When Don Wagyu opened in the Financial District with a $180 katsu sando (Japanese steak sandwich) on the menu last summer, chef Corwin Kave knew to brace for the backlash.

“I’ve personally had a ton of experience with Asian food being devalued,” says Kave, who used to work at the dear departed Fatty Crab. “We were in the Meatpacking District when it was just turning a corner and becoming a pretty hip place to be, and we were selling Singaporean, Thai and Malay cuisine, sometimes fairly classic and sometimes with a twist.

“And we got a lot of flack for the prices we were charging, which were by no means extraordinary: $16 for a dish versus $8 or $9 you could pay in Chinatown. And it’s like, ‘Well, there’s all the obvious reasons: the neighborhood, the ambiance, the restaurant that we were trying to create. But it was so strange — I know how expensive these products are and how much work goes into these cuisines.”

don wagyu nyc 180 japanese katsu sando dinner after dark tasting menu


Wagyu beef is no exception, he says. “I think specifically with Wagyu beef, it’s a lack of education and lack of appreciation for what the difference is. People look at the sandwich and they’re like, ‘Why would I ever pay $180 for a sandwich?’ But if I took that exact same piece of beef and grilled it, sliced it and served it with a sauce, you might think it was expensive but you wouldn’t say that it was unreasonable.”

That $180 sandwich is made with Japanese Wagyu beef sourced from a single farm in the Miyazaki district, which has a reputation as one of the best areas for growing the special cattle. Need convincing? Kave keeps pictures on his phone of the beef so marbled with fat from a diet rich in beer mash, sake lees and olives, it’s pink instead of red.

Making room for a tasting menu at Don Wagyu

Now that the weekday katsu sando business has settled into a rhythm at Don Wagyu, it’s time for Kave to show off the skills he’s accumulated beyond perfectly frying a piece of fluffy steak. After entering culinary school at age 17, he lived and traveled in Southeast Asia extensively, cooking wherever he could.

Back in New York, he ran with Zak Pelaccio and the Fatty Crab crew through several restaurants including Chop Suey in Times Square. And most recently, Kave got into seasonal vegetables at Ducked Up inside the members-only club Ludlow House.

He’s now combining all of those experiences into the new Dinner After Dark tasting menu at Don Wagyu. By day, it’s a sandwich shop serving three katsu sandos, plus a deceptively overengineered corn dog. But by night, the atmospheric little hole-in-the-wall with counter seating for up to eight is perfectly suited to the soundtrack of French artists covering American hits from the ‘50s.

don wagyu nyc 180 japanese katsu sando dinner after dark tasting menu

The menu is still very much Don Wagyu — taking familiar comfort food and upgrading the ingredients — like a tempura shishito pepper filled with trimmings from all three kinds of beef. But there are total departures too, like Long Island scallops in a sea of almost savory blood orange broth with seasonal fruits. A carrot curry with golden trout roe sways between sweet and savory.  Expect dishes to vary with the seasons.

If you've still got room after six courses, for a $60 add-on you can try a modest piece of that infamous Ozaki beef as a steak — the few bites is about all the richness you can handle anyway.

Highly recommended are the drink pairings ($50), ranging from a Japanese saison to a California red. There’s also sake and even a dry riesling paired with an A5 Wagyu bao to cut through the richness of the meat and mellow out the spices. Like that infamous katsu sando, you’ve gotta try it to understand.

Don Wagyu is located at 28 S. William St. Dinner After Dark begins Feb. 1 on Thursdays and Fridays starting at 8:30 p.m. for $100. Reservations can be made at Resy.

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