La Sardine serves up grass-fed wagyu beef

April 29, 2011 9:40:30 AM PDT
For years, Chicago restaurants could only get corn-fed wagyu beef instead of grass-fed, which is more natural and doesn't require antibiotics.

But ABC7's Hungry Hound says a new company is now making its grass-fed beef available in Chicago.

Bill Kurtis' Tallgrass Beef has been in the market for a few years, but a common criticism is that it, like many other grass-fed products, is too lean. On the other hand, wagyu -- a breed originally from Japan that tends to have more intramuscular fat, and thus, more tender when cooked -- has always been corn-fed, which typically means the cattle has been given antibiotics, since cows aren't designed to digest corn. Enter a New Zealand company that now raises its wagyu cattle on a diet of 100 percent grass, and you've got a tender product that can also make claims to be better for you.

The French bistro classic of steak frites is taking on a slightly different hue at the well-regarded La Sardine in West Town, directly across the street from Harpo Studios. Instead of a corn-fed filet or strip or even flank steak, La Sardine is experimenting with a flatiron cut that is 100 percent grass fed and finished, and comes all the way from New Zealand.

"I think it's extremely tender, it's very good tasting, it's not dry; it's a wonderful product," said La Sardine chef and owner Jean-Claude Poilevey.

Why does Poilevey have to get the steak from so far away? Because this particular breed of wagyu has more marbling, or fat, than other grass-fed cattle, and results in a final product that he says is more akin to what he's had back home.

"Grass-fed beef we get over here now reminds me a lot of the one we have in France. You can have a very thin slice of beef and you can really sear and stay raw inside," he said.

The flatiron steak is simply grilled for a few minutes in each side, until medium rare. It rests for a few minutes, then it's sliced and plated over some sauteed spinach. A healthy mound of hand-cut frites offers plentiful starch on the side. Poilevey says his regulars haven't exactly been demanding grass-fed beef lately, but he thinks they will soon enough. He's satisfied knowing he has a reliable source that is consistently tender.

"I think they might start to care a little bit but they want their beef very tender and I'm not sure that they care how it is done as long as it's tender," Poilevey said.

La Sardine
111 N. Carpenter

    Other places carrying the New Zealand wagyu (flatiron cut):
  • Basil Leaf Cafe
  • MK the restaurant
  • Hyatt O'Hare restaurant
  • Jolane's (Glenview)
  • The Tasty Palette (Evanston)
  • Stained Glass (Evanston)

To read more about this cut of beef and the company behind it, read this blog post by Steve Dolinsky.