Viognier restaurant, atop the impressively upscale San Mateo grocery store Draeger's, is moving into meat production, and was kind enough to drop us off a taste of its first product, American Kobe Beef Pastrami.
The idea is fascinating. Pastrami, usually made from beef brisket -- one of the cheapest, toughest cuts on the animal -- gets its flavor from spices and its texture from fat. Wagyu (a more accurate term than Kobe) is a type of cattle prized in Japan and increasingly elsewhere because its meat is slightly sweet and marbled with plenty of tender fat. If fat is good, more fat should be more good, right?
Moreover, American Kobe Beef Pastrami sells for just $15.95 a pound at the four Draeger's stores in San Mateo, Danville, Los Altos and Menlo Park. Regular house-made pastrami is $9.98 a pound, so the premium for wagyu isn't particularly high, considering a steak of the stuff might set you back a benjamin in a restaurant.
If you have a sweet tooth and a meat tooth, this might be your happy place. The meat spends 10 to 17 days in a homemade brown sugar brine, and it shows.
The meat is loaded with fat; we trimmed plenty off the sides without affecting the famous marbling. Following Viognier chef Preston Dishman's recommendation, we zapped it in the microwave for a minute and it curled up attractively.
We were surprised by the sweetness. We're not talking ice-cream sweet, but it's noticeable. The other spices -- cracked black pepper and coriander -- are subdued. We occasionally got a hit of pepper from one of the edges, and those were our favorite moments of mastication.
We have a savory palate for lunches; we don't like brioche for sandwiches, for example. But we have noticed that this is hugely trendy around town, and this pastrami -- with its Kobe beef moniker and sweeter profile -- might be right in the zeitgeist's sweet spot. And we gave some to our wife, who does have a sweet tooth, and she was delighted with it. Judge your own tastes and act accordingly.