Some of the most cherished beef in the world—even scarcer than certified Kobe—can only be found on a single, snowy island in Japan—and on the menu at Mizumi in Wynn Las Vegas.
A view of Mizumi’s dining room from its private waterfall and lagoon.
STEAK LOVERS PRIZE JAPANESE WAGYU BEEF ABOVE ALL OTHERS, AND THE BEST VARIETIES ARE SO RARE THEY CAN BE HARD TO FIND EVEN IN JAPAN. But while the most famous names, Kobe, Ohmi and Matsusaka, are scarce, Hokkaido Snow Beef makes them seem downright pedestrian by comparison. Mizumi in Wynn Las Vegas is one of only four restaurants in the world outside Hokkaido serving the world’s most exclusive meat.
Devin Hashimoto, Mizumi’s Executive Chef, has traveled to Japan several times—most recently for his grandmother’s 100th birthday, and to explore the nation’s varied cuisine. Snowy Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island, sits in the middle of an arctic weather pattern known as the Siberian Express, and was home to the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympic Games. Very few outsiders have traveled to the farm where “the Wagyu Meister,” rancher Fujio Terauchi, raises these select cattle, but among those who know beef, it is legendary.
“Dr. Asanuma is a retired dermatologist who has made cattle his hobby, and his passion is to outdo the more famous Kobe beef,” says Hashimoto. “He hired Terauchi and bought this farm, which is surrounded by a bird sanctuary, keeping the whole area undeveloped. He raises only third-generation or older pure Hokkaido-born Kuroge Washu cattle, raised entirely without antibiotics, steroids or hormones.” Known as “Never Ever Three,” this is the most natural way to produce beef with no residual chemicals, but is rarely practiced on U.S. ranches because it is costlier.
The famous Snow Beef are third-generation or older pure Hokkaido-born Kuroge Washu cattle.
There are four historic breeds of Japanese wagyu, or cattle, the most prized being the Japanese Black, or Kuroge, used for the more widely known Kobe and Matsusaka beef. But because of the cold weather on Hokkaido, Dr. Asanuma’s animals develop a thicker coat and different fat dispersion. Like all high-quality Japanese wagyu, they are extremely well marbled, but a bit more of the fat ends up on the surface for insulation. “He even made special custom jackets for the calves to wear in winter,” says Hashimoto. “But what really makes the meat special is Hokkaido’s famous sweet corn, which makes dairy products here excellent—the milk is so amazing, you can’t compare it with anything in this country. For the Snow Beef, it makes the beef sweeter and not as intense as other types of wagyu, a really clean taste, less fatty.” Kobe is so rich and high in fat that it can only be consumed in small quantities before it coats the tongue and overwhelms the taste buds, while the slightly milder Snow Beef can be enjoyed longer, bite after delicious bite, though it is still much richer than most beef. Mizumi is the only restaurant in Las Vegas serving it, but it is also the only one serving Snow Beef and authentic imported Kobe, so the most special way to indulge here is to try them side by side.
“Terauchi has devoted his entire life to raising these cattle, and they only slaughter three head each month, and we have committed to taking one of those,” says Hashimoto. Dr. Asanuma owns a restaurant in Sapporo that serves his beef, and the remainder goes to just three other spots around the world, with no one getting as big an allotment as Mizumi. Because so little is produced and it is done so carefully, the farm exports only the very best of its herd. “[Mizumi gets] all A5 grade, whereas a lot of Japanese beef coming to this country is A4,” he explains. A5 is the highest possible grade and means top scores in all subcategories for which beef is judged, the most important being the marbling score, which runs from 1 to 12. “He sends us nothing but marbling score 8 or higher, while other Japanese beef can be 7, but we also sometimes get the very highest, 10 to 12, almost unheard of with other imported beef,” the chef says. “We have this thing we call the ‘beef box’ that we display our meats in tableside, and when we have Snow Beef with a score of 8 or 9, it looks pretty similar to our Kobe, but when we get 10 to 12, it’s a lot lighter red, with an amazing striation of marbling. It’s rare for customers to come in knowing about Snow Beef, and our staff is trained to educate them. People always think Snow Beef is Kobe because of the marbling, and in this case a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Chef Devin Hashimoto is one of only a handful of chefs to have met Hokkaido’s “Wagyu Meister.”
