The A5 Wagyu is a wondrous sight to gaze upon. As chef Johann Schuster came out of the Charivari kitchen with this marbled piece of beef goodness from the gods, literally the best money can buy here in the United States, I shook my head in disbelief at how magnificently this cut of meat presented itself, almost completely white in color because of the marbleization.
With his wife, Maria, by his side, Schuster has owned and operated Charivari in Midtown for more than 16 years. The Transylvania-born chef is classically trained in French cuisine and his menu features everything from German, Italian and French to more off-the-menu items like Japanese sashimi and robata. The restaurant is festively decorated for the holidays and each table is warmly dressed to the nines, ready to set the scene for a night of fine dining at its best, which includes a personal hello from the chef and an introduction to the A5 Wagyu, accompanied by a certificate of authenticity to verify origin and traceability.
"It's not on the menu," said Schuster. "It is too special for the menu. If someone inquires about it, I bring it out. My diners know what they want when they come here." But the chef tries to surprise his guests every time with an innovative or new cooking technique he's picked up on one of his global trips.
The A5 Wagyu comes directly from Japan. The restaurant receives a shipment every week through the holidays. Chef Schuster started serving Satsuma Wagyu from Okinawa two years ago, but had been working with Wagyu for many years before that. According to the chef, the Satsuma brand is highly regarded all over the world for the fattiness and marbleization of its meat. A more specific cut, known as the zabuton, which comes from the area of chuck on the upper section behind the collar of the cow, is by far the most decadent, in Schuster's expert opinion.
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"A pillow cut is one of the best ways to have this beef," he said. Having learned a few skills from Japanese chefs near and far, Schuster described a technique of slicing just thick enough to present plump pieces of meat lying like pillows on the plate. For $63, three ounces of Wagyu are carefully prepared in a fashion that doesn't take away from the glory of the meat. Ninety-nine dollars buys five ounces of dance time on those taste buds.
Schuster is a wealth of knowledge on the subject of beef, and based on our meeting, he could chat endlessly about food and how to prepare it. According to him: "Food should be simple and clean, but to achieve that simplicity, a lot of care and understanding of technique is needed." He explained the need for freshly grated wasabi root, the uselessness of pre-ground table salt and pepper, the purity of Portuguese water, the complexity of wild-foraged mushrooms and discovering tobacco-leaf smoked meats. His passion and every bit of food wisdom he's collected and shared over the years come through in every plate he curates.
Charivari is located at 2521 Bagby in Midtown. Chef Johann Schuster is the author of Bone & H2O, a book about his culinary travels. Reservations are recommended. Follow Schuster on Instagram @jhnnschstr. Enjoy Sunday Brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.