Where would you show off an elite variety of beef? Not in some flashy high-end dining spot but in the most beef-centric part of Los Angeles -- Koreatown. There, it's hard to find a place that doesn't serve bulgogi and galbi, and the buzz words are grass-fed, Wagyu, Kobe and Black Angus. That is, until now.
Star King got into the act because customers complained to manager Alex Yoo that grass-fed beef wasn't tender and tasty enough. A distributor put her in contact with Billy Swain, sales manager for the Certified Piedmontese brand. Swain is based in Nebraska, home to 80% of the Piedmontese herd in the United States.
Yoo tested the meat and was pleased. "It tastes great," she said. "It tastes very clean, and, for my palate, sweet as well as tender." And Swain liked the idea of promoting the beef at Star King. "Instead of going to the mainstream, we're trying a different approach," he said at the restaurant. The idea is to show how the beef fits diverse cooking styles.
As the name indicates, Piedmontese beef originated in Italy. In the 1970s, one bull and four cows were brought to the United States. Today, the Certified Piedmontese herd has grown to about 15,000 head, which is less than 1% of all cattle in this country.
What sets the breed apart is a genetic trait that produces muscle and very little fat, resulting in meat that is lower in fat and calories, higher in protein and more tender than, for example, prime. This holds true throughout the animal, making underutilized cuts as attractive as the rest.
The animals are kept free of antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones. Raised on a vegetarian diet, they spend time on grass but are finished with grains. The meat isn't cheap but it isn't exorbitantly priced either. "Our price is just above prime and just below American Wagyu," Swain said.
Star King is using brisket, boneless short ribs and rib-eye steaks and eventually will get tongue and intestines, which are popular with Koreans.
Although new to Koreatown, Certified Piedmontese beef is available at a few L.A. area restaurants including Cheebo, Seasons 52 and Stefan's at L.A. Farm. Short Order offered a Piedmontese burger as a special when it opened. And Pane e Vino, which is now closed, served the beef.
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If you're willing to cook it yourself, Marconda's Meats at the Original Farmers Market has a variety of steaks and roasts, boneless short ribs, ground beef, beef shanks, soup meat and beef cubes for stew. "People love it," said Lou DeRosa, Marconda's owner. "It's very tender, it tastes better than pure grass-fed beef, and it's just as good nutritionally."
But the only place where you can grill Piedmontese beef at the table over live coals, dip the meat in Korean sauces and eat it with banchan is Star King.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at TableConversation.com, EatMx.com, @foodandwinegal and Facebook. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.