On his trips, Hashimoto tries all kinds of cuisines to come up with new ideas for his seasonal menu, which usually changes right on the first day of the season. “Traditional Japanese food has so many aspects, from intricate kaiseki to street food, and I always bring back influences. But with Snow Beef I don’t play around—we serve it two straightforward ways—because I want to showcase the beef itself. But I change the sides to reflect the changing seasons, so in fall and winter I use a lot of root vegetables, apples, pomegranates, and we cook a lot of them on the robata grill.” This is a very traditional method of open fire cooking often used for yakitori, which uses binchotan, a type of Japanese hardwood charcoal that burns cleanly and at very high temperatures.
At Mizumi, Snow Beef is offered as either a starter or main course. The appetizer is done tataki style, raw thin slices presented tableside and then cooked in front of guests on a hot stone, “so they can appreciate the visual of the raw beef.” As an entrée, a 4-, 6-, or 8-ounce steak is pan-roasted simply in the kitchen and served with seasonal sides. Japanese steak is always boneless, and because it is so rich, even four ounces is a lot for one person, so the larger portions are usually for splitting.
Hashimoto also creates a tasting menu that varies on a daily or weekly basis, but he always offers the option of upgrading the protein, be it seafood or quail, Kobe or Snow Beef, in order to encourage guests to try it. “You get a good deal on the tasting menu versus à la carte. If we get repeat guests who have had it before, they might want to try it a different way, and I have seared it and served it on rice as nigiri sushi, or skewered it and cooked it over the charcoal robata grill.” Snow Beef may be a once-in-a-lifetime meal, but that doesn’t mean you can only have it once.
What to Drink with Snow Beef
Because snow beef is so rich, most diners order the same big red wines they would at classic steakhouses, but some get caught up in the spirit of Mizumi and instead turn to the restaurant’s lengthy and well curated sake list. “We had a big party the other day that had a lot of Japanese beef and a lot of Japanese sake—I think there were eight empty bottles. They had a good time,” recalls Executive Chef Devin Hashimoto. For the past two years, Aaron Baek, a certified sake sommelier, has overseen and improved Mizumi’s beverage program, which includes signature cocktails made with Japanese whiskey, plum liqueur and sake; Japanese craft beers; sochu (a traditional Japanese distilled spirit); top-shelf American and European wines; and more than 60 types of sake.
Baek began as a traditional sommelier, studying at a wine academy in Korea, but his career changed gears when he moved to Australia to take a job in a sushi and sake specialty restaurant. “I learned a lot about sake, and I had a friend who was brewing one of the only sakes in Australia, so I learned a lot about how it is made.” That inspired him to move to Japan to take an advanced course, which he describes as a certificate. “Aaron is very modest,” says Mark Thomas, Wynn’s Corporate Executive Director of Wine, who hired Baek. “Less than 200 people in the entire world have completed that course.”
“I try to make it easier for people to try and enjoy sake by simplifying things. I ask them what kinds of wine they like to drink and use the same terminology to describe wine and sake. Since I joined Mizumi, I divided the sake program by grades: Junmaishu (pure sake made from just rice and water), Junmai Gingo (pure sake made from highly polished rice) and Junmai Daiginjo (craft-made pure sake from very highly polished rice).” In each section, he has added detailed written descriptions of the meaning and flavors of each grade, and for each sake includes rice polishing levels, specific gravity and acidity specifications. There are also 15 sakes served by the glass or carafe, specialty styles such as unfiltered (cloudy), warm and plum sakes, and four “Sommelier Sake Flights,” each with three samples and a different theme.
His latest fascination is short-lived seasonal sakes. “They last only two or three months and are very hard to get in this country, and I am very excited to be introducing them at Mizumi, where they will be new for many of my customers,” he says. As for pairing with Snow Beef? “When people want red wine, I recommend a full-bodied California, Barbaresco or Amarone. But I can also pick you a very rich and full-style sake that will be perfect.”