Hounds that evening (one that has been to all the major steakhouses except CUT and Wolfgang's), they both agreed that given the choice of going to the standards like Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Flemings or The Palm, etc., they would skip all the fuss and would rather come back to The Steak House for the tenderest steak they've ever had. I would tend to agree, unless there was a special occasion or celebration (in which case a more standard American steakhouse would be far more appropriate), but personally, I would love to see Chef Iwamoto improve upon his Plating, other dishes, and overall Ambiance of this restaurant; there's just a minimal expectation that should accompany food this good.
Note: I contacted Urasawa and discovered that he had served me Grade A5 Hokkaido-Gyu (Japanese Beef from Hokkaido) that night I went, and that he sources only A5 when available. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, and it's nice to know. :)
Ultimately, if you're in the mood for amazing, top-quality Japanese Wagyu and want to try out this Grade A5 Beef, for a fair price and without any fuss or glamor (and with no wait), The Steak House is definitely worth a visit.
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
(Rating just for the Grade A5 Beef dishes: 9.3 (out of 10.0))
The Steak House
2933 Rolling Hills Rd.
Torrance, CA 90503
The Steak House
2933 Rolling Hills Rd, Torrance, CA 90505