South Florida Restaurants Admit to Serving Kobe Beef That Isn't Kobe

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Jackie Sayet
Where's the boeuf? Gordon Biersch's new "German Kobe Burger" is one tasty number, but it's neither from Germany nor Japan.
Bova Prime is one of the busiest restaurants on Las Olas in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Chic, modern cylindrical chandeliers loom over a two-story dining room, which is paneled in long white curtains.

The menu lists three items that, to devotees of fine food, might seem inexpensive: a $38 Kobe skirt steak caprese with tomato, mozzarella, arugula; a $14 Kobe meatballs "polpette," with parmesan brodo, tuscan kale, cannellini beans; and the $21 Kobe beef trio burgers with fontina, grilled onions, house-cut fries, pickle chips.

The problem is that the meat isn't what's advertised. It's not Kobe -- the product of cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan that in some cases drink beer and receive sake massages. Its listing on the menu is an apparent violation of federal standards and state law.

"I wasn't aware of that," says Jeff Shulman, Bova Prime's manager. Shulman said changing the menu is the owner's call, but he said diners should be able to figure out what they're really getting anyway. "Anyone would know that a $14 meatball is not Japanese Kobe."

Several South Florida restaurants include the same type of misleading information on their menus. And scores of customers every day pay top dollar thinking they're ingesting the world's most precious meat.

The list of offending eateries includes upscale and casual, local and national chains. There's Truluck's, Max's Grille, China Grill, and two restaurants at The Breakers, Tapestry Bar and The Flagler Steakhouse. Contacted by New Times, representatives of each of these places admitted to serving high-quality American or Australian beef from similar cattle even when the item was listed as Kobe beef on the menu.

Indeed, the issue repeats in cities across the nation. Though the federal government has known of the trend for almost a decade, not much has been done.

Kobe is expensive, and an ounce sells for $16 to $30, according to Anshu Pathak, owner of Kobe Beef Incorporated, a leading online purveyor.

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Jackie Sayet
8 Oz. Burger Bar's mini Kobe corn dogs, with purple mustard.
At Truluck's in Boca Raton, Chef David Nelson blames his suppliers for the menu items labeled "Kobe beef slider" ($13) and "stuffed Kobe bacon burger with king crab and Boursain cheese ($16)," which he admits use an American product from Snake River Farms in Idaho. "We're a corporate restaurant. Notations on the menu come down from the corporate chef," Nelson says. "It's also the meat purveyor's responsibility to send the product we specify."

Not all chefs understand they are misrepresenting products. Chef Patrick Broadhead of Max's Grille in Boca Raton serves a $22 "giant Kobe beef meatball" with pasta. "We get it from a number of vendors, and it says Australian Wagyu on my invoices. I was not aware it was misrepresentation to use the word Kobe or that there was a law requiring country of origin," he says. "If I were to put Wagyu beef on the menu, no one would buy it. So I have to dumb it down."

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The real Kobe beef.
In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is charged with enforcing a 52-year-old state law that forbids misrepresenting food. The law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. In extreme cases, prosecutors could charge restaurant owners with a second-degree misdemeanor, which could mean a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

Jennifer Meale, DBPR's communications director, says the reason no one has been fined or criminally charged is that there have been no complaints in regards to Kobe beef. "It is important that consumers partner with the department to make us aware of any possible cases of misrepresentation," she says. "We encourage consumers to file complaints by visiting myfloridalicense.com."

Bova Prime also sells the real thing. It's "imported Japanese, grade A5 Kobe steak" and goes for $30 per ounce. The place can even present you with a certificate of authenticity. After logging on to a website, you can trace the biography of your dinner, including birthdate, gender, parentage, breed, farm, and slaughterhouse.

"Everybody is very explanatory they are very knowledgeable. We have a glossary of product terms on the left hand side of the menu," Shulman reassures.

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