On the Menu: Putting the swag in Wagyu in Pacific Beach
Chef Steve Brown, creator/owner of the sizzling Swagyu brand, has recently added the Pacific Beach Swagyu flagship restaurant to his collection.
The brand includes Swagyu Chop Shops (butcher shops for online orders and pick-up), burger shops and fine dining steak houses featuring 12-course tasting menus. They can be found scattered around San Diego County.
Now his Pacific Beach location incorporates the entirety of his carnivorous concepts.
Through serendipity and skill, the Cordon Bleu-trained Brown — and chef of more than two decades — became immersed in the exclusive and privileged world of Japanese Wagyu beef, turning moo into moola.
Winning a culinary competition several years back at a Del Mar KAABOO concert that was sponsored by a Wagyu distributor and importer gave Brown entrée into the elite industry. He soon became known as the designated Wagyu chef, currently one of only 23 in the country certified by the Japanese government to sell Hyogo Kobe, the most coveted type of Wagyu beef.
The symbol “A5,” which is the official grading for the top rank of Wagyu, boldly tattooed on Brown’s right forearm clearly reflects his dedication to his trade.
He shares this passion for the exotic, sought-after meat during stimulating tutorials that are part of the tasting menu dinners. Like the sexy speakeasies of the roaring ‘20s, Brown hosts these private events in an intimate, backroom “study hall” graced with a 20-foot long, handmade redwood table where the 12-course progression of Wagyu tasting begins.
Want to visit?
Swagyu Pacific Beach
Address: 966 Felspar St., Pacific Beach
Hours: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays — 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (lunch) and 5 to 10 p.m. (dinner).
Saturdays and Sundays — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (brunch), 3 to 5 p.m. (lunch) and 5 to 9 p.m. (dinner).
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Every course incorporates some form of Wagyu, whether the American, Australian or Japanese versions. The chef explains to diners that the former two are a diluted, crossbreed of the purebred Asian Wagyu. Since the Japanese hold genetics close to the vest, they follow strict regulations banning export of their cattle, but still allow Wagyu sperm to be implanted in Angus cows producing an F1 generation sharing exquisite genes of the Tajima (Japanese Wagyu breed of cattle).
Brown then enlightens guests on the lineage and lifestyle of the Japanese cow (which literally translates to “Wagyu”), living in a low stress, pampered environment for almost three years (an eternity compared to Angus cattle that are slaughtered around their first birthday). They are fed a rich, high-energy carb diet, including molasses and leftover rice used in the fermentation of sake to procure naturally marbleized and flavorful meat.
“It’s an artisan thing, like making fine wine, a unique and labor intensive process,” Brown said. “There’s a true science behind it.”
According to Brown, “The Steak House menu has the largest variety of American, Australian and Japanese Wagyu anywhere.”
Although “it’s all about the beef,” he recommends some swag sides to nicely complement the meat, especially the A5 Japanese Wagyu Fat Candle that drips into a catch basin blending with koji vinegar creating a rich and savory dip for a slice of grilled country sourdough.
But there’s more. Crispy broccolini flash fried in Wagyu fat and tossed in chili fish caramel, and a mixture of wild mushrooms cooked in miso butter and topped with a raw egg are some other faves.
For desserts guests can indulge in the A5 Wagyu Fat Brownie Sundae topped with vanilla ice cream, macerated berries, chocolate ganache and roasted marshmallows.
Besides the intimate dining cove, “meat tooths” can enjoy a more casual, serene ambiance in the indoor space with slick black lacquer walls, bamboo lanterns and a sea of green from giant skylights that illuminate a bounty of hanging plants resembling floating gardens. The ‘90s hip-hop music streaming in the background provides the ideal setting to enjoy the signature Swagyu Smashburger (half and quarter pounders), “that we’re famous for around the country,” Brown said. “It’s a blend of fresh ground Wagyu imported from Japan and Australia direct to San Diego’s airport.”
The mouth-watering delight is dressed with a brioche bun, American cheese, house-made bread and butter pickles, and a secret sauce. The burger pairs well with a side of Nitro Potatoes, pillowy chunks perfectly crisp on the outside, and mashed-potato-fluffy on the inside, a labor-intensive art that takes three days to create. This is frequently washed down with beer, wine, sake or Japanese Shochu cocktails.
There’s also a buzzing outdoor charcoal patio bar blessed with cooling ocean breezes, dragon décor and a drapy crimson tarp under which the chef fires up the binchotan grill for cooking foods in the Yakiniku style known as Japanese barbecue.
Finally, the weekend brunch menu includes such lollapaloozas as A5 Chicken Fried Steak with Nitro Potatoes, country gravy, sunny-side eggs, Soufflé French Toast with brown butter, yuzu custard, matcha berries and torched marshmallows, and American Wagyu Birriaquiles. The latter is a Mexican-style breakfast with braised meats, guajillo salsa, lime pickled shallots and aged cotija.
Brown recommends making reservations for dinner through the system called Tock. While locals herd to this neighborhood Japanese haunt in droves, beef lovers up and down the coast, throughout the land and even south of the border also indulge in Swagyu heaven for occasions of all manners, or even non-occasions.
Brown elevates his brand’s popularity to, “a crazy cult following,” and attributes this to his culinary ethos and methodology of “normalizing Wagyu by taking away the pretentiousness of this premium dish, and making it accessible to everyone.”
While Swagyu also has a presence in Imperial Beach and Poway, along with a production kitchen in Miramar, Brown calls his brand “unstoppable.” Growing faster than a charging bull, Swagyu is nearing eight locations with Oceanside, Los Angeles and Lahaina, Maui down the pike. Aloha!
Recipe from Swagyu Pacific Beach
Miso Chilean Sea Bass with Dashi Broth
• 4 6-oz. fish portions, preferably all the same cuts
• 3 C. miso marinade
• Equal parts miso paste, mirin rice wine and brown sugar. Blend until all items are incorporated together.
• 32 oz. dashi broth
• 24 oz. dashi soup seasoning
• 2 oz. mirin rice wine
• 24 oz. water
• 3 oz. soy sauce
1. Marinate fish for 24 hours and drain; reserve some to cook fish marinade.
2. In a saucepan, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil. Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed.
• 4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
• 1 pkg. beechwood brown mushrooms (cut off base of mushrooms).
• 1 pkg. enoki mushrooms (cut off base of mushrooms)
• 4 each baby bok choy (cut off bottom stock and blanch)
• 2 each jumbo carrots (peel and shave with peeler to make ribbons)
• 1 large watermelon radish (peel and slice on mandolin), for garnish
• Sesame seeds, for garnish
• 1 pkg. micro greens divided into four piles, for garnish
• 1 T. truffle oil, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place fish on a foil-lined cookie sheet or pan. Pour miso marinade over fish and bake in oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Fish will start to caramelize and that is an indicator that it is close to done.
3. While fish is cooking, heat dashi broth in a pot. Bring to a boil, and reduce to cool. Add water to a pot, bring to a boil, and add all vegetables. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, then drain using a strainer.
4. Place vegetables in soup bowls, then place fish carefully on top with a spatula. Pour broth into bowl.
5. You can garnish with radish, micro greens, a touch of truffle oil and sesame seeds.
Courtesy of Chef Steve Brown